China TV series on Deng stirs questions on political openness

Tue Aug 12, 2014 8:49am EDT
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By Michael Martina

BEIJING (Reuters) - China's state television is airing a serial on late leader Deng Xiaoping, a rare portrayal of a top politician that state media have trumpeted as a sign the Communist Party is easing its grip on officials' sensitive legacies.

The 48-part drama series chronicles a period between 1976 and 1984, when Deng began pushing China toward market reforms that ignited its transition into the world's second largest economy.

"In recent years, China's restricted areas of speech have obviously decreased. This series marks significant progress," the Global Times, a tabloid owned by party mouthpiece the People's Daily, said in an editorial on Monday.

But the show has prompted debate about how producers will approach sensitive internal conflicts that have more or less been air brushed out of official party accounts.

More contentious than the show's central figure is the novel appearance of actors depicting several other controversial politicians, among them the late reformist Communist Party chief Hu Yaobang, who Deng ousted.

Hu's death in April 1989 sparked student protests centered on Tiananmen Square, a movement that later turned into pro-democracy demonstrations that were crushed by the military on orders from Deng on June 3 and 4 that year.

The timeframe of the series means it is likely to skirt Hu's 1987 ouster and the Tiananmen crackdown, and it is unclear how it will address, if at all, the 1981 downfall at Deng's hands of Hua Guofeng, Mao Zedong's anointed successor.

The proof would be in the showing, said Zhang Ming, a political science professor at Renmin University in Beijing.   Continued...

A man looks out from a window next to a portrait of late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping wearing military uniform in a gallery at Dafen Oil Painting Village, in Shenzhen, South China's Guangdong province, April 24, 2011. REUTERS/Jason Lee