With China’s elite standing silently beside him at the funeral, Communist Party leader Jiang Zemin looked firmly in charge Tuesday as he bid a final and tearful farewell to his departed mentor.
But Deng Xiaoping’s death ushers in a year filled with potential stumbling blocks for Jiang. A trip at any hurdle could weaken his control or hand useful ammunition to rivals.
The challenges start Saturday, when China’s legislature convenes its annual session. Observers are sure to scrutinize the meeting for any sign of the political infighting some expect to sharpen in the absence of Deng, who often mediated leadership squabbles.
The official six-day mourning period for Deng ended with Tuesday’s memorial, an austere affair honoring Deng’s wish for a simple ceremony. His ashes were placed in a casket cloaked by the red Communist Party flag with its gold hammer and sickle, amid white flowers and evergreens.
After, crowds were allowed to swarm Tiananmen Square’s vast plaza and lay flowers on the Monument to the People’s Heroes.
But the mourning for Deng will give way quickly to the problems of running present-day China.
On July 1, China recovers sovereignty of Hong Kong. A mismanaged handover could upset relations with the United States and other countries with large investments in the British colony.
A Communist Party congress later this year could open doors for politically ambitious party members in the reshuffling of key posts.
And Deng died leaving some matters unresolved: State-run enterprises ooze red ink but cannot go bankrupt because too many workers would be laid off. The gap between rich and poor is growing, and so is corruption. And there is Taiwan, the island province that wants a greater international profile.
Ethnic tensions also are becoming more problematic. Bombs exploded Tuesday on three buses in Xinjiang province, a northwestern Chinese region recently shaken by violence as majority Muslims pursue a campaign for independence.
The explosions, which killed at least two people and injured 21, came just hours after Jiang eulogized his predecessor before 10,000 high-ranking Communists packed into the Great Hall of the People at Tiananmen Square.
Perhaps trickiest of all for Jiang will be managing the Chinese people’s rising expectations for richer times ahead - expectations awakened by Deng’s economic revolution.