BEIJING -- Chinese patriarch Deng Xiaoping dominated the opening of the Chinese Communist Party's national congress yesterday as an unseen deity urgently trying to script socialism's salvation here.
China's senior leader since the late 1970s, Mr. Deng, 88, now holds no party or government post. Ailments have rendered him increasingly feeble. He did not appear at the congress' first session.
But party chief Jiang Zemin's two-hour report to the congress yesterday echoed internal party documents circulated this year under Mr. Deng's name.
These documents called for aggressive moves to dismantle four decades of central economic controls so that market forces can hold sway in China -- reforms viewed by Mr. Deng as essential to preserving the power of the world's last major ruling Communist Party.
Backed by the usual red bunting, banners heralding the party's glory and tiers of aged senior leaders, Mr. Jiang proclaimed that China has begun a "new revolution" that would profoundly alter the Chinese economy while maintaining socialism.
"This new revolution is designed to turn our underdeveloped socialist country into a prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced and modern socialist country," Mr. Jiang said.
"This revolution is not intended to change the nature of our socialist system but to improve and develop it," he said. "It is no minor patching-up of the economic structure but a fundamental restructuring of the economy."
Mr. Jiang said China would accelerate its shift toward a market-oriented economy; open wider to foreign capital and technology; give intellectuals more freedom; and stress youth in party affairs.
The party chief also spoke at length about the dangers to China from the "left," a code phrase here for more conservative, traditionally minded socialists who have opposed the rapid pace of Mr. Deng's reforms.
Mr. Jiang said most of the party's mistakes since the 1950s have come from the "left," and it remains "the chief obstacle to our efforts to explore a new path for reform."
From giving freer play to market forces to opposing leftists, Mr. Jiang's statements mirrored directives issued by Mr. Deng, beginning with his tour in January to booming southern China.
Following the fall of the Communist Party last year in the former Soviet Union, Mr. Deng responded with his long-employed political formula: rapid economic development and tight internal security to maintain China's social stability and the party's grip on power.
Central to carrying out Mr. Deng's latest version of "socialism with Chinese characteristics" is his new notion that allowing market forces greater play here -- rather than following Soviet-style central planning -- is inherently neither a capitalist nor socialist step.
Party theorists are justifying this ideological shift with a hybrid phrase, "socialist market economy," denoting a system that increasingly operates along capitalist lines but that retains state-owned industry and property at its core.
In order to sell this to the party, Mr. Deng has had to emerge from the shadows of his putative retirement to engage in a public political campaign that comes close to matching his stature with that of Mao Tse-tung.
A huge picture of Mr. Deng went up late last week on a billboard in central Beijing. It advertises a new movie about his southern trip and not coincidentally replaces a billboard touting a film about Mao.
Mr. Jiang yesterday spared no praise for Mr. Deng's "great political courage."
But Mr. Deng's triumph over more conservative ideologues within the party does not appear to be total.
When a new lineup of party leaders emerges after the once-every-five-year congress ends this weekend, enough conservatives may remain in power that Mr. Deng's reforms could be undermined.
While Mr. Jiang stressed that economic development should take precedence over ideology, he also sounded conservatives' favorite themes by warning against "bourgeois liberalization, capitalist values and "peaceful evolution," a supposedly U.S.-led plot to overturn socialism here.