HONG KONG -- China's late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping deserves much credit for trying to modernize the country and remove it from its Maoist ideological straitjacket. He emphasized pragmatism, not ideology. He put China on the path to a market economy. And, perhaps most important, he tried to lift China from feudal practices, such as lifetime tenure in office and incessant power struggles within the leadership.

Deng declined the top positions in both the Communist Party of China and the government, though he richly deserved those posts. He rejuvenated the leadership by pressuring older people to go into retirement. Under his leadership, a Central Advisory Commission was first set up and then scrapped so that younger leaders could initially benefit from the advice of their elders and later be freed from their interference.

Whether Deng's attempt to make China a more normal country continues to make progress will be known in a few weeks, when the Communist Party holds its 16th party congress. Then, it will be known whether President Jiang Zemin -- the country's state, party and military leader -- will step down and pave the way for the next generation of Chinese leaders.