Daily medical bulletins are issued as though it were the somber death watch of an ailing head of state, listing her condition, temperature and white-cell count.

The nation's leaders line up at her bedside and official newspapers fill their front pages with long, adoring articles and such headlines as "Twentieth Century Fighter" and "Her Heart Beats for the Children."

At a time when China is reshaping its future, officials are lavishing attention on a symbol of the past -- Soong Qing Ling, widow of Sun Yat-sen, who founded China's Nationalist Party and led the 1911 revolution toppling the last emperor.

Last Friday, Soong, about 90, was reported to be critically ill, suffering from lymphatic leukemia and heart disease. The daily bulletins continue to list her condition as worsening.

China's ruling Communist Party, which admits to a loss of public confidence, immediately seized the opportunity to rally around the popular figure who is known as the matriarch of the pre-Communist revolution.

On Saturday, Soong was named honorary head-of-state after a dramatic deathbead admission to the Communist Party. Although she broke with her husband's party and sided with the Communists after their takeover in 1949, she had been rejected for party membership.

The official New China News Agency reported that Vice Chairman Deng Xiaoping visited her the next day to offer his congratulations. She nodded at him and smiled on learning of "the realization of her long-cherished wish."

When she discovered over the radio at 7 a.m. Sunday that she had been named honorary chairman of the People's Republic, according to the news agency, she told her nurses, "I've heard the news. Many thanks to the comrades."

As widow of the founder of modern China, Soong has always been seen by Communist leaders as an important symbol of their legitimacy as rulers of China and a vital part of their propaganda war against the government on Taiwan.

Observers say Peking may be trying to exploit her illness as propaganda against Taiwan. Her entry into the party would serve as a reminder that Sun Yat-sen's heir chose communism.

Ironically, Soong's younger sister, Mei Ling, married Generalissimo Ghiang Kai-shek, who took over control of the Nationalist Party after Sun's death and established the nationalist government on Taiwan after fleeing the mainland in 1949.

Soong Mei Ling, now living on Long Island, has been kept informed of her sister's medical condition through indirect contacts with Communist officials in Washington, according to Chinese and diplomatic sources in Peking.

This is considered an extraorindary gesture by Communist officials, who traditionally treat the Taiwan side of the Soong family with disdain. Others point out, however, that any softening in Soong Mei Ling's view of the communist government would have enormous propaganda value.

According to some reports, Peking has walcomed Soong Mei Ling to attend her sister's funeral. But diplomats say Soong Mei Ling; now in her eighties, is too old and ill to make a historic return to the mainland even if she wanted to.