china's leadership today reaffirmed a new lineup of Communist officials while bidding farewell to important symbol of the nation's past, Soong Ching-ling.

At a memorial service in the Great Hall of the People, top officials continued as they have all week to help praise onto the dead widow of the founder of modern China, Sun Yat-sen.

Fanning across the large stage of the great hall's auditorium, they turned toward an enlarged photograph of Soong and a small box of her ashes and bowed three times, Confucian-style.

Despite the elaborate send-off for Soong, who died last Friday at age 90, diplomatic observes focused as much attention on the man chosen to officiate over the nationally televised ceremony, Hu Yaobang.

Hu, 67, who is the party's general secretary, is widely expected to be named chairman when the Central Committee holds its plenum later this month.

Diplomats said Hu's prominent role at the funeral all but confirms the party's plans to replace current chairman Hua Guofeng, who was standing at Hu's side on the stage.

Hua, 60, who has been criticized for slavishly following the now discredited policies of Maso Tse-tung, is expected to be named one of the vice chairmen. His place next to Hu indicated he will retain an important spot on the ruling Politburo, diplomats said.

Although Chinese sources have reported since December that Hua had resigned under fire, it has remained unclear whether Hu could muster the strength to replace him as chairman.

It today's funeral service helped clarify the new party lineup, it also confirmed Deng Xiaoping's status as China's preeminent leader.

Deng, 76, leader of the dominant political faction and Hu's longtime patron, offered the eulogy for Soong, who has been honored with the most elaborate funeral since Mao died in 1976.

In his 25-minute speech, Deng underlined Soong's importance as a bridge between her husband's nationalist revolution of 1911 and the Communist rulers who seized power in 1949.

"What we treasure most," said Deng, reading from a text, "is the fact that Soong Ching-ling kept up with the pace of history and, starting as a great revolutionary democrat, she became a great Communist."

Although she held several high posts under Communist rule, Soong had never joined the party until a deathbed conversion last month after which she was named honorary head of state.

Since here illness grew grave May 15, Peking has taken pains to remind the world that Sun Yat-sen's widow broke with his Nationalist Party after it fled to Taiwan in 1949.

Soong's sister, Soong Mei-ling, was married to the late Chiang Kai-shek, who led the Nationalist forces to Taiwan after losing the civil war to the Committee.

In what diplomats believe was at least partly an attempt to promote the cause of reunifying with Taiwan President Chiang Ching-kuo, the son of Chiang Kai-shek, and Soong Mei-ling, who now lives on Long Island and is said to be suffering from skin cancer.

The invitations were declined and Taiwan officials were quoted as saying that Peking's offer was a propaganda stunt. The response was similar to ones made in the past two years since Peking has urged Taipei to allow direct postal, transport and trading links with the mainland.