The aged marshal who is believed to be the lightning rod for Maoist loyalists in Chinese politics will step down as chairman of the nominal state parliament, an official spokesman said today.
The resignation of Ye Jianying, 85, as China's de facto head of state has long been a goal of the ruling moderates who are seeking to professionalize the state bureaucracy and retire the old guard from active duty.
But Ye's departure hardly dilutes his political influence for he retains top posts in the Communist Party, which wields the real power in China. The national parliament simply rubber-stamps party decisions and hands them to the bureaucracy to implement. The chairmanship is largely ceremonial.
Although he is so feeble he cannot lift his right arm to vote without the help of nurses, Ye remains a member of the Politburo's elite standing committee and vice chairman of the five-man commission that runs the military.
One of the few living revolutionary heroes, he has continued to uphold Mao's radical social formulas and is said to command a following among the millions of unreconstructed leftists still in the Army and party.
Diplomatic analysts believe he is the chief rallying point for opponents to the capitalist-tinged economic reforms of current leader Deng Xiaoping.
Ye had been expected to resign his party posts last September, but he held on in what was seen as a hard-line military backlash to the political and economic changes Deng had hoped to push through the national party congress.
Diplomats were unclear today why Ye has agreed to shed his less important state position.
Some analysts believe his decision was tied to the recent elevation of his son, Ye Xuanping, to mayor of Canton. The elder Ye, Canton's political godfather, reportedly had been worried about the future of some of his relatives who have been criticized for opulent lifestyles and unsavory behavior.
Other diplomats believe Deng may have offered as a consolation prize his willingness to write the calligraphy on a book of Ye's poems now ready for the publishers.
The job Ye is resigning soon will be devalued. As chairman of the parliament, known as the National People's Congress, he held the top state post with ceremonial duties equivalent to head of state. But China is planning to restore the state presidency at its next People's Congress.
A spokesman for the Foreign Ministry said today Ye will not be a candidate at the next congress and "naturally will no longer assume the office of chairman."
No reason was given for the resignation, but a Foreign Ministry spokesman said Vice Chairman Peng Zhen, 81, had been handling many of Ye's duties.
Although the spokesman gave no indication who would replace Ye, it is expected to be Peng Zhen, a close Deng ally.