BEIJING, OCT. 20 -- The Central Committee of the world's largest Communist Party today held the first in a two-week series of top-level meetings designed to promote a new generation of leaders and breathe fresh life into China's faltering economic reforms.

The official New China News Agency said that, as expected, the 324 Central Committee members and alternates meeting in the Great Hall of the People approved an earlier decision to make Zhao Ziyang acting party chief. They also formally accepted Hu Yaobang's resignation as party chief and approved a report to be presented to a nine-day party congress, scheduled to open Sunday.

Hu's forced resignation Jan. 16 followed student protests and created uncertainties over the future of economic reforms introduced by senior leader Deng Xiaoping. The resignation also shattered Deng's plans for a smooth transfer of power to new and younger leaders.

Today's Central Committee meeting sets the stage for the 13th party congress, the first to be held in five years.

Diplomats and Chinese sources predict that Deng, 83, will use the congress to groom acting party chief Zhao, 68, to become his successor in a few years. Deng apparently plans to remain China's paramount leader while gradually transfering much of his power to Zhao.

The congress is expected to appoint Zhao permanent party chief. Like Deng, he is a strong advocate of economic changes designed to move China away from a Soviet-style centralized economy toward one governed more by market forces.

Although the news agency described the atmosphere at today's session as one of "democracy, unity and liveliness," the meeting was preceded by three months of infighting as reformist leaders under Deng and Zhao reached compromises with conservative leaders who favor a slower pace of reform.

Chinese sources said that under the compromises, Deng will step down from the powerful five-man standing committee of the Politburo but will retain his chairmanship of the party's military commission.

The sources said that Deng is attempting to make Zhao deputy chairman of the military commission. If he succeeds, it will place Zhao in a much stronger position to assume leadership.

The Army is still considered one of the keys to power, but military men consistently rejected Deng's attempts to make Hu his successor on the military commission.

One of Zhao's weaknesses is his lack of a strong network of supporters within the military. But top military officers are believed to be more willing to accept Zhao than they were Hu, because Zhao's more cautious personality suits them better than Hu's outspoken, free-wheeling style.

One result of the party congress is expected to be a further decline in the fortunes of Hu. A usually well-informed Chinese source said Hu would be dropped from the 20-member Politburo.

The same source said Hu had rejected an offer to become head of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, a powerless body of more than 300 with an advisory role in Chinese politics.

The news agency said today's session was presided over by Zhao, Deng, President Li Xiannian, economist Chen Yun, and Hu -- members of the five-man Politburo standing committee, the most powerful party leadership group.

All but Zhao are expected to step down from the standing committee to be replaced by younger men, but Deng will maintain a power base through his continuing ties with the military commission. The conservative Chen Yun, 82, who has questioned the scope and pace of the economic reforms, is expected to be named head of a new central advisory commission.

A senior western diplomat described the compromises that led to today's meeting as "intricate tradeoffs."

Deng has succeeded in placing Yang Shangkun, one of his closest allies, in a position to replace Li as president, sources said. Vice Premier Wan Li, another ally of Deng and Zhao, is to head the National People's Congress, replacing Peng Zhen, who is widely considered to be a conservative, they said. The changes are expected to be announced following the congress.