BEIJING, NOV. 1 -- China's senior leader, Deng Xiaoping, and his allies swept aging veterans of the historic Long March into retirement from the Communist Party Central Committee today, setting the stage for younger, more technically competent leaders to assume control of the country into the next century.
Deng, 83, led the way for other octogenarian leaders by resigning his own position on the Central Committee, thus relinquishing his top leadership posts in the party's Politburo and its powerful five-man standing committee.
Deng's prestige, experience, and network of allies in the party, Army and government are expected to guarantee him a continuing role as the country's paramount leader. Deng is also expected to continue as chairman of the party's military affairs commission, which controls the Army, diplomats and Chinese officials said.
As the first modern Chinese leader to yield his highest party positions voluntarily, Deng set in motion a chain of retirements and rejuvenation unprecedented in any communist country.
An eight-day party congress ended today with the departure of 96 full members of the 209-member Central Committee and the election of a new and younger 175-member Central Committee. For the first time, its membership excludes most of the men in their 80s who have dominated the party for more than five decades. The Central Committee is an assembly of the party's most powerful men, a kind of party parliament.
The selection of a new Central Committee also sent nine out of 20 members of the ruling Politburo, nearly half of that powerful body, into retirement or semiretirement, with Deng among those making the exodus.
The changes significantly weaken the power of party conservatives, or traditionalists, who have tried to limit the scope and pace of economic and political reforms introduced by Deng and his protege, Premier Zhao Ziyang. They constitute a triumph for Deng and Zhao that goes beyond what most diplomats and analysts expected in terms of the power struggle between the conservatives and reformers.
As Premier Zhao presided over the final moments of the congress and conducted formal votes on party reports, Deng sat impassively next to him in the front row on the rostrum in the Great Hall of the People. He raised his hand in approval with the others, betraying no emotion as he ended an era that began when he joined the Communist Party more than 60 years ago, in 1924.
In engineering the retirements, Deng went far beyond anything previously attempted in China or the Soviet Union. In both communist countries, where democratic and institutionalized channels to the top leadership are absent, transitions of power have been brought about by death, purges or palace coups.
In the early 1960s, under Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev, more than 40 percent of the Central Committee members of the Soviet Communist Party were replaced. But the Soviets have never been able to remove as many top leaders as Deng and his allies did through today's votes.
Aside from Deng, three other veterans of the 1934-35 Long March across China -- economist Chen Yun, 82; National People's Congress chairman Peng Zhen, 85; and President Li Xiannian, 81 -- were also dropped from the Central Committee. The three were among a number of elderly Central Committee members said to have long resisted retirement.
Diplomats said Chen Yun would be rewarded with the chairmanship of the party's central advisory commission, but his recent public appearances have shown him to be virtually incapacitated as a result of ill health.
The ailing Chen, considered Deng's most eminent rival for influence, was described as "slightly indisposed" and failed to attend today's closing session of the party congress, the first to be held in five years.
The new top leaders are to be announced Monday, when the new Central Committee selects members of the Politburo and its standing committee.
Zhao, 68, is expected to be named permanent party general secretary, placing him in a position to succeed Deng as the country's top leader and to push forward more forcefully with his economic reforms. The reforms are designed to move China away from a Soviet-style centrally planned system toward a market economy experimenting with whatever produces results, including capitalist-style management.
Official Chinese sources warned that despite today's victory, Deng and Zhao faced numerous problems. One of them, one source said, was the Army, which is concerned about a possible further decline in its power and influence. The Army has always been a key to power in communist China, and this source said Deng had to stay on as military chairman to pacify the Army.
The party ended its 13th congress, probably the last to be dominated by Deng, with the election of a Central Committee whose new and alternate members average 55.2 years in age. A party official said this meant a reduction in age of 3.9 years below the average age of those who entered the Central Committee five years ago.
A revision to the party constitution, approved at today's final meeting of the congress, permits Deng to head the military even though he leaves the Central Committee.
Zhu Muzhi, spokesman for the party congress, told foreign journalists that Deng's "prestige and wisdom" will insure him a major role in the party. Describing Deng as the "chief architect" of China's policies, Zhu said Deng's leadership role is determined not by the posts he has held but by "the correctness of his policies and ideas."
Among those who were dropped from the Central Committee today were a number of military veterans, including Politburo members Yang Dezhi, 77, the Army chief of staff, and Yu Qiuli, 73, the top political commissar of the People's Liberation Army.
Hu Qiaomu, 75, the party's leading ideologue, relinquished his posts on the Central Committee and Politburo.
Deng Liqun, 73, one of the most strident opponents of some of the political reforms being introduced by Deng and Zhao, was also retired from the Central Committee. Zhao is reported to have clashed openly with Deng Liqun, no relation to Deng Xiaoping, on several occasions earlier this year. The demise of Hu and Deng Liqun confirmed that Zhao and his allies have taken virtual control of the party's propaganda organs.
The key question to be settled when the new Central Committee meets for the first time Monday will be the composition of a new standing committee.
The former standing committee had been dominated by Deng Xiaoping, Chen Yun, President Li Xiannian, and the now ousted party chief Hu Yaobang. The fifth member, Zhao Ziyang, is expected to be the only holdover in the new standing committee.
It is also expected to include at least one younger leader acceptable to the old guard led by Chen Yun. He is Li Peng, 59, a Soviet-trained engineer and vice premier who is said, like Chen, to favor central planning more than some other younger leaders. Li is considered to be a strong candidate to replace Zhao as premier sometime next year.
As one of its last acts, the congress today also approved a report by Zhao that creates an ideological basis for further reforms.