- Review of “Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China” by Fang Lizhi
- Revisiting Deng Xiaoping: A Word With Ezra F. Vogel
- More myth than man
- Book review: ‘Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China,’ by Ezra F. Vogel
- The “Steel Factory”
- Books And Arts: The great stabiliser; Deng Xiaoping’s legacy
The Economist. London: Oct 22, 2011. Vol. 401, Iss. 8756; pg. 103
Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China by Ezra Vogel is reviewed.» Jump to indexing (document details)
Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China. By Ezra Vogel. Belknap Press; 928 pages; $39.95 and Pounds 29.95
The definitive biography of a diminutive giant of the 20th century
EARLIER this year, as the Arab spring blew through the Middle East, nervous Chinese officials were heard asking Western diplomats and journalists whether they thought (off the record) that China would be next. As it turns out, China has been left unfazed by this mutinous trend for reasons ranging from internet censorship to the swift arrests of dissidents. But one important damper on protest has been in the works for a while: China’s massive economic growth over the past few decades has left enough people satisfied with the system for now. Also, the country does not have a cultish figure like Hosni Mubarak or Colonel Muammar Qaddafi to act as a lightning rod for dissent.
For this the Chinese Communist Party has to thank a little chain-smoking man who died nearly a decade and a half ago: Deng Xiaoping, the paramount leader from 1978 to 1992. Ezra Vogel’s new biography portrays Deng as not just the maker of modern China, but one of the most substantial figures in modern history.
If Chairman Mao was the architect of an assertive, socialist China, Deng pulled off the even tougher feat of reversing most of what Mao had done and calling it “socialism”. Mr Vogel, a professor emeritus at Harvard University, has written a meticulously researched book that concentrates mainly on the story from the mid-1970s to the 1990s. He could have subtitled the book not the “transformation” but the “stabilisation” of China, as he describes Deng’s impressive calming strategy at home and abroad. Deng placated the near and not-so-near neighbours whom Mao had angered or terrified, continuing his unfinished diplomacy with America (leading to one of history’s most incongruous photo-ops as Deng donned a big cowboy hat), and mending bridges with the Soviet Union. A messy war with Vietnam in 1979 was the exception that proved the rule of avoiding military confrontation.
On the domestic front, Deng established free-trade zones, dismantled collective farms and wooed foreign capital. This represented a breathtaking ideological reversal, which Deng characterised pragmatically, because the party had no money to spare: “We will give you a policy that allows you to charge ahead and cut through your own difficult road.” And in the aftermath of the Beijing spring of 1989, when conservatives in the leadership tried to chill the pace of reform, Deng struck out by taking a “vacation” in China’s free-trade zones. His aim was to kick-start the economic growth that was heading toward double digits by the time he died in 1997. He missed by a few months the handover of Hong Kong from Britain to China, which he had negotiated, and which burnished his nationalist credentials.
Deng also dismantled the cult of leadership that had culminated in Mao’s Cultural Revolution. Ironically, he used his own strength of personality to diminish the importance of a charismatic leader. His successor, Jiang Zemin, was chosen for his technocratic skills and ability to compromise, not for his charm. Deng’s work habits helped manage this transition from Maoist political culture. His regular morning schedule was breakfast at 8am, followed by assiduous reading of ministerial reports, 15 domestic newspapers and a range of (translated) foreign press materials. The quest for total knowledge, along with his own revolutionary credentials, enabled him to outmanoeuvre colleagues who wanted to preserve their own fiefdoms within the leadership. Deng initiated China’s system of regular political succession, which is expected to see another transition of power in October next year.
Mr Vogel knows China’s elites extremely well, not least because of his years as an intelligence officer in East Asia for the Clinton administration. This book is bolstered by insider knowledge and outstanding sources, such as interviews with Deng’s interpreters. But this vantage tends to give Deng the benefit of the doubt, and the author works hard to diminish the stain on his reputation left by the notorious killings in Tiananmen Square in 1989. Mr Vogel points out that other developing economies such as South Korea engaged in state violence of a comparable scale at the time.
Although Deng commendably brought stability to China, violence was central to his formation. As Roderick Macfarquhar and Michael Schoenhals (a former Harvard colleague of Mr Vogel’s) have shown in their epic book “Mao’s Last Revolution”, Deng was responsible for purges in the later years of the Cultural Revolution that matched the Gang of Four for brutality. In 1975 he ordered the army to crack down on a Muslim village in Yunnan province, an action which resulted in 1,600 deaths including those of 300 children. Deng’s response to the student and worker protests 14 years later was hardly out of character.
Much of this book contains previously unheard and highly indiscreet quotations. For example, Deng thought Mikhail Gorbachev was an “idiot”, according to one of his sons. So this tome is unlikely to be published in China anytime soon. Still, the manuscript was read by Chinese political insiders for accuracy, making this the definitive account of Deng in any language. Mr Vogel eloquently makes the case for Deng’s crucial role in China’s transformation from an impoverished and brutalised country into an economic and political superpower. Three and a half decades after Mao’s death, the next generation of Chinese will have no personal memory of the little man from Guang’an County in Sichuan province. All the same, they will be Deng Xiaoping’s children.
Jonathan Mirsky reviews “Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China,” a biography of the late Chinese leader by Ezra F. Vogel.
On the Capitalist Road DENG XIAOPING AND THE TRANSFORMATION OF CHINA By Ezra F. Vogel. Illustrated. 876 pp. The Belknap Press/Harvard University Press. $39.95.
A look at the career of Deng Xiaoping, who changed Chinas course.
TWO mighty rhetorical questions conclude this enormous biography of Deng Xiaoping (1904-97): “Did any other leader in the 20th century do more to improve the lives of so many? Did any other 20th-century leader have such a large and lasting influence on world history?” The answers emerge from this comprehensive, minutely documented book, but not as predictably as Ezra F. Vogel a Harvard University emeritus professor of social sciences, assumes.
After Mao’s death in 1976, Deng became the champion of the economic reforms that transformed the lives of many, but not most, Chinese. (Vogel observes that Mao’s immediate successor, Hua Guofeng, was the initiator of the reforms.) Deng had long been a central figure in the Communist Party. Vogel rightly says that “for more than a decade before the Cultural Revolution” – 1966-1976 – “no one had greater responsibility for building and administering the old system than Deng Xiaoping.” Yet, most of Deng’s life and career takes up only a quarter of Vogel’s 714 pages of narrative.
By 1978, Deng had become China’s “paramount leader.” It follows, therefore, that apart from his long period of house arrest and banishment during the years 1967-73, and during another year in 1976-77, when Mao again removed him from the political scene, Deng must share the blame for much of the agony Mao inflicted on China and the Chinese. He certainly bears the major responsibility for the Tiananmen Square killings in 1989.
It is a curiosity of “Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China” that Deng the man is almost invisible. There is a well-known list of his personal characteristics: he played bridge; liked bread, cheese and coffee; smoked; drank and used spittoons. He was unswervingly self-disciplined. Though Deng left no personal paper trail, Vogel ably relates what is known.
Deng came from a small-landlord family in Sichuan Province, yet his formal education, apart from his time at a local school when he was a child, consisted mainly of a single year, 1926, of ideological indoctrination at Sun Yatsen University in Moscow. For five years before that, he lived in Paris, where he received a practical, and enduring, education inside the infant Chinese Communist Party, serving under the leadership of the young Zhou Enlai.
After Paris and Moscow, Deng went back to China, ana before long hau ceased being “a cheerful, fun-loving extrovert.” He commanded a small force against warlords, was defeated and may have run away. Eventually, he joined the “Mao faction,” rising and falling with its inner-party fortunes. During the Long March of 1934-35 Deng attended the meeting where Mao took supreme power, and after the Communist triumph in 1949, he served as party commissar for the army that occupied Tibet, although he seems not to have set foot there. In the southwest Deng organized the land reform program of 1949-51 “that would wipe out the landlord class.” Mao praised Deng “for his success . . . killing some of the landlords.” (As part of a national campaign in which two million to three million were killed, “some” seems an inadequate word.) In 1957, Deng oversaw the “anti-rightist campaign,” a “vicious attack on 550,000 intellectual critics” that “destroyed many of China’s best scientific and technical minds.” As for the Great Leap Forward of 1958-61, when as many as 45 million people starved to death, Vogel provides no evidence that Deng objected to Mao’s monomaniacal policies. Frank Dikotter’s well-documented book “Mao’s Great Famine,” however, shows that Deng ordered the extraction of grain from starving peasants for the cities and export abroad.
In late 1966, Vogel tells us, Deng was accused of “pursuing the capitalist road.” Under house arrest in Beijing until 1969, he was transferred to Jiangxi Province to work half days in a factory. Red Guards harassed his five children, and the back of one of his sons was broken when he may have jumped from a window after the guards frightened or bullied him. Mao permitted Deng to return to Beijing in 1973.
Vogel contends that during his internal exile Deng concluded that something had gone systemically wrong with China: it was economically backward and isolated from the international scene; its people were poorly educated. China under Deng became an increasingly urban society. And following Deng’s view that corruption crackdowns limit growth, many officials, Vogel writes, “found ways not only to enrich China, but also to enrich themselves.” The result, he says, is that China is more corrupt than ever and its environment more polluted.
While Deng believed that science and technology were important – as have many Chinese reformers since the late 19th century – he feared that the humanities and social sciences could be seedbeds of heterodoxy; he never hesitated in punishing intellectuals, whose divergent views could “lead to demonstrations that disrupt public order.” It is telling that for Deng perhaps the worst development in the Communist world after Tiananmen was the execution on Dec. 25, 1989, of the Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife. Ceausescu was the only Eastern European leader whose troops had fired on civilians.
VOGEL calls Tiananmen a “tragedy,” and quotes Deng brushing aside doubts from colleagues that using troops to smash the uprising would disturb foreigners; “Westerners would forget.” Actually, it is young Chinese for whom the demonstrations in over 300 cities are a dim fact absent from their history lessons. Vogel’s account of the crackdown is largely accurate, although he omits the shooting down on Sunday morning of many parents milling about at the edge of the square, searching for their children. In this, as in other parts of this narrative, Vogel could have spoken with journalists who were there, and not just read their accounts. (I declare an interest; I saw these events.) What is disappointing is Vogel’s comments about why “the tragedy in Tiananmen Square evoked a massive outcry in the West, far greater than previous tragedies in Asia of comparable scale.”
Part of the answer, Vogel correctly says, citing another scholar, was the real-time television in Tiananmen. Then he perplexingly adds that viewers “interpreted” what they saw “as an assault on the American myth that economic, intellectual and political freedom will always triumph. Many foreigners came to see Deng as a villainous enemy of freedom who crushed the heroic students.” Furthermore, Vogel contends, for foreign reporters the Tiananmen uprising “was the most exciting time of their careers.” Such comments are unworthy of a serious scholar. He states flatly that “Deng was not vindictive.” If he means Deng didn’t order his adversaries and critics killed, that is true – as far as individuals are concerned. But Deng never shrank, either in Mao’s time or his own, from causing the murder of large numbers of anonymous people.
The most valuable part of Vogel’s account is his survey of Deng’s economic reforms; they made a substantial portion of Chinese better-off, and propelled China onto the international stage. But the party has obscured the millions of deaths that occurred during the Maoist decades. In the end, what shines out from Vogel’s wide-ranging biography is the true answer to his two questions: for most of his long career Deng Xiaoping did less for China than he did to it.
Deng, of course, was one of the giant political figures of the 20th century and has been credited with setting China on a path that helped lift hundreds of millions out of poverty while reshaping global trade patterns.
Copyright New York Times Company Oct 22, 2011
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — In 1979, just when Americans were beginning to reflect on the ascent of Japan, the Harvard sociologist Ezra F. Vogel wrote his best-selling book, “Japan as Number One: Lessons for America.”
Now 81 and retired from Harvard as a professor emeritus, Mr. Vogel has written an equally compelling study of the rise of another Asian superpower.
In “Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China,” he chronicles the life of China’s paramount leader during the 1980s and ’90s and his determined push to open up and modernize the world’s most populated country.
“My book ‘Japan as Number One’ played a role in educating Americans about Japan,” Mr. Vogel said during a recent interview at his home here, a few hundred yards from the Harvard campus. “With this book, I thought I could write something new that would educate Americans about China.”
The book, published last month by Harvard University Press, has already been called a monumental biography of Deng and the most comprehensive survey to date of China’s spectacular but rocky road to economic reform.
Some reviews, however, have accused Mr. Vogel of devoting too little space to Deng’s iron-fisted rule, including his 1989 decision to allow the military to use deadly force against demonstrators in Tiananmen Square.
But other scholars say that Mr. Vogel’s new volume offers a deeply textured portrait of Deng and the reforms he championed.
“It’s a major accomplishment,” said David Shambaugh, a leading China scholar who teaches at George Washington University. “This book pushes our knowledge of Deng further. And while much of this information is not necessarily new, this is the first time we’ve seen it all in one place, analyzed with scholarly detachment.”
Deng, of course, was one of the giant political figures of the 20th century and has been credited with setting China on a path that helped lift hundreds of millions out of poverty while reshaping global trade patterns. But only a handful of biographies have been written about the man, among them Richard Evans’s 1993 “Deng Xiaoping and the Making of Modern China.”
Historians have largely focused on Mao, the revolutionary commander-philosopher who led the Communist takeover in 1949. But scholars have begun to conclude that it was Deng (1904-97), Mao’s diminutive and long-suffering lieutenant, who deserves credit for truly reshaping China after Mao’s death.
Few scholars were better positioned to write a biography of Deng than Mr. Vogel, who retired from teaching in 2000. For decades Mr. Vogel had studied China, Japan and the other dragons of East Asia. He traveled to Guangdong Province in southern China in 1987 and 1988, when China began opening its special economic zones to foreigners, to study the reforms. He had also covered some of this material in his groundbreaking 1969 book, “Canton Under Communism,” a study of Guangdong’s capital in the time after the Communist takeover.
Mr. Vogel, who worked for a decade on this huge biography, spent a year brushing up on his Chinese-language skills with a tutor. (Most of his interviews were conducted in Chinese without an interpreter.) He talked to people close to Deng, including two of his daughters, as well as relatives and aides of Communist leaders like Chen Yun, Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang, who had worked with Deng.
He also talked to former Chinese President Jiang Zemin, who rarely grants interviews.
Mr. Vogel visited Deng’s birthplace in Sichuan Province, as well as remote Jiangxi Province, where Deng was exiled during the Cultural Revolution; consulted all of Deng’s official writings; and was given access to newly released documents from United States and Russian archives.
The result is an exhaustive, 876-page study of Deng’s life that includes his multiple falls from power and his final comeback, when he assumed the top position in 1978; the book offers new details into how Deng pushed aside Mao’s chosen successor, Hua Guofeng.
Mr. Vogel compresses the first 65 years of Deng’s life into 30 pages, offering a sweeping overview of his journey from being the son of a small landlord in Sichuan to his transformation into a Communist revolutionary living in France and Russia, and then on to his role as military commander and, later, Mao’s vice premier.
Deng loosened state controls over the lives of ordinary people, opened the door for Chinese to study overseas and, Mr. Vogel explains, he retreated from Maoist doctrine and Communism without ever really saying so. He lured foreign investors to China and tapped outside expertise to jump-start a largely moribund economy, setting the stage for China’s three-decade-long economic boom.
Much of this happened, Mr. Vogel explains in minute detail, despite stiff opposition from Communist Party elders, some of whom feared the reforms were too aggressive, and others who viewed them as bourgeois liberalization.
Mr. Vogel also writes about Deng’s darker periods, like his role in the “antirightist campaign” during the 1950s, which harshly targeted scientists and intellectuals and set the stage for the Great Leap Forward, which led to mass starvation.
And he makes clear that in June 1989 it was Deng who ordered the military action to end demonstrations in and around Tiananmen Square, a course that led to the deaths of hundreds of people and incited international outrage.
The political scientist Richard Baum, a professor emeritus at University of California, Los Angeles, said the book offered an enormous amount of new material about Deng’s leadership and internal power struggles in China during the ’70s. But he also said that those achievements were mildly diminished by sections that read like “an uncritical paean to Deng’s character.”
Other critics have been harsher, saying some passages read as if they came from Communist Party headquarters.
During an interview Mr. Vogel defended his work. “This is unfair, because in some places I’m very critical,” he said, noting: “A lot of Americans’ view of Deng is so colored by Tiananmen Square. They think it was horrible. I have the same view. But it’s the responsibility of a scholar to have an objective view.”
With this book, Mr. Vogel said he tried to put Deng’s life in context, to show him as a survivor, obsessed with social and political stability and economic progress.
“Who in the 20th century had more influence on more people?” he asked. “He took 300 million people out of poverty. They’d been trying to do it in China for 150 years, and they couldn’t. And he did it.”