the leadership of deng xiaoping -- 4/28/20

Today's selection -- from Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China by Ezra F. Vogel. Through time, Deng Xiaoping has become one of China's greatest leaders, even eclipsing Mao Zedong in the minds of some, since it was Deng whose leadership brought the greatest advance in China's economic growth:

"[While living ] in France, [a young] Deng quit his factory jobs and did odd jobs around the tiny Chinese Communist Party office led by Zhou Enlai, who was six years older than Deng. Deng, known then as 'Dr. Mimeograph' for his role in producing the simple propaganda pamphlets that publicized the leftist cause to Chinese students in France, became in effect an apprentice where he could observe how Zhou Enlai, already a leader among fellow Chinese youth, with experience in Japan and England, went about building an organization. Though one of the youngest in the group, Deng soon was on the executive committee of the Communist youth organization in Europe. At Sun Yat-sen (Zhongshan) University in Moscow where the Soviets were just beginning to train Chinese for the international communist movement, Deng was selected for Group No. 7, in which the highest level of Chinese leaders were trained for the international Communist movement. At Sun Yat-sen University Deng had an opportunity to understand how the Soviets had built their Commu­nist movement and to learn their views on how to build a movement in China.

"For his entire career, with brief interruptions, Deng had been close enough to the top seat of power that he could observe from the inside how the top leaders responded to different situations. Not long after he returned to China in 1927, he was again under Zhou Enlai, in the Shanghai underground, as the party tried to devise survival strategies while Chiang Kai-shek, their for­mer colleague, tried to wipe them out. Not only did Deng take part in the planning to create urban insurrections, but at age twenty-five he was sent to Guangxi province to lead urban insurrections. As Mao began to build up the Jiangxi Soviet base, Deng went there where as head of the party in Ruijin county, he learned how Mao was building up his rural base. On the Long March, Deng got to attend the crucial Zunyi conference where Mao began to emerge as leader. Before the Long March had ended Deng had the opportu­nity to become a confidante of Mao's. Not long after Mao set up his base in northwest China, Mao entrusted Deng with major responsibilities as a polit­ical commissar, providing political leadership within the military. Later in the civil war, he was given responsibility for taking over Shanghai and guiding the transition to Communist rule and was then sent to the Southwest where he was given responsibility for leading one of the six major regions of the country.

"Above all, it was at the center of power in Beijing, from 1952 to 1966, that Deng had the opportunity to work closely with Mao to consider strategies for China's development and for dealing with foreign countries. Mao had identi­fied Deng as one of his potential successors, and Deng had taken part in Politburo meetings and after 1956 in its Standing Committee, along with the other five highest-ranking officials in the country. Deng also became a central participant in the planning and creation of a socialist structure that featured agricultural collectivization and nationalization of industry, and played a cen­tral role in land reform in the Southwest. In 1959-1961, he had played a major part in guiding the adjustments to the socialist structure after the fail­ures of the Great Leap Forward. In short, Deng in 1978 had half a century of experience in thinking about strategies used by China's top leaders in guiding the country.

Deng Xiaoping at age 16, studying in France (1921)

"Deng was a military leader for twelve years, and even later described him­self as a soldier. He was a political commissar rather than a military com­mander, but he was party secretary and had responsibility for approving mili­tary actions. Working closely with a military commander, he fought first in small guerrilla activities, but then in huge battles in the civil war. During the Huai Hai military campaign in late 1948, he ended up as the party secretary of the front command, responsible for coordinating half a million soldiers in one of the largest battles in military history and one of the key turning points in the civil war.

"Throughout his career, Deng was responsible for implementation rather than for theory. His responsibilities had grown from leading a small county in the Jiangxi Soviet to leading the work of several counties in the Taihang Mountains as political commissar in World War II, to leading a border area where several provinces intersected after World War II, to leading the entire Southwest after 1949, to leading the country.

"In the 1950s, Deng was responsible for guiding the Chinese Communist Party's relations with other Communist parties, at a time when China had few relations with the West. After he was allowed to return from the Cultural Revolution, Deng served as an apprentice to Zhou Enlai as he accepted re­sponsibilities for leading China's work in foreign relations.

"Some say Deng had little experience in economic affairs, but economic activities were always an important responsibility of party generalists. Fur­thermore, from 1953-1954 Deng had served for a year as finance minister at a crucial stage as China was building its socialist economic structure.

"An important part of Communist activity was always propaganda. In France, Deng had been responsible for putting out a propaganda bulletin. In the Jiangxi Soviet, after undergoing criticism, he was put in charge of propa­ganda for the entire soviet area, and on the Long March he again had respon­sibilities in the area of propaganda. As a political commissar in the military, Deng found that he was most persuasive when he was direct and gave his troops a broad perspective, connecting their efforts to the overall situation and mission.

"In short, Deng had an enormous range of governing experiences at the lo­cal, regional, and national levels that he could draw on. For half a century he had been part of the broad strategic thinking of party leaders. He had held high positions in the party, in the government, and in the army. In the 1950s he had taken part in bringing in new industries and new technology from the Soviet Union, just as he would have responsibility for bringing in new indus­tries from the West in the 1980s.

"Deng was very bright, always at the top of his class. He was the youngest of eighty-four students to have passed the examinations to be sent from Sichuan to France in 1920. He had been good at one of the main tasks in his early Confucian training, learning to recite long passages of texts by memory. In the underground he had learned not to leave a paper trail, but to keep in­formation in his mind. Deng could deliver well-thought-through and well­ organized hour-long lectures without notes. Mao once called him a walking encyclopedia. Before important events, Deng liked to spend time thinking quietly by himself as he considered what to say so that when the time came, he could give clear and decisive presentations.

"Deng had been hardened by seeing comrades die in battle and in intra­party purges. He had seen friends become enemies, and enemies become friends. Three times Deng had been purged, in the Jiangxi Soviet, in 1966 in the Cultural Revolution when he was subjected to blistering criticism, and in 1976. Deng had developed a steely determination. He had disciplined him­self not to display raw anger and frustration and not to base his decisions on feelings but on careful analysis of what the party and country needed. Mao once described Deng as a needle inside a cotton ball, tough on the inside, soft on the outside, but many of Deng's colleagues rarely sensed a ball of cotton. His colleagues did not believe he was unfair: unlike Chairman Mao, Deng was not vindictive -- though when he judged that it was in the interest of the party, he would remove even those who had dedicated themselves to him and his mission."



Ezra F. Vogel


Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China


The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press


Copyright 2011 by Ezra F. Vogel


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