Deng Xiaoping, August 22, 1904 - February 19, 1997: Deng's Revolution

By Schell, Orville | Newsweek, March 3, 1997 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Deng Xiaoping, August 22, 1904 - February 19, 1997: Deng's Revolution


Schell, Orville, Newsweek


Deng's Revolution

FIVE DAYS AFTER THE TIANANMEN MASSACRE, DENG XIAOPING reappeared in public. As any autocrat in his situation would have, he condemned the student demonstrators and praised the troops who had crushed them. But it was another part of Deng's speech that proved more significant: a vow that china would not again become a "closed country," and an affirmation that his program of economic liberalization would go forward. Government leaders, he declared, would not go "back to the old days of trampling the economy to death."

Did Deng himself realize the irony of talking about "trampling," even as the bodies of the Beijing massacre were barely could? Reformer and despot, a man whose life spanned the reaches of modern Chinese history, he leaves behind a contradictory legacy. "His mind is round and his actions square," Mao Zedong Once Said. During his decade and a half as China's "paramount leader," his program of radical economic change transformed life for one fifth of the world's population. They live in the fastest-growing economy--while still living under a repressive Leninist regime.

Few major societies have succeeded in making such a significant and yet largely peaceful transformation. It is unthinkable that the country could return to its previous state of Maoist collectivization and isolation. But despite Deng's economic miracle, important aspects of China are increasingly unresolved. The gap between rich and poor yawns ever wider. Official corruption is rampant. The military operates beyond civilian control. The country is awash with migrant labor. Rapid development has created almost terminal environmental problems. The repudiation of traditional and socialist values has left a moral and spiritual vacuum. The Chinese Communist Party is still propped up by a secret police and military. There is no independent judiciary and the state maintains a vast prison system all too often used to silence political opponents. Handling the rise of a great power swollen with nationalist sentiment is always delicate; China today presents a particular dilemma for Washington. How does the West encourage--and profit from--the country's economic boom, while gently--or not so gently--letting Beijing know what the rules are for civilized global superpowers? "Containment" sounds reasonable and is a word that U.S. hard-liners are saying with increasing frequency and volume. But it probably isn't practical, and the mere mention of it only excites the nationalism of China's own hard-liners. The Clinton administration seems to have found a low-key compromise. But in the end, whether China becomes America's friend or foe may depend less on what Washington does than on what happens within China itself.

That Deng left behind a paradox is understandable: the revolutionary commitment he acquired while serving the Communist Party merged with the pragmatism he developed from observing--and suffering from--the political upheaval of Mao's later years. Deng's resistance to pure ideology and his ability to moderate his political ambitions allowed him to survive so long at the center of power. He came to be known as xiao pingzi, or "the little bottle," a pun on his name that alluded both to his ability to bob back up after each of the numerous purges he suffered and to his 4-foot-11-inch height.

So diminutive was Deng that when he sat back in a large chair, his feet dangled off the floor. He had none of the charisma (or sexual adventurism) of Mao. Instead he was an ardent family man, with two sons and three daughters. He was an obsessive--and crafty--bridge player. He chain-smoked Panda-brand cigarettes until his fingers were stained brown, and he had no compunction about spitting in public. He was known for bursts of impatience and anger, but also for his straightforward manner. He had no time for charm. In her biography, "Deng Xiaoping, My Father," his daughter Deng Maomao wrote, "Father is an introvert and a man of few words .

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Deng Xiaoping, August 22, 1904 - February 19, 1997: Deng's Revolution
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?