Deng Made China into Modern Nation

By Eagleton, Thomas | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), February 5, 1995 | Go to article overview

Deng Made China into Modern Nation


Eagleton, Thomas, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


It's Generalissimo Francisco Franco all over again. Deng Xiaoping, China's maximum potentate, refuses to die. The death watch ticks in months, not hours.

When the more sagacious future historians chart the great leaders of the 20th century, Deng Xiaoping will be on the list. Not that he's perfect. Great leaders are human, too. But he's unquestionably on the list.

It was Mao Tse-tung who brought the Chinese masses out of the Kuomintang period. President Franklin Roosevelt and Mrs. Roosevelt thought Kuomintang leader Chiang Kai-shek was a nice sort of fellow and that Madame Chiang, the erudite English speaker out of Wellesley College, was even nicer. Subsequent American presidents felt the same. Truth was that Chiang and his Nationalist crowd were good for one-tenth of 1 percent of the population and indifferent to the well-being of the rest. That's how Mao could philosophically win the "hearts and minds" of the Chinese people during his long civil war against Chiang.

It was Deng who did even more as Mao's successor. He took power in 1979 and transformed China from a pre-industrial backwater into a country fit to cope with the challenges of the 21st century. Deng made the opening to the outside world that brought in the curious mixture of communism and capitalism and, with it, a semblance of broad-based prosperity previously unknown in China. Friedmanesque economists roll their eyes with great expressions of perplexity when asked how pure capitalism can seemingly thrive amidst the thorns of rancid communism. For the time being, Deng has made that shotgun marriage work for China.

To be sure, Deng lost a great deal of international stature after the bloodbath in Tiananmen Square in 1989. As we know, the human rights situation in China has not significantly improved, as portrayed in last week's highly critical report by the State Department. As far as Deng is concerned, all is forgiven. When there is a clash between money and human rights, put your money on money.

The Middle Kingdom is on hold while old Deng refuses to die. His daughter says he is declining "day by day," but the days seemingly never dwindle down to a precious few. …

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