The greatness of Deng Xiaoping

Arguably Deng Xiaopeng was the greatest Chinese statesman of the 20th century.  Ezra Vogel wrote a biography of Deng, and discusses it in the video above.  I found the video highly enlightening, and maybe you will, too.

The idealist Sun Yatsen inspired the overthrow of the Manchu dynasty and the establishment of a Chinese republic.  Chiang Kaishek attempted to unify China and led the fight against the Japanese invader.

Mao Zedong did unify the country under a strong totalitarian state.  But his regime stamped out independent thought, and his blunders resulted in great human suffering.  Millions reportedly starved to death because nobody dared tell him the truth about the failure of his agricultural policies.

Deng’s achievement was to cut the Chinese people enough slack so they could act on their own to build up the country, but without letting things get out of hand, as happened with Mikhail Gorbachev in the USSR.

The great flaw of Mao’s regime is that it depended on a single individual–Mao himself–always making the right decisions, but provided no way for Mao to get honest feedback.

Deng’s system changed this, but without going all the way to democracy.  Instead leaders relied on the advice and consent of the top Communist leadership.

Entrepreneurial business flourished, but it was subordinated to the aims of the Chinese state.  Foreign business was allowed in, but only under conditions that contributed to the growth of China. 

The government invested heavily in infrastructure, industrial research and education.  The material standard of living of the people improved.

Deng also established a collective leadership with a orderly system of succession.  Leaders served for 10 years at a time and, in their fifth year, chose successors.

The government maintained its power and authority, as shown by the TIananmen Square crackdown, but mostly exercised restraint.

The new leader, Xi Jinping, is moving to reestablish control and has established himself as ruler for life.  It will be interesting to see whether this will cancel Deng’s achievement and for how long China can maintain its momentum.

 

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