Saturday, October 22, 2011


A new book about Deng leads to various reactions.

Deng Xiaoping is viewed, perhaps simplistically, in the West as the man who authorized China's economic modernity and who authorized the massacre that took place in Tiananmen Square.

Now, a new book detailing his life has been written, and its generating various reactions in the Western media. The book, titled "Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China", is written by Harvard professor Ezra Vogel.

The New York Times suggests there are some gaps in the 900-page tome.
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.
The Wall Street Journal's review indicates that the book suffers at times from an author who might have been influenced by the sources with whom he spoke
One wonders how the author's privileged access to sources deeply invested in the prestige of China's system and in the person of Deng himself may have contributed to a result that too often reads like an authorized political narrative, however richly informed. The diminutive man from Sichuan Province whom Mao described as a "needle inside of a ball of cotton" is sometimes lionized more than analyzed in the book, coming across as a truth-seeker who never favored friends and always placed China's interests above all.
The Economist adds that the Chinese leadership today especially should laud Mr. Deng.
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.
Of course, you should take the time to read the book; I'll be requesting it through my local and my university libraries. 

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