Wednesday, September 2, 2009
Deng Xiaoping and the Cultural Revolution is an autobiographical book about the trials and tribulations of Chinese leader, Deng Xiaoping during the ten-year disastrously tragic ‘cultural revolution’ in Mao Tse Tung’s 1970’s China. Deng Rong, Deng’s daughter, provides an exceptionally intimate first-hand account of China’s ‘reign of terror’ under Chairman Mao Tse Tung. In many ways it comes off as a therapeutic book Deng Xiaoping himself would have ordered to recount his pain and humiliation but also to defend and protect his place in the communist party and China’s history as a whole.
On a human interest level, it is simply the story of an extra ordinary man who weathered political storm after storm. He was twice ‘over thrown’ and stripped of all his elite positions and status in the Chinese government under Mao’s orders and evicted out of his official residences. After being ‘overthrown’ he worked for many years as an ordinary fitter in a tractor factory hundreds of miles away from the capital Beijing and the second time he lived under virtual house arrest after his second ‘overthrow’. Each time he fell, he got back on his feet much like the proverbial cat with ‘nine lives’. Deng Xiaoping had an incredibly indomitable spirit and even in his darkest day waited patiently for the tide to turn.
Reading this book reminded me of Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom another tale of an extraordinary life and a man who defied adversity and rose to the highest office of his land, just like Deng Xiaoping in China.
Deng Xiaoping was the paramount leader of China after Mao Tse Tung’s death in 1976 , having previously served as Vice Premier of China. With his experience in China’s war of liberation and steady rise in the China’s communist party, he was widely viewed as the successor to Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai, who died of cancer in 1976, leaving a gaping leadership gap at the highest level. Some even viewed him as a possible successor to Mao Tse Tung himself who in his 80’s was ailing and nearing his end as China’s paramount leader.
But there was one problem. Deng Xiaoping, who for a time lived in France in a ‘work-study’ arrangement, was not ideologically aligned to Mao’s extreme Marxist line of ‘class struggle’ and ‘dialectic materialism’. Although a member of China’s communist party of long standing, a hero of the China’s war of independence and an experienced administrator, many of the extremists in his party viewed him as a closet capitalist or to use their own term ‘a capitalist in-roader’.
In all fairness, Deng Xiaoping‘s ideological leanings were not strictly Marxist and asking what he was doing in a communist party is a decent question. He seemed more concerned with the pragmatic questions of state such as reviving the Chinese economy after the dysfunction occasioned by the cultural revolution, alleviating poverty in the country side, revitalizing industrial production, modernizing China etc. He once said he didn’t care whether a cat was black or white as long as it caught mice.Mao in fact had anointed the younger Lin Biao as his successor who in his estimation was closest to him in ideology and would preserve his beloved cultural revolution.
Mao installed Hua Guafeng as his successor whom Deng out manouvered after Mao's death and started China on its socialist market economy. In many respects, Deng Xiaopeng is the father of modern China. The China that is set to overtake Japan this year as the world's second largest economy.