February 20, 1997 in Nation/World

China’s Leader Dies Deng Opened China To West But Spurned Western Democracy

Uli Schmetzer Chicago Tribune
 

Deng Xiaoping will be remembered as the Chinese leader who opened his country to Western-style capitalism but called out the tanks to kill students demanding Western-style freedom.

Deng, 92, died Wednesday from the advanced stages of Parkinson’s disease, complicated by lung infections and respiratory and circulatory failure after emergency treatment, the New China news agency said.

It said Deng died at 9:08 p.m. China time (5:08 a.m. PST), and an announcement was issued to all Communist Party, government and military offices.

The news agency announced that President Jiang Zemin, who also is chief of the Communist Party, would head Deng’s funeral committee. The composition of the committee is significant in that it can identify who ultimately will assume the mantle of supreme leader.

The chain-smoking, bridge-playing Deng imported free-market reforms to Maoist China, a contradiction he disguised as “socialism with Chinese characteristics,” and produced the most dynamic economy in the communist world.

But he also left behind the enigma of a man who, despite lifelong battles to give Chinese socialism a more humane face, mobilized the army to smash a pro-democracy movement in the Tiananmen Square massacre on June 4, 1989.

It is unclear whether the sound of gunfire will forever echo louder than the applause for Deng’s “open door” policy, initiated in 1979, which converted Mao Tse-tung’s xenophobic and isolated China into an economic power. It also led to consumerism and materialism and relegated communism to the role of a dogma to which the Chinese pay only lip service today.

After he retired from his last official post in 1990, the “patriarch,” as Deng was often called, remained the eminence grise behind the ruling Politburo. His comments remained edicts. His will prevailed, and his mere existence held China together, even though he was incapacitated in his last years.

Apologists for Deng argue that his calling out the troops on Tiananmen Square saved China from the sort of turmoil and chaos that brought about and then followed the collapse of the Soviet Union. While old ethnic rivalries, new-style power struggles and a post-communist mafia made foreign investors pause en route to Russia, China enjoyed political stability and became an irresistible magnet for Western capital.

But foreign dollars couldn’t buy democracy in China, and Deng rejected all notions of political reform, so convinced was he that his countrymen coveted commercial opportunities but not the right to vote.

Pragmatic, realistic and candid to the point of folly, he became the antidote to the idealistic but often impractical Mao. When Mao’s hare-brained economic schemes flopped, Deng was summoned to repair the damage. Mao was in the clouds, Deng on the ground.

Toward the end of the Cultural Revolution, which bathed China in blood and filled its political jails from 1966 to 1976, the feeble Mao, in a brief moment of lucidity, recalled Deng from five years of banishment and purgatory as a worker in a factory in central Jiangxi province with the cry: “Bring back Deng. Deng is a rare and talented man. Deng has ideas. He finds solutions.”

Whenever faced with turmoil, Deng recalled the horrors of his own humiliation in 1969 when Mao’s Red Guards, unleashed to purify the faith, had paraded him through Beijing wearing a dunce’s cap, spat on him and taunted him. His brother committed suicide, and his eldest son was crippled for life when Red Guard thugs flung him from a fourth-floor window.

Sent to forced labor for the next five years with his second wife, their two sons and three daughters, the 65-year-old Deng mopped floors, split wood and broke up chunks of coal. He was not allowed to speak without permission.

Years later, he would recall that in February, 1974, “They thought I could be useful again and they took me out of the grave. I am the sort of person who doesn’t get discouraged easily. I am an optimist and I know what politics is like. I am a layman in other fields, but I know something about fighting.”

Born Aug. 22, 1904, one of the three sons of a well-to-do farmer in Guang’an County in central Sichuan province, Deng became a dedicated communist at age 16 after he went to France on a work-study program.

In Paris, he not only studied Marx, adored Lenin and discovered Chou En-lai, but also conceived a lifelong passion for croissants, cigarettes and contract bridge.

Returning from France as a fervent follower of Mao, he organized two major communist rebellions, in 1929 and 1930, in Guangxi province. A year later he demonstrated his distaste for party witch hunts and purges when he stopped the execution of 3,000 peasants in Ruijin County who had been accused by party zealots of collaborating with Chiang Kai-shek’s ruling Nationalists.

Decades later, he would perform a similar feat, rehabilitating hundreds of thousands of disgraced intellectuals and party officials sent to forced labor camps by Mao during the Cultural Revolution of 1966-76.

In 1933, Deng’s practicality clashed for the first time with the party line. He argued for the distribution of expropriated estates to middle-class peasants who knew how to grow badly needed grain, rather than handing all farmland to the unskilled rural serfs, as Mao wanted.

Labeled a right-wing revisionist, Deng was “struggled against” at party inquisitions, probably beaten up and made to recant. His first wife divorced him; within a month she married Deng’s main accuser. Deng was sent to the guerrilla frontline, presumably to perish.

But during the Long March of 1934-35, in which Mao’s struggling forces fled to escape encirclement by Chiang’s Nationalists, Deng bounced back - first as editor of the party paper, the Red Star and then as secretary general of the party’s central committee.

After the communist takeover in 1949, Deng became minister of finance and vice premier before taking over as secretary general of the Communist Party in 1956, one of the most powerful jobs in the new China.

It was a short-lived glory. Mao’s “Great Leap Forward” had, by 1959, turned into a great leap backward. An estimated 16 million Chinese had starved to death, thanks to Mao’s silly industrialization schemes. Deng was put in charge of finding a solution.

His remedy was an act of heresy. To stimulate food production he allotted private plots to the peasantry, a gross deviation from Mao’s sacrosanct doctrine of collective ownership. Deng’s plan smacked of capitalism.

“Which emperor carried out this plan?” stormed the irate Mao.

But Deng resolutely and successfully defended his sacrilege to a Politburo meeting with the now-famous Dengism: “It makes no difference if a cat is black or white. As long as it catches rats, it is a good cat.”

Obviously incensed by Mao’s costly planning errors, Deng chipped away fearlessly at the god-like stature of his mentor. He advised communists to read Lenin and Marx, not just Mao. He openly opposed the growing personality cult around the Great Helmsman and mused in public: “There is too much dictatorship. It should be relaxed a bit.”

After Mao’s death in 1976, Deng’s brusque manner and rush to bring China to its senses incurred the wrath of Mao’s powerful widow, Jiang Qing, and her colleagues, the so-called Gang of Four who were architects of the Cultural Revolution. Thus, when the mourning for elder statesman Chou En-lai’s death in 1976 turned into riots, Deng was blamed. Again he was purged.

Within a few months, though, the Gang of Four was under arrest, and 1977 signaled the start of the golden era of Deng Xiaoping. He quickly gathered all of Mao’s powers but discouraged any thought of a personality cult for himself.

After normalizing diplomatic relations with the United States in the late 1970s, a key for access to badly needed Western technology and know-how, Deng sanctioned free enterprise, foreign investment, joint ventures and special economic zones, stimulating the economy to unprecedented growth. It made Maoist purists wince.

He drove China toward his economic goal with zest and vision and at any cost, including a one-child limit per family and the blatant exploitation of the entrepreneurial spirit of his 1.2 billion compatriots, a spirit that four decades of Maoism had failed to eradicate.

But Deng rejected democratic innovation, not only for fear of eroding the Communist Party’s power but also from anxiety that political reform would cause instability.

During the brief blossoming of a student-led democracy movement in 1989, the streets filled with protesters who clamored for Deng’s resignation.

Perhaps the aging veteran of many political and military battles was not prepared to fall into disgrace once again or witness the terror of another violent revolution. Perhaps he really believed his own rhetoric that democracy was “the evil scourge of communism.”

Whatever the cause, the result was a massacre.

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: DENG XIAOPING (1904-1997) Deng Xiaoping, who inherited a country paralyzed by fear and poverty, is credited more than any other leader with the modernization of China. A look at his career:

Joined the Communist Party at age 16.

Joined Mao Tse-tung, the revolutionary leader on the 1934-35 “Long March” flight from Chiang Kaishek’s Nationalists.

Became a political commissar of the 129th Division of the communist 8th Route army, fighting the Japanese from 1937-45 and the Nationalists in the 1945-49 civil war.

Founded the People’s Republic of China in 1949.

Became vice premier in 1952.

In 1956, became a member of Politburo Standing Committee, the most powerful ruling body.

Fell into political disfavor twice decause of ties to Mao’s rivals during the Cultural Revolution, was sent to work at a tractor factory.

Returned to leadership in 1973, only to be purged once again in 1976.

Believed to have given final orders for the military suppression of the 1989 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests.

This sidebar appeared with the story: DENG XIAOPING (1904-1997) Deng Xiaoping, who inherited a country paralyzed by fear and poverty, is credited more than any other leader with the modernization of China. A look at his career:

Joined the Communist Party at age 16.

Joined Mao Tse-tung, the revolutionary leader on the 1934-35 “Long March” flight from Chiang Kaishek’s Nationalists.

Became a political commissar of the 129th Division of the communist 8th Route army, fighting the Japanese from 1937-45 and the Nationalists in the 1945-49 civil war.

Founded the People’s Republic of China in 1949.

Became vice premier in 1952.

In 1956, became a member of Politburo Standing Committee, the most powerful ruling body.

Fell into political disfavor twice decause of ties to Mao’s rivals during the Cultural Revolution, was sent to work at a tractor factory.

Returned to leadership in 1973, only to be purged once again in 1976.

Believed to have given final orders for the military suppression of the 1989 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests.

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