b i o g r a p h y & m e m o i r over leadership and ‘line’ in the Party. As Mao faded from the scene, the Gang of Four were thwarted in their attempt to succeed him. Deng recovered from a second fall from power in 1976 to manoeuvre his way to the very top in everything but name, setting China on the course of reform and opening up to the wider world.
sometimes perhaps intuits more than his sources strictly allow – and moves. You do not have to like everything that Deng did to acknowledge that he was a titan, reshaping his country’s status and destiny through the exercise of an unsentimental, steely resolve, often in the most difficult of circumstances.
Vogel is the master of this complex material. He had access to many who knew and worked with Deng, including Jiang Zemin. Deng selected him as Party leader in 1989 to succeed Zhao Ziyang, who had been sacked and disgraced because of his opposition to the use of force in Tiananmen Square. Vogel also spoke to two of Deng’s children. The documentary sources are copious and, in terms of access to material, this study is unlikely to be bettered until the Party opens its most sensitive archives – which could be a long wait.
It is hard to disagree with much of what Vogel writes and there is much to admire, particularly his judicious contextualisation of Deng’s motives – which Vogel
It was Deng who forced the Party to acknowledge that, despite thirty years of Communist rule, China was poor, backward and destined for national eclipse unless it woke up and started learning from the capitalist world. It was Deng who gave farmers the freedom to till their own land, and private businesses the right to prosper. Deng secured the return of Hong Kong and established diplomatic relations with the United States at the expense of rival Taiwan. He set the military on a path of modernisation and capacity-building that is raising eyebrows among China’s neighbours and concerns in the United States.
And it was Deng who ordered troops to open fire on unarmed protestors in
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1989, damning him in the eyes of some Chinese, and many of those who watched the horrifying scenes from Beijing on television. Vogel’s account of Tiananmen adds little to what has become a wellknown story. He does, however, confirm what is widely believed: that Deng had no regrets. ‘Deng’s family’, he writes, ‘reported that despite all the criticism he received, he never once doubted that he had made the right decision.’
Deng had one major political act still to perform: his so-called ‘southern tour’ of 1992, when he ambushed the leadership in Beijing that he had appointed after Tiananmen but now despaired of because of its timidity and reluctance to reform. Of few leaders can it be said that their most significant intervention was made when they were almost eighty-eight.
Future Chinese rulers may one day decide that Deng Xiaoping made mistakes. But even if they do, his place in the history of Chinese nationalism looks secure. To order this book for £23.95, see the Literary Review Bookshop on page 49
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