I dont care if the cat is black or white, I just want it to kill the mice. – Deng Xiaoping.
Deng Xiaoping has been the individual with the most impact on China since the 1970s. Along with Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai, he is looked at as one of the key figures in evolution of communism in China . Deng Xiaoping will be remembered as a national hero, but this was not always the case. The real story of Deng includes the fact that, on more than one occasion, his peers ostracized him. During his lifetime he has been a part of the many changes in China throughout the twentieth century. He was by Mao Zedongs side through all of the struggles of the Chinese Communist Party; battling with Chiang Kai-shek and the Guomindang over and over, and surviving Mao in order to change China and enter a new era. His most recent accomplishments, those being of economic reform and opening China more and more to the West, an important step in this day and age, may have been his greatest. His life has been a paradoxical one of ease and struggle, but as they say, that goes with the territory.
The purpose of this essay is twofold. It is a means to reflect upon the accomplishments and failures of a man who has influenced todays China; and to present it all in an interesting, yet refreshingly honest way. I will look at three aspects of Deng Xiaopings life: First, the story of his youth and family, from when he was born until his return from France and Moscow, 1927. Second, a look at his beginnings in the Chinese Communist Party from 1927 to 1949, its struggle, and his rise. And finally, a look at his recent accomplishments and failures and what they have done for the Peoples Republic of China.
The Young Deng: 1904-1927
Deng Xiaoping was born on August 22nd, 1904, in Paifang, a village in Sichuan province near the town of Guangan. His name at birth was Deng Xixian, which he subsequently changed when he became a young revolutionary. His father, Deng Wenming, was a small landowner who has been described as energetic, sanguine, and gregarious . His mother, Dan Shideng, was the second wife of Dengs father.
Deng himself was the second child borne of his mother, and he was the eldest son. Dengs family roots are quite interesting in themselves. His ancestors had moved to Sichuan from the south some 200 years before Dengs birth. His ancestors were Hakka, or Hill People, the same as another notoriously famous person in Chinese history, Hong Xiuquan, the leader of the Taiping Rebellion. However, the family had shaken their Hakka roots well before the time of Dengs birth. Another ancestor, Deng Shimin, held a high rank under Qianlong, whos name you might remember in relation to the Opium Wars. His father was a member of the Society of Elder Brothers, one of the oldest and strongest of Chinese secret societies and he also was a key member of the Faith of the Five Brothers, a Taoist-Buddhist society. Through these connections, Yang Sen, a local warlord, gave him a prominent military post in the area. It was Yang Sen and Deng Weiming that decided that young Deng Xiaoping go study in France.
Deng arrived in France in 1920, just barely two years after the First World War. While it was easy for the wealthy Chinese to study in France, less well off people had to find employment in order to study. Work, however, was not easy to find and so Deng went through a variety of unskilled labour positions while he went to school where he learned about a variety of things, including communism.
Deng rose quickly through the ranks of Chinese Communism in France. In 1923, he was elected leader of the Communist Youth Party of China, and in 1924 he was elected as a member-at-large of the Chinese Communist Party in Europe. He also worked among the Guomindang, the Chinese Nationalist Party as a supervisory delegate in 1926.
In January of 1926, Deng Xiaoping left for Russia. If Deng wanted to amount to anything in the Chinese Communist Party, he had to study in the Soviet Union . He was supposed to have stayed twenty-four months, but instead stayed and studied for only eight months. Deng Xiaoping returned to China on August 17th, 1926 on the Trans-Siberian Railway, in the company of General Feng Yuxiang, the Christian General, and a future superior of Dengs.
Deng and the CCP: 1927-1949
When Deng returned to China he quickly rose in the ranks of the Chinese Communist Party. General Feng immediately named young Deng, also known now as the Little Cannon for his fiery temperament, as the political officer of his United National Armys Seventh Corps. Deng would hold this position, at varying levels, for the next twenty-three years. However, later that year, Feng dumped the communists, in order to become a member of the now anti-Communist Guomindang, led by Chiang Kai-shek. This began Deng Xixians revolutionary career, who, by now, had changed his name to Deng Xiaoping.
Deng had now fled the GMD to Guangxi, where the governor, though family ties, could sympathize with the Communists. In his time in Guangxi, Deng Xiaoping led two uprisings, the Bose Uprising, which he started with weaponry and defected soldiers from the garrison at Nanning, and the Longzhou Uprising. Then the Communists plans changed, albeit foolishly. Deng was ordered to attack large cities in neighbouring provinces.
The rationale for this was that the Communist leader, Li Lisan, thought that the toppling of a few more major cities would allow the Communists the victory they were looking for. This, obviously, did not happen, as the poor Communist armies did not have the resources necessary in order to battle the GMD armies, and the armies of the Communists were virtually annihilated.
Deng returned to Shanghai with the news, only to find out that the power had shifted again. The Bolsheviks, now in power of the CCP, promoted Deng to the role of Party Secretary for the city of Ruijin. Then they moved him to Huichang as District Secretary. Finally, Deng received an important post. Due to the endorsement of Zhou Enlai, he became a First Party Secretary of Guangxi province . But this did not last long for Deng Xiaoping, who had fallen victim to attacks by rival Communists, and was then demoted to the propaganda department.
However, Deng would rise again, and he did. After being released from jail, where he was put for refusing to apologize to his superiors, he received a posting to Nancun, a small village, to be an inspector. He was there only a short while before he was back to Ruijin and the Main Political Department of the Red Army. Deng was once again a political officer. In only four months he had returned to the upper echelons of the Party.
Then, Chiang Kai-Shek decided to try and rid himself of these pesky Communists forever. He assembled an army of one million and procured the services of German General, Hans von Seeckt. This drove the 86,000 communist revolutionaries out of Guangxi province, and forced the Chang Zheng, or Long March, an 8,500-mile trek from the south to the mountainous regions of the north. When Deng and Mao arrived, there were only 24,000 left. Deng and Mao became friends during the Long March, thereby furthering his ascent into the upper echelons of the CCP.
The next chapter in Dengs political life was the Sino-Japanese war, in which the Communists once again teamed up with Chiang Kai-Shek. Deng Xiaoping was named deputy leader of the Main Political Department of the Army. His next appointment was to be the political officer of the 129th Division of the Eighth Route Army, which became the most famous division during this war. This was a major move up the political hierarchy, and it even came as a surprise to the 33-year old Deng .
After the end of WWII in August 1945 the Chinese Civil War seemed imminent. Chiang Kai-shek was stockpiling weapons that the Americans had sent via Indochina. However, during the last war, the population had come to support Mao and the communists. Deng Xiaoping became First Secretary of the Main Front Department during this war, and in 1949, the GMD had been defeated and Chiang Kai-Shek was exiled to Taiwan.
During the civil war and the victory by the Communists, Deng Xiaoping had risen to be near the top of the political hierarchy in China, and a bevy of titles were bestowed upon him, these include: Director of the Finance and Economics Committee and Party Secretary.
Deng as the Leader: Reform
During the Cultural Revolution, Deng Xiaoping found himself in internal exile in China. Mao and his heir-apparent Lin Biao declared war on their own party. Deng Xiaoping was beaten and paraded through the streets of Beijing. His eldest son, Deng Pufang, was thrown from a window down to the street, rendering him paraplegic. However, with illness pervading the upper echelons of the Party; Mao with Parkinsons Disease, and Premier Zhou Enlai with cancer, someone was needed with the moxy to rebuild China after the Cultural Revolution. Zhou convinced the Mao to allow the exiled Deng to return. Mao allowed it, despite objections from his third wife, Jiang Qing.
Deng Xiaoping returned to Beijing in 1974 as vice premier and chairman of the Military Affairs Commission. As vice-premier, when Zhou Enlais cancer became so advanced, Deng became acting Premier of the Peoples Republic of China. Deng finally became the leader, with equal power over military, government, and politics.
In February 1978, Deng Xiaoping called for Modernization in this century of agriculture, industry, defense, as well as science and technology, in order to promote our country to a position among the most advanced in the world.
Deng started to do just this. His land reforms allowed peasants to make money off of the land and produce what they think will generate the most income. He allowed people to become rich again. He created special economic zones and stimulated international trade in order to benefit industry. And on the eve of Chinas first manned spaceflight, it can only be said that Deng Xiaoping opened the door for this occurrence. He started to abolish state subsidies so that the economy would balance out. He invited international conglomerates to do business in China. He opened the doors to the world, willingly, for the first time in Chinas history.
Deng Xiaoping led an interestingly up and down life. He was the leader of the worlds most populous nation, and he also spent time in jail. It is difficult to understand the workings of China in the pre-modern periods and the communism only makes it that much more intricate. Being a conservative individual in my own right makes me hesitant to see Deng Xiaoping as a hero. However, he did the best that he possibly could within constraints such as a lack of freedom and personal expression. He always did things his way, and good or bad, he lived by his decisions. He was never one to shift the blame. As the most important man in China since the deaths of Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai, Deng changed the face of China forever, making breakthroughs that only he at the time had the initiative to spearhead.
CCP Chinese Communist Party.
Chiang Kai-Shek Successor to Sun Yatsen as leader of the Guomindang until their defeat in the Chinese Civil War in 1949 when he was forced into exile on the island of Taiwan.
Guomindang (aka. GMD, Kuomintang, KMT) Chinese Nationalist Party, founded by Sun Yatsen in as an anti-Manchu society in the late 1800s.
Mao Zedong Founder and Chairman of the CCP until his death in 1976.
Political Officer In communist countries, there exists a parallel structure in the military. There is a military hierarchy, and a political hierarchy, each with equal power except in times of battle.
Sichuan also known as the province of Szechwan, which would be more recognized in Canada on Chinese food menus, for its food with spicy character, not unlike Deng Xiaoping himself.
Zhou Enlai Member of the CCP since his youth, befriended young Deng in France in the 1920s, eventually rose to the rank of Premier, which he held until his death in 1976.
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