Born August 22, 1904
Guangan, Szechwan Province, China
Died February 19, 1997
Beijing, People's Republic of China
Leader of the People's Republic of China
D eng Xiaoping was the leader of the People's Republic of China (PRC) from 1977 until his death in 1997. Besides introducing major economic reforms, Deng strove to increase the PRC's economic ties with the West while keeping distant relations with the Soviet Union. Under former leader Mao Zedong (1893–1976; see entry), the PRC had operated in political and economic isolation; under Deng, the communist nation began to participate in international markets.
Deng Xiaoping was born in August 1904 to a wealthy landowner, Deng Xixian, in the Szechwan Province of China. In 1921, he went to Paris, France, on a work-study program. There, he met future Chinese premier Zhou Enlai (1898–1976; see entry), and in 1922 he joined the branch of the Chinese Communist Youth League Zhou had formed. Showing strong organizational skills, Deng was soon elected to a leadership position.
In 1925, Deng went to Moscow, where he studied at the Oriental University for two years before returning to China.
During the mid-1920s, the Chinese Communist Party had joined forces with the Chinese Nationalist army in an effort to overthrow the unpopular Manchu dynasty rulers. (Nationalism refers to the strong loyalty of a person or group to its own country.) Deng taught at the Chungshan Military Academy in 1926 and 1927 until Chinese Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek (1887–1975; see entry) abruptly purged communists from the army alliance in April 1927. At first, Deng went underground, or lived in secrecy, in Shanghai; then he joined Mao Zedong and other communists in the southern province of Jiangxi. In Jiangxi, Deng became head of the Red Army's Propaganda Bureau, which was charged with the responsibility of establishing a communist government in the province, in opposition to the Chinese Nationalist government. However, Chiang remained intent on crushing the Chinese communist movement. His forces defeated the communist Red Army in Jiangxi. The communists retreated, setting out on the Long March, a 6,000-mile (9,654-kilometer) trek from Jiangxi to northwestern China, where they hoped to establish a new base. Almost eighty-six thousand communists took part in the Long March; only nine thousand survived the grueling journey.
In 1937, the Communists and Nationalists in China once again joined forces; they were united by necessity—the Japanese had invaded China and were threatening to take over the country. With a common goal of protecting China from foreign influence, the Communists and Nationalists maintained their alliance throughout World War II (1939–45). Deng served as political officer (commissar) for the Red Army during World War II, and he remained in that position when the Chinese civil war resumed in 1946. His Second Field Army led the attack against Chiang's Nationalist government. Meanwhile, Deng moved up through the Communist Party ranks. In 1945, he joined the Central Committee, which ran the day-to-day operations of the Communist Party. The fiery Deng was only 4 feet 11 inches (1.5 meters) tall and earned the nickname "Little Cannon."
The Communists gain power
In October 1949, the Chinese Communists succeeded in overthrowing Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist government. Communist leader Mao Zedong established the People's Republic of China (PRC) on the Chinese mainland, and the defeated Chiang led a million refugees to the island of Taiwan, located off the south coast of China, where he formed the Republic of China (ROC). The United States established formal relations with the ROC and refused to recognize the Communist PRC government.
Deng was appointed head of the Communist Party in southwest China in 1949, and the following year the Red Army finally gained full control of that region. Deng busily instituted farming reform in the region and steadily climbed in influence. However, Deng at times clashed with Mao because Deng had adopted a moderate political position in contrast to Mao's more radical revolutionary agenda. Nevertheless, in 1952 Deng was summoned to Beijing and was appointed to various senior posts in the Communist Party and in Mao's government. For example, he became the Central Committee's general secretary in 1954; he also served as minister of finance and as deputy to Premier Zhou Enlai. In 1955, Deng was appointed to the Politburo, the important policy-making body of the Communist Party. In 1956, he joined the six-member Politburo Standing Committee.
As a major policy maker, Deng focused primarily on domestic economic development. One of Deng's priorities was to reduce Soviet control of PRC's railways and industry. In 1957, Deng was part of the PRC delegation to Moscow that denounced the de-Stalinization program of Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev (1894–1971; see entry). Khrushchev had regularly criticized the strict communist rule of his predecessor, Joseph Stalin (1879–1953; see entry); the attempt to discredit Stalin and his policies is referred to as de-Stalinization. Deng went to Moscow again in 1960. On that visit, he denounced Khrushchev's policy of peaceful coexistence with the West. Deng traveled to the Soviet Union again in 1963, hoping to improve the PRC's relations with the Soviets, but the trip only reinforced the split between the two communist countries.
In 1958, Mao introduced the Great Leap Forward, a program designed to improve the PRC economy through agricultural reforms. The program was distinctly different from Deng's emphasis on industrial reform. Mao wanted to go back to an emphasis on agriculture and peasant farming, while Deng wanted to push China more into the industrialized age. Mao's program resulted in failure and led to increased influence for Deng. Mao stepped down as chairman of the PRC, and Deng's associate Liu Bocheng (1892–1986) replaced Mao. Mao remained chairman of the Chinese Communist Party, the more powerful position.
In 1965, Mao launched the Cultural Revolution to regain more complete control of the nation and drive Deng and Liu from power. Mao wanted to refocus the economy on peasant farming and turn it away from the capitalist trend he saw in Deng's programs. (A capitalist economic system means prices, production, and distribution of goods are determined by competition in a market relatively free of government interference.) Mao's efforts were successful, and Deng was removed from all government and party positions in 1967. From 1967 to 1973, Deng and his family were forced to live in a rural region, where he performed manual labor.
Rise to leadership
In April 1973, with help from Zhou Enlai, Deng suddenly reemerged in PRC politics and was made deputy premier. The Communist Party needed Deng's experience and ability, so he was placed back on the Central Committee later in the year; in 1974, he was back on the Politburo. As Zhou's health began to deteriorate, Deng took over most functions of the premier position for a two-year period, essentially running the government. During this time, he accompanied Mao at all meetings with foreign leaders. He also journeyed to France, becoming the highest-ranking PRC official to visit a Western European country. In April 1974, Deng went before the United Nations in New York to address a special session on Chinese foreign policy. His raised stature before the UN resulted in him returning home a hero.
The death of Zhou in January 1976 led to a power struggle. Mao's wife, Jiang Qing (1914–1991), and three other radical Chinese communists exerted a strong influence over Mao. This group, known as the Gang of Four, pushed Deng from power in April 1976. Mao died in September, leaving power to the Gang of Four. However, Hua Guofeng (c. 1920–), who at one time had been Mao's chosen successor, soon gained power and reinstated Deng in July 1977.
Deng would this time rise to prominence as the PRC leader. Before proceeding with his reforms, he sought to end the stature of Mao, which Deng believed was too big, and to decrease the influence of Mao's past political doctrine. Deng believed that communism should be focused on the system and equality of all citizens (theoretically), not on the celebrity of one or a few. As part of this effort, he put the Gang of Four on public trial in November 1980 in order to discredit their earlier actions to control the country. Hua would remain prime minister, but Deng wielded actual control. In January 1979, shortly after the United States established formal relations with the PRC, it was Deng who traveled to Washington, D.C., to visit President Jimmy Carter (1924–; served 1977–81; see entry).
Even though Deng held utmost power, he preferred to exert it indirectly and not hold a top post. In 1980, a Deng associate, Zhao Ziyang (1919–), replaced Hua as prime minister. Another associate, Hu Yaobang (1915–1989), assumed the Communist Party chairmanship in 1981. Deng chose to hold the top position in the Central Military Commission, through which he maintained control of the armed forces. He also held the position of deputy prime minister.
To further strengthen his power, Deng established the Central Advisory Commission in 1982 and named himself the chairman. In 1987, he retired from the Central Committee but still retained full power. Through the 1980s, Deng introduced major reforms, decentralizing various parts of the economy. This gave China's provinces greater input in their economic programs and also gave peasant farmers control over their production and profits. He emphasized each citizen's individual responsibility to make good decisions. He also introduced family planning to curb the country's rapid population growth. With fields leased to farm families, farmers gained greater control over their production and profits. By the early 1980s, farm production was showing a significant improvement.
For industries, Deng introduced incentive systems, rewarding industries for improved efficiency and production. Many industries and businesses were also freed from the control of the central government. Factory managers were given authority to set production levels and seek profits. Previously, the PRC's major economic emphasis was heavy industry, major businesses that demand a lot of capital investment or are labor intensive, such as steel manufacturing or industrial machinery. Deng shifted the emphasis to production of consumer goods, transportation, and energy production. He also formed groups of knowledgeable technicians and managers to lead industrial development. Deng took steps to increase trade and cultural relations with the West and to open PRC businesses to foreign investment. To sustain this economic development, Deng's reforms included sending Chinese students abroad to learn the newest technologies.
Despite the economic improvements, the citizens of the PRC strained under Deng's leadership, in part because he did not allow reforms in the political or social systems. Deng's army remained in control of the country. Though the quality of life was improving, the differences between rich and poor grew. Inflation and unemployment also began to rise during the 1980s. In addition, corruption in the government created further unrest in the population. These conditions led to massive protests by students demanding democratic reforms. In early 1989, one such protest led to bloodshed when the PRC army stepped in to respond (see box).
Jiang Zemin (1926–) replaced Deng as chairman of the Central Military Commission in 1989. Through the 1990s, Deng's direct involvement in the PRC government continued to decline, but he still remained the most influential person in China. The collapse of communism in the Soviet Union in late 1991 convinced Deng that the PRC needed to continue with the economic reforms he had instituted, otherwise the Chinese Communist Party might also fail. By the time Deng died in February 1997, at the age of ninety-two, the PRC had achieved increased domestic stability and economic growth. The standard of living rose, and personal freedoms increased. The Chinese Communist Party remained intact as the sole political party in the nation.
For More Information
Hsu, C. Y. The Rise of Modern China. 4th ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.
Meisner, Maurice. Mao's China and After: A History of the People's Republic. New York: Free Press, 1999.
Schaller, Michael. The United States and China: Into the Twenty-First Century. 3rd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.
Short, Philip. Mao: A Life. New York: Henry Holt, 2000.
Terrill, Ross. Mao: A Biography. New York: Harper and Row, 1980.
Yang, Benjamin. Deng: A Political Biography. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 1998.
While Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev (1931–; see entry) was visiting Beijing in April 1989, massive demonstrations for political reform in the People's Republic of China (PRC) broke out. Gorbachev was introducing political reform in the Soviet Union, and many in China wanted the same to occur in their nation. The demonstrators wanted greater political freedom and a more democratic government. Demonstrations occurred in Tiananmen Square, a large public area in Beijing originally built in 1651 and traditionally the place of mass gatherings. It is one of the largest public squares in the world.
Some three thousand Chinese students went on a hunger strike on May 13 and demanded Deng's resignation. The protests gained much international attention through televised broadcasts. Even some PRC army units showed support for the protesters. In response, the government declared martial law (when the law is administered by the military, rather than by civilian agencies) on May 20. On June 4, the army moved in with Deng's approval, crushing the protest. Hundreds of demonstrators were killed in Beijing, and unknown numbers of people died in other cities where similar demonstrations were occurring. The following week, protest leaders were executed in public. Deng blamed Zhao Ziyang for the demonstrations and replaced him with the more conservative Jiang Zemin. Deng also tightened controls over the Chinese people by restricting the freedom of expression, particularly in public gatherings.
Despite international protests over the Tiananmen incident, economic relations between the PRC and the West were unaffected. China was able to retain its most-favored-nation trade status despite protests from some in the U.S. Congress, and in the years that followed, trade continued to expand. However, China withdrew from international politics and became isolated once again.
Deng Xiaoping (Teng Hsiao-p'ing) (1904-1997) became the most powerful leader in the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) in the 1970s. He served as the chairman of the Communist party's Military Commission and was the chief architect of China's modernization and economic reforms during the 1980s.
Born in Guangan, Sichuan Province, in 1904, Deng joined the Chinese Communist party (CCP) in 1924 while on a work-study program in France. Before returning to China in 1926 he went to Moscow, where he studied for several months.
During the fabled Long March of 1934-1935 Deng served first as director of the political department, and then as the political commissar, of the First Army Corps. After the war with Japan began in 1937 Deng was appointed political commissar of the 129th Division, one of the three divisions in the reorganized Communist Eighth Route Army, which was commanded by Liu Bocheng, also a native of Sichuan. The forces under the two Sichuanese grew into a large military machine and became one of the four largest Communist army units during the war. It was renamed the Second Field Army in 1946 when the civil war began. In the critical Huai-Hai battles in East China during November 1948-January 1949, Deng served as the secretary of a special five-man General Front Committee to coordinate the strategy of participating Communist troops and direct the military actions. In 1949-1950 the Second Field Army took Southwest China, and Deng became the ranking party leader there in the early 1950s.
Deng rose quickly in the leadership hierarchy after his transfer to Peking in 1952. He became CCP secretary-general in 1954 and a member of the Politburo the following year after he supervised the purge of two recalcitrant regional leaders. During the Eighth CCP Congress in 1956 Deng was elevated to the six-man Politburo Standing Committee and appointed general secretary, heading the party secretariat. By then, he had become one of the half dozen most powerful men in China.
Exile and Return
By many accounts Deng was an able, talented, and knowledgeable man. He was nicknamed "a living encyclopedia" by his colleagues. Chairman Mao Tse-tung, the architect of the PRC, allegedly pointed Deng out to Khrushchev of the U.S.S.R. and said, "See that little man there? He is highly intelligent and has a great future ahead of him." Deng visited the Soviet Union several times in the 1950s and the 1960s, as he was closely involved in Sino-Soviet relations and their dispute over the international Communist movement.
Mao and Deng parted ways in the 1960s as they disagreed over the strategy of economic development and other policies. Deng's pragmatism, embodied in his well-known remark, "It does not matter whether they are black cats or white cats; so long as they catch mice, they are good cats," was heresy to Mao's ears. Mao also resented Deng for making decisions without consulting him—he scolded Deng in a 1961 party meeting: "Which emperor did this?" In 1966 Mao launched the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (GPCR) and mobilized the youthful Red Guards to purge the "capitalist powerholders" in the party, such as Deng. From 1969 to 1973, Deng and his family were exiled to a "May 7 cadre school" in rural Jiangxi to undergo reeducation, in which he performed manual labor and studied the writings of Mao and Marx. Deng's elder son, Deng Pufang, was permanently crippled in an assault by Red Guards.
In the spring of 1973 Deng was brought back to Peking and reinstated a vice-premier in the wake of a major realignment of political forces, which resulted from the demise of Defense Minister Lin Piao and the purge of Lin's followers. Deng's ability and expertise were highly valued in the Chinese leadership and he quickly assumed important roles. In late 1973 he carried out a major reshuffle of regional military leaders and was elevated to the Politburo. In April 1974 he journeyed to New York to address a special United Nations session, in which he expounded Mao's theory of the "Three Worlds."
As Premier Chou Enlai was hospitalized after May 1974, the burden of leadership and administration increasingly fell on Deng's shoulders. In January 1975 Deng was elevated to a party vice-chairman, the senior vice-premier, and the army chief of staff. However, Deng's eagerness to carry out "four modernizations" and the political reforms alienated Mao and other radicals led by Mao's wife Chiang Ch'ing (Jiang Qing).
Thus, soon after Premier Chou died on January 8, 1976, Deng became the target of attack in the Chinese media, and on April 7 the party Politburo passed a resolution at Mao's urging to oust Deng from all leadership posts. After Mao's death in September 1976 Deng's allies prevailed and Deng was reinstated in July 1977, the opposition of new Party Chairman Hua Guofeng not withstanding.
After Deng's political comeback and in his struggle for ascendency thereafter, his foremost task was to destroy the cult of Mao and to downgrade Mao's ideological authority. Another powerful measure of de-Maoization was to put the "Gang of Four" on public trial, which began in Peking on November 20, 1980. These four radical leaders, including Mao's widow Chiang Ch'ing, were the late chairman's most ardent supporters and the prime movers behind the GPCR, on which they rode to power. The trial symbolized the triumph of veteran officials, led by Deng, who had fallen victim to the radical crusade between 1966 and 1976.
Moreover, Deng also used the trial as the coup de grace against Chairman Hua Guofeng. Although Hua was not a defendant, he did collaborate with the radicals before Mao's death. In a central committee plenum in June 1981 Hu Yaobang, Deng's protege, replaced Hua as the party chairman.
Deng's economic policies required opening China to the rest of the world in order to attract foreign investment and to educate students abroad in the latest technologies. Accordingly, the People's Republic of China in 1978 signed a Treaty of Peace and Friendship with Japan. In 1979, Deng obtained his nation's official recognition from the United States. Sino-Russian relations were gradually improved over the next decade, and he achieved the long-cherished goal of recovering the British colony of Hong Kong through an agreement scheduled for implementation in 1997.
These diplomatic successes supplemented and eased major changes in the domestic economy. Deng found China's industrial progress impeded by the imbalances of the Cultural Revolution, which stressed investment in heavy industry while virtually ignoring, consumer production, agriculture, transportation, and energy production. As a result, wages and farm prices were too low, and consumer goods were in short supply.
To combat this situation, Deng reduced capital investment in heavy industry, increased prices paid by the state to farmers, and arranged a series of bonuses to raise workers' incomes. Farmers were encouraged to sell more produce privately, and a rapid growth of free markets for farm produce occurred. The communal labor system was virtually eliminated from the rural communes, and fields were leased to farm families on terms that allowed them more autonomy in determining what crops to plant. Agricultural production increased dramatically while, at the same time, a significant proportion of the rural population transferred its activities from farming to various kinds of light industry and trade. More free markets sprang up for distribution of these products, and some state-owned factories were placed under the control of their managers, who were instructed to take into account the profitability and market conditions for their products.
Fought to Maintain Political Stability
Throughout these reforms, Deng insisted upon maintaining China's socialist system. As ever greater reliance was placed on market forces to determine prices, it became increasingly difficult to balance socialist principles with capitalist effects. The reforms resulted in a generally improved standard of living but produced inequalities that were greatly resented. Inflation in the 1980s, a serious problem for the first time in a generation, accompanied increased unemployment and ever-growing disparities in living standards. Deng's inability to reform the blatant corruption and enrichment of many party and government officials and their families created new tensions.
Such tensions fed the long-smoldering discontent of academics who had opposed the party's dictatorship from the beginning and fueled repeated popular demands, especially among students, for a greater degree of democracy in China. In 1979, some of Deng's supporters had openly opposed his dictatorship and called for a democratic political system, and it was Deng himiself who led the suppression of their democracy movement, imprisoned some of their leaders, and banned unofficial organizations and publications. Again in December of 1986, widespread unauthorized student demonstrations were repressed by the government. Hu Yaobang was blamed for this movement, forced to resign, and became a hero to the students. Zhao Ziyang replaced him as head of the party.
Deng's insistence through the 1980s on maintaining China's socialist system while putting his economic reforms into place had by 1989 forced him into an untenable corner of contradictions; he was presiding over increasing economic disparities in an ostensibly socialist society. The opposition's discontent ripened that year into plans for renewed student demonstrations on the 70th anniversary of the May Fourth Movement. When Hu Yaoband died in April, the demonstrators' leaders incorporated into their plans memorials that resembled their 1976 protests following Chou Enlai's death.
Focusing on demands for greater democracy, a series of student demonstrations at Tiananmen Square coincided with Mikhail Gorbachev's official state visit to Beijing and proved a serious embarrassment to China's leaders—one made worse by world-wide television coverage. The democracy movement quickly spread to other cities, threatening both social stability and Communist party leadership.
Deng, who began his political career 70 years earlier on one side of the May Fourth Movement of 1919, now found himself on quite another as party leaders began to weigh the possibility of compromise with the students. He chose, instead, confrontation. Restructuring his alliances, he forced Zhao Ziyang's resignation and relied on his old military friends to suppress the demonstrations. The violence that followed on June 4, 1989, is believed to have killed hundreds of demonstrators in Beijing alone.
Worldwide condemnation of the massacre in Tiananmen Square and the uneasy domestic peace that followed brought a tightening of controls over the Chinese people, but did not shake Deng from his dedication to the Communist party's dictatorship nor his pursuit of modernization and economic reform.
From time to time, Deng compromised with other leaders, slowed down the pace of reform, or shifted priorities to placate his critics, but this did not seriously effect Deng's control of the regime's direction. Recognizing his advanced age, Deng sought to assure continuation of his "open door" policy and other political and economic reforms by putting CCP General Secretary Hu Yaobang, Premier Zhao Ziyang, and many other like-minded younger officials in positions of responsibility. In November of 1989, Deng resigned his last official position as head of the Central Military Commission. However, he retained paramount authority and continued to guide Chinese policy from his retirement.
The failed Soviet coup in August 1991 and the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Communist party reinforced Deng's belief that the fate of China, as well as that of Chinese communism, depended heavily on the state of China's economy. Deng understood well that economic reform meant turning loose forces that might eventually topple the Communist party but believed strongly in the party's ability to deliver economic growth and rising incomes. Deng's commitment to change and chastisement of those who dared oppose him forced many hard-line conservative elders to retire and cleared the way for Communist party to fully embrace his reforms. In 1992 the 14th Party Congress signalled the acceptance of Deng's ideas by making a socialist market economy a national goal for the year 2000.
In his last years Deng instigated debate within the Communist party on the need to balance economic reform with political stability, but was unable to impose a convincing plan for stability after his death. As Deng's health slipped into precipitous decline, the powerful patriarch became farther removed from his duties of daily decision-making. His last public appearance was during lunar new year festivities in early 1994, and on February 19, 1997 he died at age 92.
For an excellent biographical article on Deng's life and the economic changes he brought to China see Patrick E. Tyler's essay in the The New York Times, February 16, 1997.
Deng Xiaoping (Teng Hsiao-p'ing): Speeches and Writings (1984) and Parris H. Chang, "Chinese Politics: Deng's Turbulent Quest," in Problems of Communism (January-February 1981) provide additional information on Deng's political activities. TIME magazine recognized his reforms by twice naming him "Man of the Year," in 1976 and 1985. □
Born: August 22, 1904
Guangan, Sichuan Province, China
Died: February 19, 1997
Chinese politician and leader
Deng Xiaoping became the most powerful leader in the People's Republic of China (PRC) in the 1970s. He served as the chairman of the Communist Party's Military Commission and was the chief architect of China's economic improvements during the 1980s.
Deng Xiaoping was born Deng Xixian in Guangan, Sichuan Province, on August 22, 1904. His parents were Deng Wenming, a relatively well-to-do landowner, and the second of his four wives, Deng Danshi. Deng grew up with one sister, two brothers, and the children of his father's other wives. He joined the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in 1924 while on a high school work-study program in France. (Communism is a political system where goods and services are controlled by the government.) Before returning to China in 1926 he went to Moscow, where he studied for several months.
During the fabled Long March of 1934 and 1935, when Communist Chinese traveled six thousand miles to set up a home in inland China, Deng served first as director of the political department. After the war with Japan began in 1937 Deng was appointed political commissar (party official) of the 129th Division. The force grew into a large military machine and became one of the four largest Communist army units during the war. It was renamed the Second Field Army in 1946 when the civil war began.
Deng rose quickly in the leadership hierarchy after his transfer to Peking, China, in 1952. He became CCP secretary-general in 1954 and a member of the Politburo (ruling party). During the Eighth CCP Congress in 1956 Deng was elevated to the six-man Politburo Standing Committee and appointed general secretary. By then, he had become one of the most powerful men in China.
Exile and return
By many accounts Deng was an able, talented, and intelligent man. He was nicknamed "a living encyclopedia" by his peers. Chairman Mao Zedong (1893–1976), the creator of the People's Republic of China (PRC), pointed out Deng's abilities to Nikita Khrushchev (1894– 1971) of the Soviet Union, the former Communist country which consisted of Russia and other states. Deng visited the Soviet Union several times in the 1950s and the 1960s, as he was closely involved in Chinese-Soviet relations and their dispute over the international communist movement.
Mao and Deng parted ways in the 1960s as they disagreed over the strategy of economic development and other policies. Mao disapproved of Deng for making decisions without consulting him. In 1966 Mao launched the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (GPCR) and mobilized the youthful Red Guards (the Communist army) to rid the party of "capitalist powerholders," such as Deng. From 1969 to 1973, Deng and his family were exiled (forced to leave) to rural Jiangxi to undergo reeducation, during which time he performed manual labor and studied the writings of Mao and Karl Marx (1818–1893).
In the spring of 1973 Deng was brought back to Peking and reinstated as a vice-premier after a major realignment of political forces. Deng's ability and expertise were highly valued in the Chinese leadership, and he quickly assumed important roles. In late 1973 he carried out a major reorganization of regional military leaders and was elevated to the Politburo.
As Premier Chou Enlai was hospitalized after May 1974, leadership increasingly fell on Deng's shoulders. In January 1975 Deng was elevated to a party vice-chairman, the senior vice-premier, and the army chief of staff. However, Deng's eagerness to carry out political reforms (improvements) pushed away Mao and other radicals, and Deng was soon forced from power.
After Mao's death in July 1977, Deng began his political comeback. His first task was to destroy Mao's followers and to downgrade Mao's lasting authority. Another powerful measure of de-Maoization was to put the "Gang of Four" on public trial, which began in Peking on November 20, 1980. These four radical leaders, including Mao's widow Chiang Ch'ing, were the late chairman's most devoted supporters. The trial symbolized the triumph of veteran officials, led by Deng, who had fallen victim to Mao's radical changes between 1966 and 1976.
Deng's economic policies required opening China to the rest of the world in order to attract foreign investment and to educate students abroad in the latest technologies. Accordingly, the PRC in 1978 signed a Treaty of Peace and Friendship with Japan. In 1979, Deng obtained the nation's official recognition from the United States. Chinese-Soviet relations were gradually improved over the next decade, and he achieved the long-cherished goal of recovering the British colony of Hong Kong through an agreement implemented in 1997.
When the Chinese economy began to crumble, Deng reduced investment in heavy industry, increased prices paid by the state to farmers, and arranged a series of bonuses to raise workers' incomes. Farmers were encouraged to sell more produce privately, and a rapid growth of free markets for farm produce occurred.
Fought to maintain political stability
Throughout these reforms, Deng insisted upon maintaining China's socialist system (a social system where the government produces and distributes goods to the people). The reforms Deng installed generally improved the quality of life but produced inequalities throughout China. In the 1980s the economy began to slip; unemployment increased and produced growing difference in living standards between the classes.
In 1979 some of Deng's supporters had openly opposed his dictatorship (one ruler with absolute power) and called for a democratic political system. Deng himself shut down this democracy movement by imprisoning some of their leaders, and banning unofficial organizations and publications. In December of 1986, widespread student demonstrations (protests) were shut down by the government.
Deng's insistence through the 1980s on maintaining China's socialist system while putting his economic reforms into place had by 1989 forced him into a corner. Focusing on demands for greater democracy (a government by the people), a series of student demonstrations at Tiananmen Square occurred during Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's (1931–) official state visit to Beijing and proved a serious embarrassment to China's leaders—one made worse by worldwide television coverage. The violence that followed on June 4, 1989, is believed to have killed hundreds of demonstrators in Beijing alone.
Worldwide criticism of the massacre in Tiananmen Square and the uneasy domestic peace that followed brought a tightening of controls over the Chinese people, but did not shake Deng from his dedication to the Communist Party's dictatorship. Recognizing his advanced age, Deng sought to continue his "open door" policy and other political and economic reforms by putting CCP General Secretary Hu Yaobang, Premier Zhao Ziyang, and many other younger officials in positions of responsibility. In November of 1989, Deng resigned his last official position as head of the Central Military Commission.
In his last years Deng started debate within the Communist Party on the need to balance economic reform with political stability. As Deng's health declined, he became further removed from his duties of daily decision-making. His last public appearance was during lunar new year festivities in early 1994, and on February 19, 1997, he died in Peking, China, at age ninety-two.
For More Information
Chang, Parris H. "Chinese Politics: Deng's Turbulent Quest." Problems of Communism (January-February, 1981).
Evans, Richard. Deng Xiaoping and the Making of Modern China. New York: Viking, 1994.
Tyler, Patrick E. The New York Times. (February 16, 1997).
Yang, Benjamin. Deng: A Political Biography. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 1997.