|A guide to|
|Likely to be censored|
“”Not only did Mao Zedong Thought lead us to victory in the revolution in the past; it is - and will continue to be - a treasured possession of the Chinese Communist Party and of our country. That is why we will forever keep Chairman Mao's portrait on Tiananmen Gate as a symbol of our country, and we will always remember him as a founder of our Party and state. Moreover, we will adhere to Mao Zedong Thought. We will not do to Chairman Mao what Khrushchev did to Stalin.
|—Deng Xiaoping, who then did do to Chairman Mao what Khrushchev did to Stalin|
Deng "I love tanks!" Xiaoping (simplified Chinese: 邓小平; traditional Chinese: 鄧小平; Wade–Giles: Teng Hsiao-ping) (1904–1997) was the Paramount Leader of the People's Republic of China[note 1] from 1978 to 1989 and continued to exert major influence on Chinese policy until his death in 1997. Deng is associated with a massive wave of economic and political reforms in China. Due to a rather rightward leaning stance compared to his peers, Mao (failing to realize the serious issues with his own economic policy) feared that Deng would end the Chinese revolution by installing capitalism,[note 2] which led to him being purged from the Chinese Communist Party twice during the Cultural Revolution. After Mao's death in 1976, Deng metaphorically slapped Mao in the face and managed to win the de facto control of China's leadership, becoming a "soft" dictator, at least by the PRC's terrible standards. Deng was less critical of Mao when in power, but likely only to curry favour within the Communist Party.
After China became a borderline failed state during the Cultural Revolution, Deng Xiaoping managed to introduce some stability, despite the country never quite healing from the period. Regardless, Deng can be credited for the Chinese economic miracle in modern times. To even achieve this from the broken-ness of Maoist communism is an insane feat, as well as the many reforms that allowed China to progress into a quasi-superpower capable of rivalling the United States without dropping tens of millions of bodies every few years. Indeed, you can credit Deng for a lot of the good in modern China...
But you can also credit him for a lot of the bad, with one key event ensuring the PRC would remain a authoritarian oligarchy until this very day, and it's plagued Deng's otherwise admirable legacy. Thanks to Daddy Xi, a bad situation then got a whole lot worse, and China now further deepens its ignorance towards human rights and liberal policies, even those put in place by Deng himself.
Rise to Power
Deng Xiaoping was born on the 22nd August, 1904 in Sichuan, a Chinese province which didn't really compare to its neighbours in terms of development, but nonetheless was born into decent wealth. This was enough that he had a good education even by fedual China's standards. Moreover, by the time he had graduated from the Chongqing School in 1919, he had the opportunity to go to France and participate in the Diligent Work-Frugal Study Movement. Quite ironically, this trip was created as one of many means to give Chinese students a modern education in order to save the country's failing economy, something Deng was distinctly aware of. Even more ironic is when he travelled the the Soviet Union to study at Moscow Sun Yat-seen University, where one of his classmates was the son of fricking Chiang Kai-shek, Chiang Ching-kuo. Either way, he allied with the communists, and had joined the Chinese Communist Youth League in Europe even before his departure to Moscow.[note 3]
In 1927, he came back to China to do military work, and soon found himself in the thick of the Chinese Civil War. As well as fighting for the communist cause, he did a great deal of political and ideological work, and was a veteran of the Long March. This earned him massive favour with the newly assembled Communist Party of China, which gave him a great deal of moral authority. The Communists won the struggle, Cash My Cheque fled to what is now Taiwan, and the People's Republic of China was founded by Mao Zedong.
Working under Mao
“”It does not matter whether they are black cats or white cats; so long as they catch mice, they are good cats.
|—Deng Xiaoping, choosing pragmatic economics over Mao's tomfoolery|
After the PRC was founded, there were spots in the South of China still held by the Kuomintang regime that the communists were fighting in the Civil War. He took charge in suppressing the rest of the regime from 1949, taking victory by victory in many Kuomintang dominated areas in mainland China, such as Chengdu and Chongqing, and Deng took the position of mayor in the latter. This was also while he remained leader of the communist faction in southwest China. A year later in 1950, the communists would finally seize control of Tibet from the Kuomintang, rendering them powerless to stage a comeback. Clearly, Deng had proven he was tremendously more competent to rule than Mao in every way, since such political victories would never exist for Mao. Xiaoping would remain in Chongqing for two years before returning to Beijing to work directly in the federal government, and began a quick rise to prominence.
Upon his 1952 return to Beijing, Deng occupied a lot of goverment positions in a very short time. To quickie this: He became Vice Premier and Deputy Chair of the Finance Committee in 1952, then Minister of Finance and Director of the Office of Communications, was only Deputy Premier by 1954, and in 1956 became head of the Communist Party's Organisation Department and member of the Central Military Commission. Whew! Regardless of how you look at it, Deng's influence and power were very clear throughout the federal ranks. He oversaw the Anti-Rightist Movement; a giant Mao-inspired effort to persecute intellectuals and other "anti-communist threats", which was weird given his own competence and ideology. However, Deng would heavily criticse the worst ecomonic plan ever ever ever, the
Great Terrible Leap Bound Forward Backward, as it was not only against his vision for the Chinese economy, but had a death toll WAY too high for any remotely sane person to sit idly about. After post-democide Mao had been forced into the background, Deng allied with Liu Shaoqi to take care of economic policy. This pissed the delusional Mao the hell off, as the totalitarian maniac still wanted power, and wasn't too happy about Deng adding capitalist ideas improving the economy outright, his pragamtism not in key with whatever the hell Mao's economic ideology was. At the same time, Deng was growing increasingly wary of the increasingly insane dictator and had, back in 1956, agreed with Liu and Peng Dehuai on the matter of removing all reference to Maoism from the party statutes. This was likely the reason that Mao even thought of the Cultural Revolution, to not only mold China in his image but to purge the undesirables from the CCP. Of course, Deng ended up one of the prime targets.
Deng suffered greatly during this period of pseudo-anarchy. He was immediately targeted by Mao, purged from goverment as a "capitalist roader", and exiled to a rural province. His family suffered greatly too, with his son, Deng Pufang, being pushed out a fourth storey window leaving him paraplegic for life. This was all while the Gang of Four, led by Mao's even more batshit wife Jiang Qing, ran around like fucking headless chickens in the communist ranks, causing mayhem and attempting to pull in a radical faction in key with Mao himself. Premier Zhou Enlai remained the primary resistance against Mao during this period, and even he would dare not denounce Mao. Still, Zhou sought to restore the moderates back to power such as Deng. Zhou managed to get Deng back to Beijing by 1974 to work on China's quickly declining economy, aiming to promote unity and destroy party factionalism to restore economic productivity.:381 Of course, Mao hated any attempt at reforming what was broken and launched a whole campaign to further discredit Deng.:381 However, the tide turned upon Zhou Enlai's death on January 8, 1976. Deng delivered a euology for his ally and friend, and Mao once again snubbed both Deng and the late Zhou by appointing a relatively unknown loyalist as the new Premier Hua Guofeng. Constant attacks against Deng, Zhou and other moderates by Mao and the Gang of Four led to the Tiananmen Incident, where Mao cried "Deng caused it!", and purged him AGAIN from his rank.
On September 9, 1976, Mao finally had the grace to die, and we lost no sleep from it. Hua used Mao's own words to claim his right to succeed him, but it didn't play at all. However, Hua Guofeng also told Mao post-mortem to fuck off, and just had the Gang of Four arrested.
Leadership even from humiliation
Before we continue, let's just give you an idea of exactly what China was like at this point. In 1962, a few years following the Great Leap, the GDP per capita was $70!! Even at the time of Mao's death in 1976, it was still an abysmal $164. And that's likely an overestimate too. Grain in China was also completely fucked, even worse than it was in 1957. So much for a leap... Safe to say, the Chinese were tired of extreme impoverishment, and there was extreme call for big change. If it didn't come, the Cultural Revolution had more than prepared the Chinese populace to engage in a second civil war. Change was not just advised, it was imperative.
This was when Deng came into his own. Despite numerous attempts to discredit, undermine, and subdue him, he remained determined. Deng confidently presented himself as a reformer, becoming favourable within party ranks who realised that Mao's insane hunger for revolution and totalitarian levels of influence would ruin China all over again. In a miracle from almost certain defeat, Deng had managed to outmaneuvere Hua Guofeng and become the Paramount Leader of China. He ousted Hua from his top positions but allowed him to remain in a more junior portfolio, the first non-violent transition of power in China's history. In a time of complete instability to rival even the worst dictatorships ever, few were as prepared as Deng to bring the largest country on Earth out of ruin.
Deng Xiaoping did the practically unbelievable. His competence speaks volumes to China's current status in the world; he turned the country from an isolated totalitarian autocracy on the brink of a second civil war to a thriving capitalist post-totalitarian oligarchy,[note 4] now one of the strongest economies in Asia, in the process saving millions of lives from the civil war and famine that surely would have followed had China stuck to its Maoist roots.
Deng's greatest achievement was his mammoth-scale economic reforms. Achieving this was a simple philosophy for Deng, as he outlined with his cat metaphor: It did not matter what the stigma around a certain system of economics was, it was a matter of what would work best. This lack of adherance to "anti-capitalist" demonization led countries like Vietnam and China, who were willing to be pragmatic, to effortlessly sweep past other communist countries such as Laos and North Korea, who now remain impoverished while these countries thrive in wealth. Deng Xiaoping's method was the Four Modernizations, which were in economy, agriculture, scientific and technological development, and national defense. Just look at modern China and tell anyone that this did not work. Here are some statistics to back this one up:
- When Deng launched his programmes, the Chinese GDP was $149,541 million, which is rather abysmal for a country of over a billion people. Thanks to Deng, the 2019 figure stands at $14,401,726 million. This puts China second to the United States, which is just unreal given that, relatively, Deng launched these programs not too long ago, compared to when the USA was established and began to grow.
- Remember what the GDP per capita was before Deng showed up. When he took the helm this spiked and has rised to an incredible $10,304 as of 2019! This wasn't all either, poverty rates fell all the way from about 90% in '81 to, wait for it... TWO percent, by 2013. Looking at these figures, it's obvious why the Great Leap Forward fell flat on its face: Mao was completely, totally incompetent, who thought brute force collectivisation was an optimal economic strategy. Deng was practical, and smartly worked to gradually bring China out of its rural, feudal hole. It's worked.
- This all means that China has the largest middle class in the entire world, which grew, and continues to grow, at an unprecedented rate.
Deng refused to do only what "Mao liked", as he did during his entire political career, and the humanitarian crisis that it averted could have been a total nightmare, with a billion in extreme poverty. This also has a side effect; even if China's current record on human rights is terrible, the most corrupt leaders will not easily be able to exploit the populace into worshipping them like a god. This is what happened to North Korea, and Turkmenistan, which have ludicrous personality cults, due to the extreme poverty of citizens causing them to take any semblance of hope, even if it's ferverent leader worship. This has been nicely personified by when the whole "Big Daddy Xi Jinping" business fell flat on its face. A transition back to Maoist society is nearly impossible, and that's a very good thing.
Opening up and domestic improvement
Deng took strides to end China's crippling isolation. He instantly opened up relations with the United States (which had been previously chilly at best), titled "reform and opening", throwing away Maoist principles to engage with the international community. This really ties into the economic improvements; with international trade and connections established, autarky ceased, poverty plummeted and China officially began to modernise. This makes the pro-Mao defence of "he modernised China", look stupid. From there, he transformed China's education, instigated a proper labour force, and pushed for new job opportunities, under an incremental, carefully planned basis. Before long, with unrestricted trade with Europe and America, it was now China that was supplying trade for other countries. This tremendously improved quality of life at home, and while we may be annoyed at holes like the lack of copyright laws to stop copycat products, for what it's worth, everyone in the country has a massively better quality of life for it.
And the really bad
Kill the democracy!
The fact that this is Deng's only real big mistake is a testament to his competence. With that said, this mistake so catastrophically huge that it would be wrong to ignore it and not analyse fully.
While Deng was all on-board the ideas of reform and economic liberalisation, the CCP were not exactly in agreement with him. This would however be challenged by a youth movement, following the death of liberal politician that called for democratisation of the Chinese government, and freedom of speech and press, among other liberalisation calls. These protests would rapidly grow in popularity, which ended up placing Deng under massive pressure. Numerous attempts to denounce the protests failed, and this came to a head when Mikhail Gorbachev was soon to come on a state visit to China, potentially to the sight of massive uprisings. Under massive pressure, the party declared martial law in Beijing on May 19th. It became a total clusterfuck from then on, and Deng did pretty much nothing to stop it. Claims that the troops meant no harm were bullshit, as the army fired wildly as possible into the crowds of students. Tanks
were not around and definitely hadn't arrived in Beijing and other cities, in what was pretty much uneccessary and brutal overkill. All is already explained from here as Beijing was occupied by Chinese forces among many other cities with protests going on. Information was rapidly and pragmatically censored to fizzle out any attempts to reinvigorate the effort.
After the slaughter
The fallout of the Tiananmen Square Massacre was an utter disaster. This was not a normal protest, but a small crack in the wall opening towards something better. Paving said crack has killed any short-term hopes for democracy, as it was made clear to just about, party or protester, anyone that it wasn't going to happen. The movement never resurged and China has been firmly authoritarian. It was a large split in the governing styles of Deng and Gorbachev; the latter wanted to democratise communism, while the CCP did not. Deng got put out of leadership soon after this event, but remained pretty influential in the happenings of things until he died
and got reincarnated with the government's permission. The reform era pretty happily marched on even after this, but considering the fallout of this event, a leader like Xi Jinping rising to power was inevitable. China has been sliding dangerously close to totalitarianism, with a harrowingly large survelliance state, a continuation of censorship culture, giving the iron fist to Hong Kong and Macau autonomy, and reopening Mao-style death camps. At least Chinese citizens aren't living in crippling poverty, but the future looks grim, including for other countries trying to deal and negotiate with China without pissing them off, with a modern CCP able to become irate from just about anything.
Had Deng put his foot in, given his pretty absolute influence during his tenure, literally all of this could have been avoided.
The "blender" legacy
Deng's legacy is a mix of extreme points of good offset by one extreme, extreme bad point. Surprisingly, it seems much easier to nail what Deng meant to China compared to Mao. Many, especially tankies, deny the unbelievable weight of the latter's total incompetence to claim he modernised China so "it's all good", when the combined Great Leap and Cultural Revolution undid any potential good in Mao's tenure. However, Deng is a lot easier to look at since people aren't so obsessed with denialism. Despite the shock and fallout of the Tiananmen Square Massacre, Deng's massive economic improvements to crush poverty, end to autarky, opening up, and destruction of totalitarianism[note 5] are just terrific achievements which have made of lives of some 1 billion Chinese far better, when the alternative was Mao-flavoured extreme poverty, famine and totalitarian communist domination. Really, Mao's legacy is far less impressive in every way compared to his successor, of which Mao tried to dispell from power and party at any moment. Hah!
But of course, that should not and must not ignore the Tiananmen Square Massacre. The oligarchy in modern China is really fucking awful, and while things looked pretty stable with the reform era continuing even after Deng's death, it was all setting the steps for the ascent of... you guessed it, Xi Jinping. China's leadership hasn't given one fuck while becoming a domestic headache for practically everyone else, bringing human rights in China deeper into the ocean, and the bastard ain't going away until he dies or gets assassinated. Really, it sets an awful predicament for Deng's legacy. Yes, with decent wealth in the population, it means classic communist-flavour personality cults aren't going to be back unless you forcibly drain all the wealth (pretty hard but potentially possible), but the fact that China is descending fast on the liberty scale is a major point of contention.
In a curious sense of irony, had Gorbachev and Deng swapped liberalisation phillosophies, things may have been better. While Russia and the Soviet Union didn't seem fully ready for liberal reforms due to immense ethnic nationalist sentiment embedded in their communist brand, China definitely did, evident from the protests that led to the massacre. Strange.
- Mao Zedong - Ruined the country, Deng picked up the leftovers
- Capitalism - Shhh, don't tell China that Deng did capitalist reforms
- Communism - Philosophy in name only. Of course, Mao weaponised communism to irrevocably change Chinese culture, so it definitely had that.
- While Deng techincally never held the highest office in China, for all intents and purposes, he held the excalibur of influence in China. This is usually associated with holding multiple powerful offices, and Deng was chairman of both the Central Advisory Commission and the Central Military Commission.
- Mao was definitely correct, but of course fearmongered capitalism into oblivion. Communists gotta be communist.
- Allied, we say, becuase Deng was certainly not a radical communist type, rather a strong nationalist who wanted China to stand in the same league as other global powers. His later, very non-communist policies prove this.
- Indeed, not great. But, a vast improvement from almost certain totalitarian doom? Abso-frickin-lutely!
- Well, for now.
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