“Deng’s dubious legacy”

China hand Jonathan Mirsky takes a look at what Deng’s changes really have meant for China.

Most of Deng’s career was marked by subservience to Mao Zedong. Unlike the Chairman, he did not routinely murder his enemies and until 1989, the national “strike hard” disciplinary campaigns that Deng oversaw did not descend into welters of blood. But there was no disciple he would not drop into political limbo. The Party’s general secretary, Hu Yaobang, and Prime Minister Zhao Ziyang were dismissed, and Zhao was placed under house arrest, where he remains, for being soft on dissidents. Deng laid on Muslims in Xinjiang and Buddhists in Tibet the same heavy hand with which he crushed the Tiananmen uprising….

There had been uprisings in more than 400 Chinese cities that spring and tens of millions of Chinese were touched by the crackdown. Its continuing central importance in China was summed up a few months ago by Jiang Yanyong, a senior doctor in Beijing’s Army Hospital 301, who daringly described (before he was made to disappear for several weeks) the reasons for the civilian carnage he treated in his hospital in the first week of June.

“A small number of leaders who supported corruption resorted to means unprecedented in the world and in China. They acted in a frenzied fashion, using tanks, machine guns and other weapons to suppress the totally unarmed students and citizens, killing hundreds of innocent students in Beijing, and injuring and crippling thousands others. Then, the authorities mobilized all types of propaganda machinery to fabricate lies and used high-handed measures to silence the people across the country.”….

And what of the Deng’s economic miracle? There are now two Chinas – the high-rolling, money-worshiping China, and the other, left-behind China, whose peasant poverty has been highlighted in several publications, of which the major one has already been suppressed. Its officials are corrupt, violent, impossible to predict and antagonistic to the slightest democratic movement: Every member of China’s tiny Democratic Party is either in jail or in exile.

This could arouse some strong arguments with the Chinese people I know, who see Deng as their savior. I don’t mean to be a wimp, but personally I am somewhere in the middle, though closer to Mirsky than to my friends.

The Discussion: 14 Comments

“And what of the Deng’s economic miracle? There are now two Chinas – the high-rolling, money-worshiping China, and the other, left-behind China, whose peasant poverty has been highlighted in several publications, of which the major one has already been suppressed.”

Deng’s reforms were not perfect by any means but the country has advanced tremendously because of them. Criticizing him for his policies in Tibet and Xinjiang is definitely valid and Tiananmen was absolutely horrible. However, considering the other options, Deng was by far the best leader for China at the time (just imagine if Mrs. Mao and the Gang of Four had actually come out on top in the power struggle after Mao’s death…)

There might be two China’s now but, if not for Deng, there would still be just one, and it would probably still be the shit-hole of the world like it was in Mao’s time.

August 25, 2004 @ 11:05 am | Comment

Kevin, I tend to agree with you — mostly. On the other hand, Deng didn’t create the “economic miracle” of China. That’s a myth. He simply got out of the way of the world’s most industrious and capitalistic people, and they took it from there. And when he tried to confine them, they figured out ways to get around him. On a scale of 1 to 10, I’ll give Deng a 6. For all the good he did, he was still a Party man, and that meant he was dedicated more to the survival of the CCP than he was to the well being of his people.

August 25, 2004 @ 8:57 pm | Comment

“The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interr’d with their bones” said Shakespeare.

Deng has proved him wrong.

August 25, 2004 @ 9:04 pm | Comment

Nitin, good point — but fear not, a lot of us remember Deng’s evils. He was no choir boy, for all the good he brought to China.

August 25, 2004 @ 9:10 pm | Comment

Deng did a bit more than just “step out of the way.” One of the most underrated bits of recent Chinese history is Deng’s Southern tour of 1992. After the Tiananmen massacre, all of the moderate, pro-reform Party members were in disarray and there was a strong push within the Party to go back to recollectivization. China was well on its way to going back to old-style communism (while all of the Soviet world was transitioning into capitalism) until Deng made a tour of some Southern cities and declared that market capitalism, or as he called it socialism with Chinese characteristics, was the “hard road” for the future.

Say what you like about income disparity in China now, but without Deng’s intervention in the early 90s, China would be going through a second Great Leap Forward now.

August 25, 2004 @ 11:49 pm | Comment

Asia by Blog

Time again to check out the best that Asian blogging has to offer… Hong Kong, Taiwan and China Hong Kong will get universal suffrage, says the CCP. It just has to pick the right candidates first. While on HK elections, ESWN follows the latest efforts…

August 26, 2004 @ 2:40 am | Comment

Richard, I am afraid I have to agree with most of the posters here. If Deng was evil, he was one of those necessary evils.

But in reality, he was an angel compared to others.

I think the leaders get better with each generational change – there may be slippages occasionally, reverting to hardline attitides, but the general advance forward is and will be unstoppable.

It is the pace that some in the west have difficulties appreciating and accepting, but that’s the way it has to be, else China will will either disintegrate or implode.

August 26, 2004 @ 5:00 am | Comment

Jacky, I never used the word evil to describe Deng. Like the journalist, I simply believe his efforts have been seriously over-rated and a lot of new problems, some incredibly debilitating, arose in his wake, namely the “two Chinas” phenomenon and rampant corruption.

For a good look at what really happened after Deng took over in terms of the economic Renaissance, see the book China Dream. And I give Deng lots of credit for helping push China in the right direction. 6 out of 10 is a pretty good score for a Communist dictator.

August 26, 2004 @ 7:38 am | Comment

Sorry, I stand corrected then.

Corruption has been the curse of China, but everytime I look at Singapore I see hope for China. Admittedly, while Sing is fairly different, it’s still a sort of little hina. Thus if Sing can do it I hope for China’s sake, she can and will too.

In a documentary on Baroness Margaret Tatcher, when asked to name some leaders she admired, she immediately offered two names, Deng and Lee Kuan Yew (something similar between these two???), then she added as an after-thought, perhaps as a concession to her old friend, the name of Ronald Reagan.

China today faces three major challenges, in no particularly order:
1) corruption
2) warlordism, and with it,
3) factionalism

A strong authocratic leadership may take care of the problems of 2) and 3), but unfortunately, this very quality promotes the evils of 1).

The skill of the leadership is to balance these and extract the best output.

August 26, 2004 @ 7:58 am | Comment

Trick is to find a strong authoritarian leadership who truly cares about the well being of his people and his country, and not just persoanl aggrandizement and power. Lee Kuan Yew’s are not to be found everyday.

August 26, 2004 @ 9:46 pm | Comment

Therefore, the Chinese just have to make the best out of what they have.

August 27, 2004 @ 4:22 am | Comment

All things considered, he did pretty good. At least some people are rich. This has to be better than being poor together.

When administering a nation this size, anything you do, no matter how good, is going to lead to a whole slew of new problems. There is no perfect solution. I personally believe that he picked the best one from the lot. And for this, he gets mad props.

As for xinjiang and tibet: what is the westerner’s obsession with them? They are chinese territory now, as they always have been up until WWII, and they are going to stay this way. Short of a nuclear war, nobody’s gonna get their mitts on them. Deal.

August 31, 2004 @ 8:30 pm | Comment

Example, China wants to play on the international stage of trade and finance, so they have to adapt to international rules of human rights. That includes Tibet and Xinjiang. (And America is hardly obsessed with Xinjiang — i can promise you that 9.9 out of 10 Americans have never heard of it.)

August 31, 2004 @ 8:59 pm | Comment

True. So it’s just Tibet. Because, correct me if I’m wrong, some celebrities took up the cause a few years back.

Perhaps the obsession is with carving up China, in general. Why?

Is it because it is better for the people involved? Would a Tibet free of China – ruled by a theocracy and with a nonexistant economy – be a good place to live in?

Or is it because it allows for the New American Century?

August 31, 2004 @ 10:32 pm | Comment

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