Tag Archives: Deng Xiaoping

Deng Xiaoping’s Legacy 40 Years On

A poster showing Deng Xiaoping

IT IS NOT just the raw growth in the size of China’s economy, impressive though that has been over the 40 years since Deng Xiaoping announced the economic reforms that opened up of the country, now being celebrated with such pomp. It is China’s growing occupancy of the world economy and in particular in relation to the United States’s declining place that has coloured the past four decades and will define the ones to come.

China and United States as share of world GDP, 1978-2017

But for all the distance China’s economy has come, it still has far to go, in more senses than one.

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30 Years Of Opening Up To The World

It is 30 years to the day that the 3rd Plenary Session of the 11th Communist Party of China Central Committee opened, a meeting that would usher in the opening of China under Deng Xiaoping and see the closing of the unhappy chapter of China’s history that was the Cultural Revolution.

It may be difficult for anyone under 30 to grasp how great the transformation of the country and the economy has been over those three decades. President Hu Jintao held a celebration of the anniversary in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing (CCTV video here), though he might have preferred for such an event to be held against a backdrop other than the worst  global economic slowdown in living memory.

China Daily has the official history of the watershed event in this special report. For a different view, try Forbes‘ four-part series keying off the anniversary by Gordon C. Chang, author of “The Coming Collapse of China”.

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Hua Guofeng’s Single Mark On History

Thinking back to the overthrow of the Gang of Four in 1976, I have to pinch myself to remember the disarray that the country was in then following a decade of Cultural Revolution, and how difficult it was to piece together from the outside what was really happening in the power struggle between the radicals and reformers within the party’s elite that was coming to a head even before Zhou Enlai and Mao Zedong died that year.

My mind turns back to those days now because of the death of Hua Guofeng, Mao’s loyal and somewhat enigmatically anointed successor, at age 87. (Terse Xinhua annoucement here.) Remember Mao’s “With you in charge, my heart is at ease” deathbed line? A flimsy claim of legitimacy for a successor, especially one who had only made the Politburo five years earlier, but sufficient in the chaotic circumstances of the time.

Hua was a Mao loyalist to the core and his steady plod to the apex of power owed more to that loyalty and a knack of keeping his head down than any proficiency as a bureaucrat or ideologue. He would soon be elbowed aside by the wily old survivor Deng Xiaoping, and drift into obscurity. But in the few weeks after Mao’s death, Hua changed China’s destiny by sanctioning the army’s arrest of the Gang of Four.

It may have been a reluctant decision, especially as one of the quartet was Mao’s widow, Jiang Qing. And it may have been made out of a well-exercised instinct for self preservation. Hua also clearly had no idea what to do next politically or economically, beyond looking more and more like his beloved Mao — something Deng would soon turn against him.

But with the hindsight of three decades, it is clear that with one decision Hua brought down the curtain on the tumultuous Mao era he had devoted his life to and ensured that the stage was set for those who would reform the economy and open the country to the world. It was his solitary mark on history, but a profound one.

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