A barbed biography, relentless and occasionally sarcastic, reveals the many problematic facets of the long-lived revolutionary and reformer Deng Xiaoping (1904-1997).
Unlike Ezra F. Vogel’s Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China (2011), which focuses on the last third of the premier’s life and is faulted by historians Pantsov (Capital Univ.) and Levine (Univ. of Montana) for not being critical enough of its subject, this work by the co-authors of Mao: The Real Story (2012) looks more extensively at Deng’s formative years under Mao Zedong, using newly available material from the Russian State Archives and other sources. Beginning their account with the bloody purging of the student demonstrators in Tiananmen Square in 1989—an order given by Deng to crush the “counterrevolutionary rebellion”—the authors take great pains to delineate the makeup of a leader so inculcated by Maoist authoritarian ways that he would sacrifice everything to the communist cause, including his cherished reforms. Indeed, this would be the refrain of his remarkably resilient career, from his first repudiation of his adoring parents when he joined the Bolshevik movement as a student in Paris in the early 1920s to his sycophantic appeasement under Mao during the disastrous Great Leap. The authors emphasize that Deng embraced communism as a youth because he was “ready for anything that would help redress the insults and injuries inflicted upon him by the capitalist world.” He became an obedient soldier of the Chinese Communist Party and, as chief of the Southwest Region during the 1950s, helped solidify the repression of Tibet and galvanize agrarian reform. Caught up in the “utopian hysteria” dictated by Mao, Deng nonetheless began to recognize the need to oppose the leader without compromising his own position. His skillful dance during the Cultural Revolution, when he was denounced, arrested and exiled, yet re-emerged rehabilitated, provides a valuable key to this enigmatic leader.
A masterly work that advances by salient themes and vigorous strokes.