THE DENG XIAOPING ERA by Maurice Meisner


An Inquiry into the Fate of Chinese Socialism, 1978-1994
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 A case of life imitating stereotype, with Meisner (History/Univ. of Wisconsin, Madison) expressing the hope that socialism in China may be rescued by a revolution against the Communist regime. There are two aims in this book: a ``historical narrative of post-Mao China'' and ``an extended commentary on the fate of socialism in late-twentieth century China.'' Much of the narrative is useful, including a good analysis of how Deng Xiaoping consolidated his power, how he maneuvered to isolate his anointed successor Zhao Ziyang, and Zhao's motives in opposing him at the time of the uprising in Tiananmen Square. As Meisner notes, Deng's commitment to socialism and democracy did not long survive his accession to power. He showed great finesse in wooing the youth and intelligentsia, and promptly forgot about them. The value of the analysis of socialism is something else. He points out that socialism, at least in its simplistic Stalinist rendering, ``meant little more than the nationalization of productive property.'' This notion, he justly observes, was not only appealing in its simplicity, but ``no threat to bureaucratic rule.'' But his own conception suggests a view of socialism that may never have been tried. Other bothersome aspects include an unskeptical treatment of statistics, the more surprising in a period when Soviet statistics have been revealed to be dramatically inaccurate. Most ``odd, or at best quixotic,'' to use his own description, is his apparent hope that ``something of socialism can be salvaged within the framework of the existing sociopolitical system,'' and that some kind of socialist revolution against the ``savage capitalism'' of the Communist government may do the trick. Further evidence perhaps that the most passionate defenders of old-fashioned ``socialism'' may still be found on American campuses.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-8090-7815-5
Page count: 537pp
Publisher: Hill and Wang/Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 1996


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