home | history

China and Deng Xiaoping

In 1972, when President Nixon went to China and met Mao Zedong (still officially Chairman Mao), Mao was 79 and suffering from Parkinson's disease. Nixon told Mao that his writings had moved China and "changed the world." Mao replied that he had been able to change "only a few places around Beijing."

Throughout the week, President Nixon and his most senior advisers engaged in substantive discussions with the People's Republic of China (PRC), while First Lady Pat Nixon toured schools, factories and hospitals in a few big cities. The visit ended with the Shanghai Communiqué, a diplomatic document issued by the US and the PRC. It pledged that it was in the interest of all nations for the United States and China to work towards the normalization of their relations. The US and China agreed that neither they nor any other power should "seek hegemony in the Asia-Pacific region". Regarding Taiwan, the US acknowledged that there was one China and agreed to cut back military installations on Taiwan. And the communiqué described a desire to expand economic and cultural contacts.

Mao died on 9 September 1976, and in the PRC a week of mourning was declared. The Soviet Union sent no condolences. Following Mao's death, conflicts continued within the Party. For a few weeks Mao's wife, Jiang Qing, and her associates, eventually to be known as the Gang of Four, controlled over the Communist Party and government's media, and articles appeared on the theme of "principles laid down" by Mao near the end of his life. Jiang Qing (Madam Mao) favored belligerence toward the capitalist powers, her hostility having been apparent to Nixon during his visit. Madam Mao had been an enthusiastic supporter of the Cultural Revolution, and into October she and her associates managed to purge again a prominent reformer within the Party, Deng Xiaoping.

In October already the Gang of Four lost their influence. Jiang Qing claimed that she should be selected as the Communist Party's new chairman, but Hua Guofeng was voted chairman instead, Hua to be described as having won the Army over to his side. Deng Xiaoping was restored and became one of Hua's deputies. Hua had the Gang of Four and a number of their lesser associates arrested and branded as a "counter-revolutionary clique." They were to be defendants in a televised show trial in 1981 and blamed for the excesses during the Cultural Revolution. She shouted at witnesses and called the judge a fascist. She was sentenced to life in prison. She was to acquire throat cancer and in 1991 was to hang herself in a hospital bathroom.

In 1976, Chairman Guofeng was playing compromise by announcing his plan to "obey whatever Mao had said" and to continue "whatever [Mao] had decided." Across China, Hua Guofeng's policy became known derisively as the "two whatevers." Hua Guofeng's standing within the Party faded. By 1981 he was voted out of his various positions and, that year, the Party selected Deng Xiaoping as its Chairman.

Deng had become a Marxist-Leninist while studying in France in the early 1920s and had joined the Party when returning to China in 1923. He had been on the Long March in the mid-1930s, and following the founding of the People's Republic in 1949 he worked in Tibet and in China's southwest region to consolidate Communist control there. But favored allowing some free market in China (as had Nikolai Bukharin in the Soviet Union regarding agriculture, before Stalin had Bukharin executed). Mao described Deng as one of those he called "capitalist roaders." During the Cultural Revolution, Deng had been as stripped of his positions and sent to a rural province to work in a factory. His family had been targeted by Mao's Red Guards. His son had been imprisoned, tortured and had become a paraplegic.

After becoming Party Chairman in 1979, Deng Xiaoping became known as "the architect" of an economy that was integrated with the global market economy. Deng opened China to foreign investment and the global market.

Under Deng's leadership, China's Communist Party continued to identify itself with the masses: "the People" in "the People's Republic. China was a one-party state. Other political parties would be allowed so long as they recognized that the Communist Party was to be the only party with actual office-holding power. The idea was to avoid the factional politics of competing parties and the rise to power of the self-interested rather than what was good for the nation as a whole. The idea was that if anyone had an interest in serving the community or the nation, he or she could add his or her individual input to community politics as a member of the Communist Party. The People's Republic of China had its millionaires as early as its founding in 1949, but there was to be no political party influenced by or championing any narrow interests of the very wealthy.

With Deng Xiaoping as chairman, the Party encouraged artists, writers and journalists to feel free to criticize. Complaining was common in China as elsewhere. Not tolerated, however, were threats to political stability. The Party was well aware of China's politically unstable past, including the religiously inspired Taiping Rebellion (1860–64). Religious organizations would be tolerated (including the Roman Catholic Church and various Eastern religious traditions) so long as they were registered and appeared to refrain from attempts to subvert Party authority. Freedom of religion was guaranteed by China's constitution.

Mao's portrait would continue to hang for all to see at Tiananmen Square. Mao was described as having been a leader in the creation of China's great, historic revolution, his contributions having outweighed his mistakes. Meanwhile, political ideology had been downgraded. Around China, numerous statues of Mao had been removed, and portraits of Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Stalin had been removed from Beijing's geographical center of authority: Tiananmen Square.

Protests at Tiananmen Square (Apr 15 to Jun 4, 1989)

It would be under Deng Xiaoping that the troubles in Tiananmen Square would erupt. From her prison two years before her death, Madam Mao would blame the protests in Tiananmen Square on Deng Xiaoping, writing that "He let in all those Western ideas."

The protests began with student complaints about inflation. The economy was growing at almost ten percent per year, but prices had risen and there were 1.1 million unemployed in Beijing. A Party leader whom many students admired, Hu Yaobang, died. He had been an ally of Deng's, and students used his death as an opportunity to express their dissatisfaction with the pace of political change. Activist students were outraged over what they saw an insufficient importance given to their petition, and they turned disruptive, calling for a boycot of classes and the creation of a new movement they called "the Great Revolution for Democracy against Dictatorship."

The new movement needed an enemy, and verbal attacks were made against Deng Xiaoping, including calling him China's "last emperor without a title." Deng was not pleased by the sight of what he thought of as naïve, absolutist and arrogant youth similar to those who had risen during the Cultural Revolution. An article in the People's Daily inspired by Deng denounced the students for creating chaos. The students responded with more outrage and another petition, this one demanding dialogue with the government the following day, May 3, otherwise they would take to the streets on May 4 — the anniversary of the great rising in 1919.

The students had their May 4 demonstrations, but nothing developed to their satisfaction. Society was ignoring them. On May 13, to dramatize their frustration, about 400 students began a hunger strike in Tiananmen Square. The hunger strike caused a great sensation. The number of hunger strikers grew. And a few intellectuals took advantage of the sensation to express their support for more democracy in China. The hunger strikers demanded that the People's Daily criticism of the new movement be retracted. Meanwhile, groups of students had been moving through the city trying to rally support from the public, and demonstrators had begun disrupting traffic and releasing air from bus tires.

On May 20 the government declared martial law, and hundreds of thousands of people from Beijing began blocking intersections in the city to prevent the troops from attacking the students in Tiananmen Square. On May 23, over 10,000 intellectuals and about one million others marched in protest against martial law. It was impressive enough that the government hesitated and ordered the troops that it had sent to Beijing to withdraw.

The withdrawal of troops reduced tensions, and by May 29, the demonstration at Tiananmen Square was wearing down, as demonstrations do. Students who had emerged as leaders during the previous month had been urging their fellow students to end the hunger strikes, to return to their campuses and to continue their struggle for democracy through a more decentralized attempt at dialogue with the government. The majority of the students from Beijing left Tiananmen Square. They believed that they had made their point and they were putting their hopes in peaceful transitions and gradualist reforms.

Then on May 30, the demonstration in Tiananmen Square was revived by dissidents erecting a thirty-foot-high, plaster and styrofoam statue called "The Goddess of Democracy." New people were entering the demonstrations at Tiananmen Square, many from other cities, where demonstrations had also been occurring. At Tiananmen Square speakers denounced retreat as a betrayal of principle. They claimed that the government would never speak to them unless they maintained the kind of pressure that they were applying.

Many in China's countryside – where eighty percent of the population still lived – viewed the demonstrations with dismay or disfavor. Demonstrations of unrest and some organizing was taking place in various cities.

The government chose to move against the disorder. Deng Xiaoping didn't want to tolerate anything like the upheaval that had wrecked the Communist Party and China in the 1960s. Some thought Deng should wat for let the demonstrations to decline through a loss of interest, but Deng didn't think so. Some camped in Tiananmen square were prepared for violence. Among them were groups with names such as "Dare to Die," "Flying Tigers," and "Warriors of Democracy."

May 31, pro-government demonstrations by soldiers and peasants occurred in Beijing. On June 3, seasoned troops, tanks and armored personnel carriers stood just outside Beijing, and late that night they began rumbling toward Tiananmen Square, forcing their way through barricades. They fired on a few people whom they saw as a physical threat – as armies are instructed to do. Well after midnight, the military turned off the lights in the square. Demonstrators were warned to leave the square, and some did. Those who did not were pushed by troops advancing from all sides. Some of the demonstrators who escaped from Tiananmen Square joined with other student supporters and retaliated against isolated army groups and soldiers in places in the city. They burned military vehicles and killed a few soldiers. The entire day of June 4 the army spent quelling disorder through the streets of Beijing. The Beijing Red Cross was toput the number of demonstrators killed at 2600.

After Tiananmen

Deng retired in November 1989, five months after the army cleared Tiananmen Square. He continued to be widely regarded as the "paramount leader" and believed to have backroom control. He died at the age of 92 on February 19, 1997.

When Deng launched his reforms in 1979, China's gross domestic product was, according to Britannica, one-fifth of Japan's, one-half of the UK's, and less than one-tenth that of the United States. And the annual average income of a Chinese person was less than $100.

China's paramount leader from 1989 following Deng's retirement until the year 2002 was Jiang Zemin, who maintained Deng's political and economic philosophies. The stability continued with the succession of Jiang Zemin, who would be succeeded by Xi Jinping in 2012. When Xi was chosen as the Party's new leader the Chinese people had experienced three decades of double digit growth.

Britannica continues:
Today, China's economy is the world's second largest, and by some estimates could overtake the US's by 2029. All of this has happened largely due to a state-driven, managed economic system that Deng helped to put in place.


CONTINUE READING: The Ford Presidency

comment | to the top | home

Copyright © 2018 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.