Thursday, June 28, 2012

First thoughts on Deng Xiaoping

Recently, I've been reading Deng Xiaoping and the transformation of China by Ezra Vogel. I still have not finished reading this book, but have read enough to be riveted by its content and amazed by Deng and other important leaders of his time. Many of the people mentioned in the book like Deng, Mao, Zhou Enlai, Nixon, Kissinger and Brzezinski are larger than life characters to me. Not only are they truly impressive human beings with knowledge and leadership qualities, but they are also masters at diplomacy and maneuvering in foreign relations. Compared to leaders of that era, the current Chinese leaderships are a group of dull, gutless technocrats who continually get out-maneuvered in the international arena by their American counterpart. For those who want a thorough understanding of China, I think this book is a must read. Many of the competing forces in the communist leadership mentioned in the book are still there today in the current Chinese leadership.

The book spent a lot of time talking about the two leaders (Mao and Deng) who have most profoundly affected China since the communist party took over. I've always thought of Mao and Deng to both be incredibly ruthless people with strong leadership qualities. Those beliefs have been more or less confirmed reading this book. This book confirmed to me that Mao was extremely egotistical and used his power for self-promotion and the promotion of his own brand insane economic and political model. His ruthlessness brought poverty and backwardness to China as well as the deaths and punishment of everyone around him who dared questioning him. By contrast, Deng used his ruthlessness not for his own gains, but rather for improvements in the life of Chinese people and continued strength of the communist party. Deng believed strongly that only peace, unity and political stability behind the rule of communist party can lead to the prosperity and strengthening of China. He believed extremely strongly that China needed centralized powers to achieve its end goals. He was willing to use his powers to toss away/humiliate leaders like Hu Yaobang, Zhao Ziyang and Hua Guofeng, crush student protest and take heavy casualties in war against Vietnam. He did all of this because he believed those things are needed to achieve the end goals of prosperous and strong China. He had been purged 3 times in life (humiliated many more times) and his son became crippled during one of those purge. Those events really hardened him to the point where he seemed to believe that individuals or minority group suffering is okay as long as the majority of country gains. These ideals that Deng instilled in his reign seem to still be prevalent in China now. I will talk about everything in detail later, but I want people to know that Deng is not a warm fuzzy leader with Western ideals of democracy and liberty nor is he a brutal dictator like Mao, Stalin or Qaddafi. He is a strongly convicted and committed reformer willing to do whatever is necessary to bring the changes that he thinks are needed to fix China. He was very effective in leading China out of poverty and irrelevance. Since his departure from leadership, the past 2 generations of leaders have only lived off the changes that he brought.


Mark Pyruz said...

I'm currently taking the course "The Fall and Rise of China" taught by Professor Baum at UCLA, through the Great Courses DVD series:

I obtained copies from my local library system. The course is excellent. I'm on lecture 41, with Deng at the end of his tenure.

For those of us seeking a Nixon-to-China moment applied today for American rapprochement efforts toward the Islamic Republic of Iran, studies in China-America relations are particularly poignant.

Mao arguably had a positive influence for China up until about 1957. After that, he "led" the country through 20 lost years, where the economy didn't grow and the country needlessly endured political backwardness.

Deng's emphasis was on turning around the country's economic backwardness.

A note on the Sino-Vietnamese war, afterwards Deng put into force Chinese military reforms.

jxz said...

Thanks for that book recommendation. It makes me want to read the book. I think your blog entry already covered mostly what I think of Deng.

I think the difference between Deng and Mao is that though both are ruthless politicians, Deng actually believes what he was doing would eventually benefit China, whereas Mao more often was drunk in power, as he had been since taking over the party during the long march, and want to be the emperor forever. He played every high-ranking party member like chess pieces like a master chess player, making sure they know what their places were and their only way to stay in power was to agree with him. Deng played the same chess game, but he may not be so self-interested as Mao was. He knew clearly that the path that Mao led would only end in further degradation of the nation.

John said...

Feng took the complete wrong frame of mind to analysis Mao and Deng; they made decisions based on the necessity, not on the personal preference or emotion. Any leader without such quality he won’t get things done and becomes an indecisive and incompetent failure.

Truman may not step on an ant, but he ordered to drop two nukes on Japan. This contradiction is necessary for all leaders.

Western media like to portray those leaders thru the eyes of ordinary people who makes decision base on the personal preference and emotion for several reasons,
1. The writing is related to the readers and cause resonant with the readers.
2. Good for the sales volume,
3. Easy to portray the target person in according to the writer’s political agenda, for example once Mao’s decisions are personalized it is easy to portray Mao a tyrant to satisfy the needs of ideological wars, all objective analysis of Mao’s decisions to support such stereotyping of Mao is no longer needed.

Feng said...

I don't think I'm being overly harsh at all. If you look at Mao's decisions as the ruler, you basically have the Chinese version of Stalin. Although Stalin managed to turn USSR into a super power, whereas Mao completely over estimated the power of PRC and tried to be larger in the international arena than it deserved at the time. Mao simply had no idea how far behind China was and how to really advance the country. He believed cultural revolution to be his great achievement. How can any rational person look at cultural revolution and see it as an achievement?

And the way he disposed of any leader at that time that opposed his policies even a little bit was despicable. Do you realize why he had to select Hua Guofeng as the leader at the end? He ran out of potential leaders to succeed him, because he purged them all. Why do you think he started the cultural revolution? It was because his policies during the great leap forward were so bad that he no longer had complete control of country's directions. So he started a political movement to get rid of any competent officials left in power.

jxz said...

John, are you suggesting that dropping a second a-bomb on Japan was out of necessity? Why did you think they chose to flatten a city with no interesting military targets but full of civilians?

I don't find it wrong to put a leader's decision in personal perspectives. How else would you have judged Hitler?

John said...

jxz, are you suggesting the Americans were same as the Nazi Germans? Dropping the second a-bomb was massacring for fun?

American said the Japanese did not surrender after the first a-bomb because the Japanese could not comprehend what hit them; therefore the second a-bomb was necessary, etc. etc. American had perfectly reasonable rational did what they did, you could find their decisions in their national achieve if they have declassify them; it is just not reasonable to you at a detached circumstance.

Victor writes history, if the Axis wins, Hitler could be assured not the villain and monster we know. Besides there were millions upon millions followed Hitler willingly, why? At the same time if you have not been bombarded day in and day out by the West point of view, you would not equate commie=evil without justification.

Analyzing leaders from one side point of view, the analysis is bias, no matter how hard the analyst tries to be impartial.

jxz said...

John I refer you to the memior written by a true great leader and war hero. General Eisenhower:

"In 1945 Secretary of War Stimson, visiting my headquarters in Germany, informed me that our government was preparing to drop an atomic bomb on Japan. I was one of those who felt that there were a number of cogent reasons to question the wisdom of such an act. During his recitation of the relevant facts, I had been conscious of a feeling of depression and so I voiced to him my grave misgivings, first on the basis of my belief that Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary, and secondly because I thought that our country should avoid shocking world opinion by the use of a weapon whose employment was, I thought, no longer mandatory as a measure to save American lives."

John said...

jxz, you cited Eisenhower’s memoir to say that there was no need for USA to nuke Japan, but the USA did nuke Japan not only once but twice, the only logical conclusion from you argument is the USA nuked Japan for fun.

John said...

Feng, your thought is completely emerged in the western writing about China, therefore you could not see Mao and Deng through Chinese eyes. You haven’t gone thru the agony and suffering that Chinese had endured since the Opium War, you just cannot acquire the feel or mindset to understand the need for their decisions. It is like if you have not been hungry long enough you will not be able to taste the sweat and delicious of molded buns.

China was the Asian Sickman in the eyes of the West, China could do no right, it was their mentality until today; even your comment reflects such perception fully. China wanted to prove them wrong; China could do it, it was under that desire, China embarked on the Great Leap Forward under the Mao. Perhaps all you know is tens of millions killed and what was a big disaster GLF was as portrayed by the West, not the other side of the story of the GLF.

If China should behave as logically and rationally as the West says, China would not have made the miracle as today. The West has been exploiting low cost in the third world, like Mexico, Thailand, Malaysia, etc. long before China embarks on economic transformation, but none of those nations can break free from the developed world’s strangle hold on their economy and technology, except China, because they listen to the West and they behave as a good boy the West says.

Anyhow necessity does not necessary mean it is nice, but it has to be done. Involving emotions will not produce objective analysis.

jxz said...

Take a chill pill John and stop putting words in people's mouth. You were the only one who said Nuke was for fun.

All I said was that not everyone believed that nuking Japan twice was really necessary to end the war. You believe that this decision makes Truman a great leader, but I think otherwise.

odessaguy said...

The nuking of Japan succeeded. The two million Americans on ships waiting did not have to wade ashore and kill hundreds of thousands and die in the tens of thousands.

Maos rule (and the Communist party) did a terrible job of lifting China up. Japan on the other hand came from a totally destroyed nation to a prosperus one in a few years. The Communist party has struggled 50 years to become a prosperous country.

John said...

jxy, since you only provided statements, nobody knows your rational of those statements. I only can derive that logical conclusion from your statements. Perhaps you should provide your rational to support your statements instead of insulting bloggers whose opinions are not to your liking.

Then why did the American nuke Japan twice in your opinion?

John said...

odessaguy, Mao failed to lift China economically is truth, but the current China’s achievement in economy, science and technology is also materialized under the rule of CCP, do you think stereotyping and grandstanding are nothing more than bashing China instead of discussing issues rationally?

Feng said...

Mao had no clue how to run a country. He had a lot of people around him that helped him improve the Chinese economy like Chen Yun, Deng Xiaoping and Liu Shaoqi. They were doing a good job until Mao's policies came out in GLF and wrecked the country. Numerous people came out privately to question Mao on his policies. What did he do? He just purged them later and killed them. In the case of Zhou Enlai and Chen Yun, they took his criticisms hard enough to not mount any kind of challenge afterward.

The entire cultural revolution basically caused the collapse of all order and production in China. Production only started coming back after Deng came back to take over the day to day administration and put production ahead of political movements. And then of course, Mao purged Deng again after Deng would not publicly voice support for Cultural Revolution.

jxz said...

Feng, I agree with you 100% on Mao. I would like to add that Mao eagerly wanted to be a Number 2 guy in the communist world, but was deeply troubled and humilliated by the way Stalin treated him. So that's the main motivation that he took to GLF. To establish himself as a successful leader, a savior in the eyes of fellow communist leaders of the world, he must make miracles happen in China, and provide for the other fellow community countries. But unlike Soviet Union who provides in terms of weapons and industrial expertise, China had only food, so he gave freely to the Eastern European countries when his own countrymen were starving.

John, I think you are the only one who's insulting people. I merely asked questions to get you to think outside of your usual box. To make it easy for you, let me spell it out:

There are many answers to your question about why Japan was a-bombed twice.

If you ask General Groves, the military man in charge of the Manhattan Project, the answer is because we don't have 3 a-bombs to drop. And he wants to know the "performance" of those bombs.

If you ask Harry Truman, the answer is that he wants to shock Japan into surrender unconditionally because he can't afford to wait another 2 weeks and letting the Russians onto Japanese soil.

If you ask General MacArthur, the answer is that we don't need to drop the a-bombs. He was expecting Japan to surrender by Sept. 1st 1945 anyway with Tokyo seiged by his troops. Btw, he never thought Japan would give up their emperor anyway.

My answer is all above. Japanese surrender to the Allies is more due to the fact that Soviet Russia declared war on Japan. Japan had originally hoped that Russia wouldn't declare war at Japan as Russia didn't sign the Postham Declaration. As soon as Russia declared war, two things happened. Two A-bombs were dropped on Japan, and Japan surrendered with the condtion that they keep the emperor.

So in the end, Harry Truman got half of what he wanted. Russians were kept out of Japan, and Japanese got to keep their emperor. Had the Postham Ultimatum included keeping the emperor, Japan would've surrendered sooner, and the a-bombs would've been avoided.

This is my final comment on the matter. John can keep questioning other people's motives and backgrounds, but I am done explaining to you.

John said...

Feng, hindsight is always 20/20. Under the adverse situation China was in, Mao made the necessary decision he believed it could get China to stand on its own feet. All those you highly praised were behind him to embark China on GLF program.

Anyhow failure and disaster results were true, but both you and jxy are talking about the events at that time in the armchair with cool beer in hand, detached and academic. Chinese element that caused those drastic events is missing.

Jxy, I never told people to take a chill pill; labeling me “insulting people,” only you can understand your rational.

Inquiring Mind said...

The last two dynasty builders are dead (Mao and Chieng) and the dynasty building wars had stopped.
Chinese finally come into modern age with peaceful transfer of leaderships in a predetermined time (ie. 4/8, 5/10 years).
It gives Chinese a chance to heal and proper.
Chinese are coming back to the world now.

Inquiring Mind said...

Some Chinese had tried so hard to realize their emperor dreams and held China back for at least a couple hundreds years.
Can't do much about the past and Chinese should move forward and keep a close eye on any dynasty builder though.

Feng said...

What could leaders around Mao do? If they object to Mao, they just get killed. The only reason the economy revived a little bit in the 60s was because Mao backed off and let the "capitalists" run the economy. The biggest problem is that he simply had too much power and there were no viable moderating forces within CMC to contain his crazy policies. Even Deng had Chen Yun to balance his policies.

Lei said...

You might be jealous to know that I got to see Ezra Vogel at Berkeley a half year back during his book signing. Still haven't had a chance to read the book though.