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Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China [Hardcover]

Ezra F. Vogel
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Sept. 26 2011

Perhaps no one in the twentieth century had a greater long-term impact on world history than Deng Xiaoping. And no scholar of contemporary East Asian history and culture is better qualified than Ezra Vogel to disentangle the many contradictions embodied in the life and legacy of China’s boldest strategist.

Once described by Mao Zedong as a “needle inside a ball of cotton,” Deng was the pragmatic yet disciplined driving force behind China’s radical transformation in the late twentieth century. He confronted the damage wrought by the Cultural Revolution, dissolved Mao’s cult of personality, and loosened the economic and social policies that had stunted China’s growth. Obsessed with modernization and technology, Deng opened trade relations with the West, which lifted hundreds of millions of his countrymen out of poverty. Yet at the same time he answered to his authoritarian roots, most notably when he ordered the crackdown in June 1989 at Tiananmen Square.

Deng’s youthful commitment to the Communist Party was cemented in Paris in the early 1920s, among a group of Chinese student-workers that also included Zhou Enlai. Deng returned home in 1927 to join the Chinese Revolution on the ground floor. In the fifty years of his tumultuous rise to power, he endured accusations, purges, and even exile before becoming China’s preeminent leader from 1978 to 1989 and again in 1992. When he reached the top, Deng saw an opportunity to creatively destroy much of the economic system he had helped build for five decades as a loyal follower of Mao—and he did not hesitate.


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Vogel offers a nuanced portrait of China's great reform leader Deng Xiaoping and a shrewd analysis of the political maneuvers by which he made such a large mark on history. By entering deeply into Deng's vision for China, Vogel shows how the person who forged the world's most successful example of modernizing authoritarianism understood how such a system could work. And he shows how a major leader can steer a huge country in a new historical direction. A terrific accomplishment.
--Andrew J. Nathan, Columbia University

Not just a definitive biography of a world-class leader, but also the most authoritative and riveting account of the secretly contrived U.S.-Chinese strategic accommodation of 1978 and of how that in turn facilitated China's domestic transformation.
--Zbigniew Brzezinski

A multilayered study of change and adaptability. At the core is one man's response to the dangers of a complex revolution. Around him is the transformation of the largest political entity in history from rural disarray and helplessness to an industrial and manufacturing giant. In between are ambitious and bewildered people in search of leadership. Vogel has made Deng Xiaoping's vision convincing, the Chinese maze comprehensible, and even the bit actors come alive.
--Wang Gungwu, National University of Singapore

This is an impressive and important biography of one of the most important men of the twentieth century. Deng Xiaoping transformed China economically, politically, and socially. One of the most significant achievements for his and my country was the establishment of diplomatic relations between us. The book provides an excellent account of this historic event.
--President Jimmy Carter

Deng Xiaoping's skill, vision, and courage in overcoming seemingly insuperable obstacles and guiding China onto the path of sustained economic development rank him with the great leaders of history. And yet, too little is known about the life and career of this extraordinary man. In this superbly researched and highly readable biography, Vogel has definitively filled this void. This fascinating book provides a host of insights into the factors that enabled Deng to triumph over repeated setbacks and lay the basis for China to regain the wealth and power that has eluded it for two centuries.
--J. Stapleton Roy, former U.S. Ambassador to China

Deng could be tough, but he was direct and engaged. He was a person we could do business with, and I liked him a lot. He played an extraordinary role, bringing the world's largest nation into the modern world. We are fortunate that Vogel, one of our foremost China scholars, has now brought the man alive in this uniquely researched biography.
--Brent Scowcroft

A thorough picking-over of Deng Xiaoping's record and accomplishments, setting him firmly as the linchpin linking an antiquated authoritative thinking to modern growth and acceleration...Vogel meticulously considers all facets of this complex leader for an elucidating--and quite hefty--study. (Kirkus Reviews 2011-07-15)

[An] impressive and exhaustively researched biography...Vogel reminds readers that it was under this pragmatic politician's watch that the party made three moves that helped it outlast so many other Leninist organizations.
--Jeffrey Wasserstrom (Miller-McCune.com 2011-06-30)

From arguably the most important scholar of East Asia, this is an important book on the force behind China's transformation in the late twentieth century, whose full fruits are visible only today. Deng ordered the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown, but he was also the person most responsible for modernizing China and opening it to trade with the West. Again and again he survived threatening challenges in the Chinese political bureaucracy, to emerge at the top in the late 1970s. His role in subverting Chinese orthodoxy from the inside is comparable to that of Gorbachev with respect to the Soviet Union--and he deserves sustained attention such as this landmark book offers.
--Anis Shivani (Huffington Post 2011-07-09)

This intensely researched doorstop delivers a step-by-step political biography of the man who gets most of the credit for China's spectacular rise to an economic juggernaut. Vogel recounts how Deng (1904–1997), a leading figure from the 1950s on, was banished when his preference for practicality over class struggle angered Mao Zedong during the disastrous 1969–1975 Cultural Revolution. Returning to power after Mao's 1976 death, he eliminated the anti-intellectualism and chaotic policy swings that characterized Mao's rule while opening the nation to Western ideas. The result was China's emergence as the world's most dynamic economy, with a free market but still with a disturbing absence of political freedom (he gives a nuanced analysis of the Tiananmen Square massacres)...Scholars will value it. (Publishers Weekly 2011-07-18)

A masterful new history of China's reform era. It pieces together from interviews and memoirs perhaps the clearest account so far of the revolution that turned China from a totalitarian backwater led by one of the monsters of the 20th century into the power it has become today...Vogel has a monumental story to tell. His main argument is that Deng deserves a central place in the pantheon of 20th-century leaders. For he not only launched China's market-oriented economic reforms but also accomplished something that had eluded Chinese leaders for almost two centuries: the transformation of the world's oldest civilization into a modern nation...[An] illuminating book.
--John Pomfret (Washington Post 2011-09-09)

If you want to understand China today, you must understand Deng Xiaoping (1904–97)...Deng shared Mao's ambition to make China a strong nation under party leadership, but he cannily built an unassailable position within the party to take it in new directions. Vogel interviewed dozens of leaders and China experts, as well as Deng's family, did exhaustive documentary research, and mines the scholarly literature (a good deal of it by his former students) to analyze Deng's initial success in building China's economy and international position, frustration in the 1989 Tiananmen massacre, and ultimate legacy...Massive but fascinating, this is highly recommended for those with a serious interest in modern China. Indispensable in understanding Deng, what he accomplished, and where he fell short.
--Charles W. Hayford (Library Journal 2011-09-01)

This is the most ambitious biography of Deng Xiaoping by a western scholar so far. Drawing on numerous Chinese sources, including the Deng family, it tells the story of a man who, the author says, may have had more impact on world history than anyone else in the 20th century...This is a monumental work, carried out in the author's retirement and intended to cap a distinguished career in Asian studies. His diligent use of official papers and his privileged access to members of the Chinese Communist elite make this biography of Deng Xiaoping the most complete we are likely to have under the present ruling order.
--Michael Sheridan (Hong Kong Economic Journal 2011-09-01)

Ezra Vogel's encyclopedic Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China is the most exhaustive English retelling of Deng's life. Vogel, an emeritus professor at Harvard, seems to have interviewed or found the memoirs of nearly every person who spoke with Deng, and has painstakingly re-created a detailed and intimate chronology of Deng's roller-coaster career.
--Joshua Kurlantzick (The Nation 2011-09-27)

If anybody still nurtures the illusion that Deng was a closet liberal, this book will bring them back to reality. For all the changes he championed and the vicissitudes of his life, the diminutive, blunt Deng has received much less biographical attention than Mao, which makes Ezra Vogel's huge account particularly welcome. The product of 10 years of work by a leading China scholar, it is essential reading for anybody who wants to understand the evolution of China to the status it occupies today. It offers an enormous compendium of material about the lifelong Communist whose story, even more than that of Mao, reflects the dramatically varying fortunes of his nation in the 20th century...Vogel is an admiring biographer who presents a treasure trove of new information that will delight modern China scholars for years to come.
--Jonathan Fenby (Times Higher Education 2011-10-06)

Deng led a long and remarkable life, packed with drama and global significance, one that deserves to be dissected in detail. So we must be thankful to Harvard professor Ezra Vogel for devoting a large chunk of his academic career to compiling a prodigious biography, Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China, the most ambitious account of the man so far. In writing this volume, Vogel has done an enormous amount of work. He appears to have absorbed the documents from every single Chinese Communist Party plenum since 1921...There have been several Deng biographies before this...but Vogel's can be regarded as the most comprehensive and informative of the lot...There's no question that Vogel has gone farther than anyone else to date in telling Deng's story. For that he is to be applauded; there is a whole hoard of valuable material here that we probably would not have gained otherwise.
--Christian Caryl (Foreign Policy 2011-09-13)

The big picture is the key to this book. Those hoping for hidden secrets and untold stories about Deng in Vogel's book will be disappointed. Comprehensive as it is, the book is not an expose. But it does ring with authority. The Harvard professor spent most of the 10 years lining up interviews with people who had first-hand experience of Deng. In the end he spoke to dozens, if not a hundred, of people who knew something about the man...As a result, his depiction of Deng is rich, balanced and colorful. Vogel portrays a Deng who is determined, resourceful, at times uncompromising and difficult, but always pragmatic...This is where the strength of Vogel's book lies. It is all about the grand historic view. And that is fitting: out of all of Deng's amazing qualities, it is his grasp of a broad perspective and his keen sense of history that enabled him to achieve what so many had deemed impossible.
--Chow Chung-yan (South China Morning Post 2011-09-27)

Ezra Vogel's new biography portrays Deng as not just the maker of modern China, but one of the most substantial figures in modern history...[A] meticulously researched book...Vogel knows China's elites extremely well, not least because of his years as an intelligence officer in East Asia for the Clinton administration. This book is bolstered by insider knowledge and outstanding sources, such as interviews with Deng's interpreters...The definitive account of Deng in any language. Vogel eloquently makes the case for Deng's crucial role in China's transformation from an impoverished and brutalized country into an economic and political superpower. (The Economist 2011-10-22)

A virtue of Vogel's book is that it collects and organizes a huge amount of material on the struggles within the elite power circles in China over several decades. In these accounts we learn how Deng tried to protect his allies and how he sought to undermine his enemies; he fell, rose, fell again, then rose again to the pinnacle position in the second generation of the Communist dynasty. Vogel's materials will be very useful to students of elite power struggles in China.
--Fang Lizhi (New York Review of Books 2011-11-10)

When Chinese historians are able one day to ply their subversive trade without control or censorship, their judgment will surely be that their country should revere Deng Xiaoping way above his predecessor Mao Zedong...Ezra Vogel's massive biography assembles the case for Deng (1904-97) with narrative skill and prodigious scholarship.
--Chris Patten (Financial Times 2011-10-15)

A lively portrait of the man...Vogel provides a wealth of fascinating material, from vivid accounts of Deng's political and organizational skills in reviving the economy in the mid-1970s to his up-and-down relations with Vietnam and its leaders. The author also offers astute insights into the reformist roles played by Hua Guofeng, Mao's immediate successor after his 1976 death, and by two of Deng's own associates, both ultimately purged by him, Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang. The book is at its best in portraying the tense interplay of personal relations and ambition among Mao's many lieutenants. On the surface, lockstep Communist ideology prevailed during Mao's rule, but behind the walls of Zhongnanhai, Beijing's central leadership compound, the dual drive for self-preservation and advancement fed a kind of political nihilism.
--Howard French (Wall Street Journal 2011-10-22)

Vogel has gone to enormous lengths to document his subject...Vogel's painstaking research provides plenty of fascinating detail. The description of the period after Tiananmen, for example--when the octogenarian was forced to call on a lifetime's accumulated political wiles to defeat an attempt by conservatives to almost completely reverse his reforms--is eye-opening. The pages in which Deng effectively threatens to have then Communist Party Secretary Jiang Zemin dismissed unless he throws his support behind renewing the reform drive are very nearly worth the price of the book alone...On the ways through which Deng set about the enormous task of rebuilding the gutted economy, shattered by decades of turmoil under Mao Zedong, Vogel is exhaustive.
--Simon Elegant (Time 2011-10-17)

Deng [is] a fit subject for a weighty, probing and judicious biography, which is just what Ezra F. Vogel has produced...Vogel is the master of this complex material. He had access to many who knew and worked with Deng, including Jiang Zemin. Deng selected him as Party leader in 1989 to succeed Zhao Ziyang, who had been sacked and disgraced because of his opposition to the use of force in Tiananmen Square. Vogel also spoke to two of Deng's children. The documentary sources are copious and, in terms of access to material, this study is unlikely to be bettered until the Party opens its most sensitive archives--which could be a long wait. It is hard to disagree with much of what Vogel writes and there is much to admire, particularly his judicious contextualization of Deng's motives.
--Graham Hutchings (Literary Review 2011-11-01)

In an authoritative biography of Deng, Harvard sociologist Ezra F. Vogel, a renowned specialist on China and Japan who rose to international prominence in 1979 with the publication of Japan as Number One: Lessons for America, has attempted the difficult task of providing a comprehensive look at the experiences and influences that shaped this remarkable individual. He has succeeded superbly...Vogel's book provides extensive insights into how Deng was able to use his experience, his network of associations among China's aging revolutionaries, and the force of his personality to direct China's course, all while allowing others to hold the top government and party titles...For those of us who as U.S. government officials participated in or monitored many of the developments in China and in the bilateral relationship Vogel describes, he has illuminated events in ways that would have been invaluable to us had we had such a clear picture at the time. The transformation of China that Deng set in motion is likely to confront the United States with its most significant foreign-policy challenge over the next several decades. We are fortunate indeed that Vogel has written this timely and highly informative biography of Deng Xiaoping, which provides a wealth of insights into one of history's great leaders.
--J. Stapleton Roy (Wilson Quarterly 2011-09-01)

A major biography of the man who may turn out to have done more to transform the world than any other leader of the 20th century. Deng's market Leninism has massively increased China's wealth, while repressing democracy. Vogel's portrait is sympathetic, although not uncritical. (Financial Times 2011-11-25)

[An] exhaustive biography...Vogel's book is an encyclopedic look at Deng's career.
--Clarissa Sebag-Montefiore (The Indepemdent 2011-12-02)

Deng was perhaps the most intriguing leader that I met while traveling with Mr. Blumenthal and President Jimmy Carter. I had to wait another 30 years, however, before a definitive biography would be written about Deng, arguably the most globally transformational leader of the 20th century. This year Ezra Vogel delivered it with Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China.
--Richard W. Fisher (Wall Street Journal 2011-12-19)

China scholars might think they have read enough about Deng Xiaoping. After all, at least three biographies of Deng were available prior to the release of this massive new book. But Vogel, one of the world's preeminent Asia scholars, has produced the most comprehensive and authoritative account of Deng's career as a revolutionary, party leader, and architect of China's reform. Meticulously researched and highly readable, the book is not a typical biography. It does not dwell much on Deng's personal life. Instead, the focus of the book is Deng's unusual career trajectory, his unique style of rule, and the strategic choices he made during and after the Cultural Revolution. Vogel considers the extent to which Deng fundamentally and irreversibly transformed China's society, governance, and relations with the outside world...This book should be read by anyone who wants to understand the domestic and international dynamics that have led to China's rise as a great power.
--Yanzhong Huang (Foreign Affairs 2012-01-01)

Deng Xiaoping is one of the most influential men in modern history and here his dramatic story, one intertwined with elite intrigues in the Chinese Communist Party, is recounted in detail by one of the most eminent scholars of Asia...Regarding the debate over whether Deng was more despot than reformer, Ezra Vogel emphasizes the successful consequences of his economic reforms, but does not shy from criticizing his failures. The portrait that emerges is of a visionary authoritarian who helped his nation overcome the self-inflicted wounds of Mao Zedong and achieve enormous economic advances.
--Jeff Kingston (Japan Times 2011-12-11)

Vogel, one of the world's preeminent Asia scholars, has produced the most comprehensive and authoritative account of Deng's career as a revolutionary, party leader, and architect of China's reform. Meticulously researched and highly readable, the book is not a typical biography. It does not dwell much on Deng's personal life. Instead, the focus of the book is Deng's unusual career trajectory, his unique style of rule, and the strategic choices he made during and after the Cultural Revolution...This book should be read by anyone who wants to understand the domestic and international dynamics that have led to China's rise as a great power.
--Yanzhong Huang (Foreign Affairs 2012-01-01)

This monumental book, not so much biography as political history, is overdue.
--Rowan Callick (The Australian 2012-01-28)

One of the virtues of Vogel's analysis is that he understands the thinking of Deng's rivals as well as he does Deng's own...Deng was infatuated with everything he viewed as modern, and wanted China to have it all. By entering into Deng's vision, Vogel helps readers see how the person who forged the world's most successful example of modernizing authoritarianism believed that such a combination would work.
--Andrew J. Nathan (New Republic 2012-02-22)

As one of the foremost scholars of modern China, Vogel is an appropriate authority to pen such a thorough account of Deng Xiaoping's tumultuous journey from political exile to paramount leader of China. A detailed study into Deng's dedication to the Chinese establishment of the People's Republic, to his reemergence as unrivaled decision-maker of the Chinese people, the book details how Deng's policies continue to shape the nation, and how it will most likely require a number of generations before scholars can fully appreciate his impact. In capturing the most turbulent period in the modern 20th century in this 928-page tome, Vogel contributes an important piece to the historiography of Chinese history.
--A. Cho (Choice 2012-04-01)

[A] masterful biography.
--Arun Maira (Indian Express 2012-04-02)

About the Author

Ezra F. Vogel is Henry Ford II Research Professor of the Social Sciences, Emeritus, at Harvard University and former Director of Harvard’s Fairbank Center for East Asian Research and the Harvard University Asia Center.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
To understand this leader is not always easy since the author rarely if ever discusses the influences of his youth, and why he developed into a communist revolution. You do hear much of foreign influence in China along the coast and inwards and that is really what communism means in Asia coupled with collectivization within. We should remember these are two strands of what communism is. All communists accept the first but not all the latter, saying its conditioned by time, and as leader one of the first reforms was education and modern philosophy and science and reforming all the social structures in lieu of modern philosophy. The four modernizations enunciated they keep maoist thought which is indigenous control of the country(and they use those two words)...but the other part colectivization and state control of industry goes back to karl marx, which is from Karl Marx from Europe which they do not accept and use a modern approach to science and philosophy, and the usefulness of criticism, and the word reform geared toward a modern country is emphasized. There is an openess toward the past, and the early chinese empires are looked at again, and the great patriotic verve of the early empires and service to the nation when all wanted a child to serve in the public administration, and a mingling of what is positive in forming indigenous values, and applying it toward a modern economy. Very soon the openess has some problems during Tianneman square in the capital, which the senior leader does not take lightly. The schools are more open, teaching is more open, compared to what they taught during the previous leader, and eventually there is a clamp down, to him given his improvements it doesnt make sense, and thats his interpretation, and the military and Tianneman square... Read more ›
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5.0 out of 5 stars LOVE IT! VERY INFORMATIONAL Dec 19 2013
By Amber
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
It's a book of chronology of Deng's era. Very informational! I highly recommend it to those who don't know too much about this part of history of China and are curious about it.
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Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
From 32 million tons of steel in 1979, to 62 million tons in 1989, and now 600 million tons in 2010, China has become the largest steel-producer in the world. At less than $100 billion in 1978 when Deng Xiaoping came to power to $18 trillion ($18,000 billion) in 2005, and still growing, China's GDP has seen annual increases of 10% at a time when western world countries were lucky to achieve 2% real growth. From a country that was at the bottom of the economic heap to the second-largest economy in the world, China is set to overtake the United States economy in a few short years. From a country with none to a country with over 250 million (out of a total population of 1.5 billion), China's middle class is set to lead China's leap into the 22nd century , How did China do it? How is it poised to become the largest economy in the world by 2020? What happened?

"Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China" is the story of how this happened. It's not just the story of Deng, but the story of the Chinese people, the flaws and strengths of the leaders who have risen to its positions of power, how their government functions (the differences are amazing!), the role of the Communist Party of China and the influence held by its leaders. The book gives the reader insight into Chinese society, the difference in their way of thinking and how things are done, and how, with a strong centralized government, China was able to vault from a rural peasant-based economy, to a country on the leading edge of manufacturing technology.

While we may protest human rights, climate change, their form of government, and other ills, it is a fact that China is now a powerhouse that is still forging ahead while other countries flounder after the 2008 recession.
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Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  71 reviews
112 of 124 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars As Good as it Could Be Sept. 2 2011
By Tiger CK - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China is a deeply researched and finely detailed portrait of one of the most fascinating figures of the twentieth century. As Vogel demonstrates, Deng Xiaoping's life and achievements are perhaps the best window for understanding the evolution of Asian politics and society over the last thirty years. Although there are still many aspects of Deng's life and policies that this book does not tell us, it does about as good a job as possible at describing Deng's life with the resources that are available.

Vogel generally depicts Deng as a pragmatic and farsighted manager. He did not see his role as coming up with new ideas, according to Vogel, but attached the greatest need to devising and implementing a new system. Although the book spends some time covering Deng's early life and the role that he played in the CCP during the Mao Zedong years, its focus is generally where it should be--on Deng's policies during his years in power.

The book is mostly divided into four main parts. The first covers "Deng's Rise to the Top" and focuses heavily on Deng's rise within the CCP from the early days of the CCP during the 1930s through the 1970s when Deng finally took command of the party. The second section on "Creating the Deng Era" focuses heavily on Deng's foreign policy during the late 1970s. It analyzes how improving relations with Japan, the United States, and Europe along with China's more general opening helped to create the context needed for economic growth. Vogel was able to find some very interesting materials for this section from the book, especially from the Carter Library. The third main part of the book on "the Deng Era" looks in detail at how Deng governed China and how his policies led to the beginnings of the PRC's economic and industrial transformation. Through a careful analysis of Deng's papers and the comments of his underlings, Vogel points to several elements of Dengs governing style that enabled him to become a success. He spoke and acted with authority, defended the party, maintained a unified command structure and set short term policies in light of long term goals. Although Deng led what was essentially a party state, Vogel, a political scientist, seems to hint that there were many aspects of Deng's leadership style that political leaders in Western democracies might learn from. The final section on "Challenges to the Deng Era" looks at the emergence of the democratic movement in China and how Deng responded to it. Here, of course, Vogel takes us through a difficult period in Chinese history and gives an honest analysis behind the reasons that Deng's government eventually encountered democratic protests and how Deng responded to them.

Generally, this is a sympathetic biography of Deng. Vogel sees China's opening and economic transformation as good things that could not have occurred without Deng's unique style of leadership. At the same time Vogel is careful to avoid turning the book into a complete hagiography. The most controversial chapters deal with the democratic challenge, the Tiananmen protests and how Deng dealt with these events. The author tries to be balanced here. He notes that despite the tragedy that occurred at Tiananmen, China subsequently enjoyed great social stability and rapid economic growth. At the same time, however, he notes that demands for political freedom in China have still not been completely satisfied. Both of these are part of Deng's legacy.

Despite Vogel's prodigious research, however, it becomes clear in some places in this biography that he was working under limitations. The author spent many months in Beijing conducting interviews and collecting available materials. But still the vast majority of the printed materials used by the author are published material. Some of the best Chinese scholars have managed to get a limited number of archival materials through persistent efforts to work with archivists in China and Vogel draws on their work. But Vogel himself does not seem to have gotten access to many Chinese archives that cover this period. For some serious China scholars eager to learn things about Deng that are completely new this might come as a disappointment. There are certainly places where some readers might crave a more detailed account of meetings that took place and the thinking that went into certain policies on the Chinese side. Vogel often does a good job of hinting at what these might have been. But he does not always have the materials that he needs to fully make his case. Hopefully, in the future, China will continue to open up its archives and historians will be able to draw up even more detailed accounts of Deng's strategic thinking about both foreign and domestic policy.

Nevertheless, these limitations are not really Vogel's fault but are generally inherent in writing about such a recent and, in many ways, controversial topic in Chinese history. For now, this is the best biography of Deng Xiaoping that we have and it sheds a great deal of light on the transformative role played by Deng Xiaoping in the creation of modern China. It is the best biography that Vogel could have written about Deng at this time.
41 of 48 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding! Sept. 25 2011
By Loyd E. Eskildson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
'Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China' not only provides a credible summary of how China entered the modern world, but also very useful lessons in large-scale organizational change and macro-economics. Author Vogel, Harvard professor emeritus, contends that Deng Xiaoping may have had the greatest long-term impact on world history than anyone else in the 20th century. His pragmatic, driving force behind China's radical transformation lifted millions out of poverty and reshaped global politics. First, however, he had to address the damage done by the Cultural Revolution (CR), end the Mao personality cult with its emphasis on mass mobilizations, class warfare, ideology, intensive collectivization, and central planning, revive agriculture (grain production/person when Deng too over in 1978 was less than that in 1957), and undo the economic system (price and wage controls, central planning) he had helped build. There was also a widespread problem of unqualified military officials and rebels having assumed leadership functions during the Cultural Revolution, factories that still operated did so with 1950s Soviet technology that was in disrepair, universities having essentially been closed for a decade, and no jobs for the educated youth that had been sent out to the countryside during the CR.

Deng's transformation focused not on holding Mao responsible, but the economic and political system that had tried to reach down to exert control at both the household and small enterprise levels. Deng opened China to science, technology, management systems, and ideas from anywhere. He also realized that China's economic problems could not be solved simply by opening markets - institutions had to be built gradually. He saw his job not as coming up with new operational ideas, but devising and implementing a new system, along with selecting a core of co-workers. He also had to provide hope without raising unrealistic expectations, and pace change so as not to split the nation - all while maintaining stability in employment. Deng's credibility was built on the poise of having been a former high-ranking wartime leader (12 years) and Long March survivor, spending half a century near the center of power (Deng was 74 when he became head of China in 1978), and previously leading initial performance improvements in China's railroad, coal, and steel industries. Amazingly, Deng also had been purged three times by Mao - once for eight years, and the last time shortly before Mao's death.

Mao made Deng Vice-Premier in 1975 when China was still recovering from the Cultural Revolution (CR). During that period young people had been mobilized to attack high-level officials and push them aside, plunging the nation into chaos. One of Deng's first moves was to tell the PLA to end internal struggles between CR supporters and opponents and instead focus on their assignments - those that failed to do so would be replaced. Deng also brought back many of the 25,000 former officers 'wrongly accused' in the CR. Deng also downsized the military by 20% to help pay for weapons upgrades, and helped those displaced to find new jobs; he kept all those in the Air Force, Navy, and the Army's technical experts, and resumed training activities. Deng also was careful to obtain Mao's approval for all his major actions. Deng then took on the railroads - they had offended Mao by delaying one of his trips by a week, and were also creating delay problems throughout the economy. Deng focused first on the worst railroad group in terms of accidents and delays, again went through the warning on factionalism, arrested the most cantankerous leaders, improved worker living conditions, made clear that neither position nor seniority would protect against adverse actions for failure to perform, brought in PLA troops to enforce compliance, and canceled CR verdicts on some 6,000 former workers/managers. Performance doubled. Then it was on to coal, China's primary source of energy. Coal had piled up because of poor rail transportation and miners had quit digging. After coal came steel - performance did not meet targets, but did improve about 10%. (After Deng's 1978 visit to Japan, during which he saw their much more modern equipment and methods, he never again relied on exhortation to improve performance - instead, the emphasis was on technology and methods.)

Deng also moved to select for Chinese Communist Party (CCP) membership those who could contribute, and replace those who got there for participating in the CR. He required members have 10+ years experience, and also removed military personnel from civilian positions. Deng continued to emphasize logical arguments acceptable to Mao, checked everything major with Mao before implementation, including revisions suggested by Mao. He continued Zhou En-Lai's 1963 'Four Modernizations' (agriculture, industry, national defense, science and technology) that essentially equated to economic self-reliance by the early 21st century. Foreign technology was sought out, incentives given workers (performance, difficulty, hazardousness), propaganda personnel were removed from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, universities re-opened (the few that were open had switched to admission via nomination instead of examination; achievement again became the criterion; at the time, China's Peking University had been judged about the equivalent of a U.S. junior college).

However, in January 1976 Deng was purged again (replaced by Hua Guofeng) after the Gang of Four and Mao's nephew played on Mao's insecurities (eg. Kruschev had publicly downgraded Stalin after the latter's death, and Mao was near death himself) - Deng knew he could have avoided being purged if he'd just publicly stated that he supported Mao's CR, but Deng refused to do so. The 'good news' is that after Mao's death months afterward, the new Premier, with strong support from top leaders, had Jiang Qing (Mao's last wife) and the rest of the 'Gang of Four' arrested (they had antagonized most everyone), along with their 30 most loyal followers and put on trial. This precluded factional stalemate at the top leadership level, and unwittingly helped set the stage for Deng's return.

Hua supported opening China to the West, a reduced role for ideology, and more emphasis on modernization than class struggle. However, he had little experience in Beijing, none in foreign affairs, and little in military affairs. He also didn't support the scale of return of senior officials under Deng. Deng, for his part, accepted Hua's new role, and was allowed to champion the modernization of science, which he saw as key to to modernizing the other three. Deng quickly ended the practice of having high-school graduates do two years of physical labor before attending college - "the students (forget) half of what they learned in school." He also immediately revived the use of entrance exams for college - there were spaces for only 5.8% of those that took the test. Examinations were later expanded to also select for top elementary and high schools. Worker propaganda teams and troops quartered at universities (a CR leftover) were removed to remove them as a source of conflict. Professors' physical labor and political education requires were lowered to one-day/week. Deng used Chinese-American scientists for guidance on how to improve. The Central Party School was also reopened in 1977, and began allowing more open discussions than previously.

Deng returned to the top position in 1978, and began encouraging CCP leaders to visit other nations to increase their awareness of how far behind China was, and thereby their receptivity to changes in thinking. Yugoslavia was included because it had improved while maintaining socialism, lessening the potential perceived threats by party hardliners. Deng visited Hong Kong, and when informed of the large numbers of Chinese escaping to Hong Kong, directed a focus on improving China's economy rather than a stronger fence - this led to China's first Special Economic Zone (SEZ). Returning 'tourists' decided to begin my improving China's textiles and apparel industries. Deng set the background, stating "If we can't grow faster than the capitalist countries then we can't show the superiority of our system." Criticism of the Gang of Four was stopped to allow focus on increasing production. Deng also noted that 'some would get rich first' - they should then help others. He also pointed out that moral appeals for initiative (Mao's approach) only lasted a short time - they needed to provide rewards and promotions as well. His fellow CCP leaders were worried about repeating mistakes such as Mao's Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolutions - thus, they were slow to change Deng's titles to reflect his new position.

Deng himself also visited Japan and the U.S. His Chinese media entourage helped ameliorate negative attitudes towards Japan and the U.S., and spread awareness of China's backwardness. Deng personally worked to create a foundation for partnerships and learning. Japan and the U.S. were particularly receptive to China, seeing the opportunity to draw it away from the Soviets. Deng helped minimize opposition to change in China by using the term 'management' instead of 'Western ways,' and constantly committing to socialism and the CCP. He viewed the U.S. separation of powers as a terribly inefficient way to run China. Normalizing relations with U.S. was made more difficult because of their 'one China' policy vs. Taiwan. Secretary Vance helped Deng over this bump by suggesting that, over time, Americans would come to agree with the 'one China' perspective.

Deng conducted most of his work transforming China at home, beginning the day reading reports and newspapers, then often meeting with people in the afternoon. He attended few meetings, preferring instead to either send his assistant or rely on written comments previously made to those leading the meetings; this was partly due to his being hard of hearing, partly due his age, and probably also a better use of his time. Prior to giving major speeches, Deng cleared them with other top CCP officials, especially those involving economics. Mao's 'management secrets' started with maintaining respect for the CCP by reining in criticisms of the past or present (both within the CCP, and of its leaders), building public support before promoting path-breaking policies, avoiding taking the blame - subordinates were expected to do this, not having to face short-term elections, focusing criticisms on implementation as much as possible instead of policy, avoiding separation of powers (eg. U.S. - Congress, President, Supreme Court), pushing out those committed to old ways (mostly via mandatory retirement, enticed via providing housing and recreation centers), using think tanks and experimental trials (eg. 'let's see how it goes' vs. workers released from farm work joining small firms that sometimes exceeded Marx's admonition over having more than 7 employees; creating 'Special Economic Zones' - SEZs) instead of starting with risky mass changes, being careful to get accurate information (trusted sources, outside experts) - avoiding problems during the 'Great Leap Forward' caused by officials unwilling to tell Mao of problems, taking small steps, using aphorisms to explain complex/contentious issues (eg. not caring whether a cat was black or white, as long as it caught mice; some people will get rich first; crossing the river by feeling the stones), maintaining reasonable expectations, sensitivity to those wanting to repeat adverse historical experiences, presenting his policy as a sound middle course (eg. 'starving peasants [in 1979] should be allowed to find a way to survive' vs. those wanting continued collectivization of agriculture), deferring some troublesome problems until later (eg. Taiwan) for 'smarter generations,' temporarily backing off from change when problems/strong opposition occurred, and soliciting/accepting economic advice - an area he was not that familiar with. In addition, he never wavered in clearly preserving socialism - first by maintaining public ownership of land, precluding capitalists from dominating politics, beginning with a large economic role for 'state-owned enterprises' (SOEs) in key industry areas, and assuring that Chinese firms would not be displaced by foreign businesses as they had in the 1930s. Finally, Deng emphasized results - TV was just coming to China and its populace became quite impressed seeing SEZ skyscrapers. (Deng thought Gorbachev made a major error by setting out to change the political system first - this maximized opposition while providing little/nothing in improvements; actually, Russia's initial foray into overhauling systems was a disaster because it was unable to handle the results of immediate, massive change).

Mao had moved much of China's industrial base inland out of fear of invasion - Deng returned production to coastal areas with their improved access to shipping and better infrastructure. Another early, major change came when Deng learned that thousands had been imprisoned for trying to escape into Hong Kong. Deng's response was to stop trying to 'build a better fence,' but instead improve their economic opportunities. This led to talks and agreement to establish the first SEZ across from Hong Kong, with relaxed regulations; the first project involved a native Chinese entrepreneur who had moved to Hong Kong, yet was a member of the Communist Party, and whose project (scrapping unwanted Chinese ships for their steel) did not require much investment. Other projects soon followed - the timing was perfect because Hong Kong was running out of labor. Three other SEZs soon followed. Early lessons learned by government officials were that businesses preferred 'one-stop decision-centers' to obtain permits, arrange infrastructure, etc., areas where officials kept their promises, and labor, fees, etc. charges were kept reasonable. By 1984, the four SEZs became 18, Taiwan dropped its ban on doing business with the mainland and its businesses became major investors in China, and one SEZ even eliminated set prices on many foods (prices rose, then fell back after supply increased).

Peasant income roughly doubled between 1978 - 1982, thanks to household contracting replacing collectivization, reduced taxes, a 20% increase in prices paid for their products, and the doubling of fertilizer availability. The small commune workshops and stores that had been part of collectivization became 'Town/Village Enterprises' (TVEs) owned by local governments, but no longer bound by the former commune's former area. TVEs went from 28.3 million workers in 1978 to 105.8 million in 1992; their advantage over SOEs was not having to provide housing, health care, or schooling. Unemployment resulting from improved agricultural productivity/no longer requiring students to gain humility from working the earth also spread to urban centers, the violation of Marx's caveat on 'large' firms, and another unplanned experiment that helped Deng's cause. (The 1987 Party Congress then officially made these 'larger' firms legal - potentially highly contentious debate was side-stepped, both by the experiment and Deng's duck aphorism wondering why a farmer was a socialist with three ducks, but then became a capitalist with four.)

Deng set and pursued a goal of increasing year 2000 GDP to a level 4X its 1984 level; the more cautious leaders objected, and he ignored them - though he also asked the World Bank for an opinion on its feasibility. The Soviet Union and Mao both had sent few students abroad, worrying about a 'brain drain' - Deng did not, and very quickly had tens of thousands of Chinese students abroad. McNamara and others convinced Deng that the World Bank didn't work for the U.S., and Deng eagerly accepted its help - beginning with arranging training for Chinese economists. Visiting East European economists convinced the Chinese to not try dramatic all at once restructuring, and suggested using 'dual-pricing' (production over quota could be priced at market) as a transitional tactic. Japan was another major learning source, thanks to its transition from a tightly managed post-war economy to free-markets.

Deng's stocked soared further when he negotiated a peaceful return of Hong Kong in 1984; he also shifted his definition of 'socialism' to 'public ownership' instead of central planning, and emphasized common prosperity instead of egalitarianism. Deng, however, made a major miscalculation in 1988 by freeing many prices in an effort to avoid corruption by those taking advantage of the dual prices - inflation soared to 26% because the production couldn't meet new demand, he was forced to reverse the decision, the ground was set for Tiananmen in 1989, transformation slowed, and Deng lost face vs. his much more cautious counterparts.
19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent but flawed book Feb. 27 2012
By Christian Kober - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Finally a biography of Deng Xiaoping, arguably the most influential leader, at least by number of lives influenced. I do not want to dwell too much on the merits of this biography, which other reviewers have commented on enough. Obviously this is a major work and deserves four stars. A must read for everyone interested in modern Chinese history.
Why not five stars? First of all, the hand of a stricter editor might had been helpful. There are not only unnecessary redundancies and lengths, there are also trivial mistakes not becoming such a book, e.g. Jiang Qing died not as early as claimed in the book.
Secondly there is little said about the life of Deng before 1977. I assume that sources are difficult to find, yet his role in the '100 flowers' period is well known. Also at least the author should have commented why he does not focus much on the period before 1975. Is it lack of resources or is it that the author wanted to have a clear focus on Deng's later years? At least he should tell the reader.
Thirdly and most importantly, the book is almost a hagiography of Deng. Is there really nothing to criticize about the man? Not in moral terms - but did he not commit mistakes? Did he really achieve the reversal of China's fortunes singlehandedly? Deng was an astounding person and achieved much. At his age to completely reverse course is a feat which will always amaze me.
To summarize, given the few sources available the book is certainly an outstanding feat. A more balanced view of would have ensured it to be a perfect success within these constraints of source availability.
41 of 53 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Needs an editor Nov. 27 2011
By Law student - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book covers an important topic and appears to be as well researched as it could be without access to Chinese archives [thus compared to biographies of Soviet leaders written by historians lucky enough to peak into Russia between Yeltins' thaw and Putin's re-Brezhnevization this books is just not as good.]

Deng is obviously an important man but the book borders very very neatly on to hagiography. There are no mistakes, and all his accomplishments are both pragmatic, far reaching and for the good of China. [Cooperating with Pol Pot? Why "Pol Pot had a terrible international reputation for his wanton killing, but in Deng's view, he was the only Cambodian with enough troops to be a useful ally against Vietnam". And why worry about Vietnam? Because they are too ungrateful for all the great help the Chinese provided to them during the war...]

Every foreign policy goal is an unmitigated triumph and despite some setbacks -- all caused by Mao -- eventually all goals have been achieved and all enemies smashed. Of his earlier life almost nothing is written, a mere 150 pages to get us to the 1970s.

The main problem with the book is that it needs a good editor. The writing at times feels down right clumsy and quite frankly repetitive in a number of places. For example, the book covers a visit to North Korea in 3 pages when a paragraph could have easily explained everything necessary and even left space for another pro-Deng comment.

But this could all be due to the writer's need to maintain open lines of communications with Chinese interlocutors who understandably revere Deng. Perhaps when enough times passes an authoritative book on this complicated man can be written without the need for political cover and this version certainly serves as an excellent stop-gap measure before that time.
11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars but transformation into what? Dec 18 2011
By DaLaoHu - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
It's been a month now since I've read this book, and I'm still not certain how to review it. That this is an important book ... undoubtedly. That this book will give you many insights into just how China moved away from the Cultural Revolution years into the present ... undoubtedly. But that Deng Xiaoping was really the far-sighted wonderboy that is portrayed here ... hmmmm.

I'll grant that Deng Xiaoping was an extraordinary person,that in his heart he really wanted to do the right thing. But I would even grant that to Chairman Mao. After all, these men were revolutionaries, and most revolutionaries do start out with good intentions. But that said, power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The problem with revolutionaries is that once they become successful, they tend to think that their success is due to their own personal genius, and that only they hold the keys to the future. Which leads to ... well, in Mao's case, to the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. And in Deng's case, to ... well, precisely what?

And herein lies my problem with this book. Notice that the title does not just read Deng Xiaoping. It also includes And The Transformation of China. According to the author, Deng Xiaoping is responsible for the greatest transformation of Chinese society since the initiation of the Han Dynasty in the third century B.C. Even if this were true, (and the author seems to conveniently overlook that during the Tang and Song dynasties, and even through the Yuan and into the very beginning of the Ming, Chinese society was at a higher level than any other society in the world), the question still remains as to whether this transformation is or is not a good thing. And on that question the jury is still out.

Certainly the transformation from the turmoil of the Chairman Mao years has been a good thing. But how could it not have been? How could it have been worse? Anyone (perhaps short of Jiang Qing) could have steered China in a better direction than it was heading in Mao's last years. So Deng Xiaoping happened to be sitting in the big chair. But if it had been someone else, most likely the transformation, or at least a transformation, a positive transformation, would still have occurred.

But to say that China is better off than during the Mao years is not to say that China is better off than during the imperial dynasties or even that China is currently heading in a positive direction. Even as recently ago as, say, 2003 it would have been easier to be optimistic. Then things actually did seem to be improving. But now ... well, instead of the emperor and his ministers, we have the president and the Politburo, instead of a myriad government officials in collusion with the big merchants, we have the members of the Communist Party in collusion with the big developers, and instead of the peasants ... well, instead of the peasants we still have the peasants, and they're still getting ripped off just like they always have.

Some transformation.

And that's just the economic transformation. I have not yet even touched on the legacy of the Democracy Wall movement or Tiananmen Square, where Deng clearly fell short. Deng as a revolutionary may truly have been sympathetic to the concept of democracy, but as a ruler ... I think the most telling insight in this book comes on page 256, where a minor provincial official compares Deng to a perhaps mythical Lord Ye: "Lord Ye loved looking at a book with pretty pictures of dragons, but when a real dragon appeared, he was terrified." And now we have an entire ruling party apparatus that is terrified -- terrified of the very masses they claim to represent!!! -- and is clamping down more and more firmly, day by day, against personal expression, with no sign of things getting better. This too is part of the transformation, and in this Deng was just an extension of Mao.

By all means, give Deng credit where credit is due, but at the same time give him blame where blame is due. [At times this book reads like an extended Sports Illustrated article, where the protagonist always knows ahead of time just exactly how things are going to turn out, and always makes the most appropriate move that of course no one else is able to visualize.] Read this book. It is an important book. But as you do, keep asking yourself the hard questions.

Over and over.
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