Deng Xiaoping

(1904—1997) Chinese communist statesman

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Mao Zedong (1893—1976) Chinese statesman

Communist Party

Zhou Enlai (1898—1976) Chinese Communist statesman, Prime Minister of China 1949–76

Cultural Revolution

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(b. Aug. 1904, d. 19 Feb. 1997).

Chinese leader 1978–97

Early career

Born at Guang'an (Sichuan), he studied with Zhou Enlai in France (1920–5), where he joined the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) (1924). He studied briefly in Moscow before returning to China in 1926. He led several uprisings against the Guomindang, and was the political commissar of the Communist 7th and 8th Armies. A devout follower of Mao Zedong, he went to Jianxi in 1931, and took part in the Long March. In the Sino‐Japanese War, his rise to prominence continued as a political commissar in the 8th Route Army and the 129th Division, until in 1945 he joined the CCP Central Committee. Owing to his experience in battle, he played an important part in the Communist success in the Chinese Civil War, notably in the Huai‐Hai campaign. In 1949 Deng was First Secretary of the party's south‐west bureau, and in 1954 he was made Secretary‐General of the Chinese Communist Party, with a seat in the Politburo. He was a central figure in the growing ideological and then political alienation between China and the Soviet Union.

In the Cultural Revolution, Deng was deprived of all posts and forced to recant his alleged ‘reactionary‐bourgeois’ tendencies. Zhou Enlai reinstated his old friend, and Deng became Vice‐Premier of the State Council in 1973. His renewed advance peaked when he practically ran the government during Zhou's illness. He was dismissed after Zhou's death in 1976, becoming a victim of the Gang of Four.

After the arrest of the Gang of Four, he was reinstated once again in July 1977. He now became the strong man in Chinese politics, outmanoeuvring the more ideological Hua Guofeng by appropriating Mao's slogan of ‘Practice as the sole criterion of truth’. With this pragmatist platform, his leadership was confirmed at the Third Plenum of the 11th CCP congress in December 1978.

In power

Deng played down the memory and teachings of Mao Zedong, and emphasized instead the need for socialist modernization. He encouraged individual enterprise and economic growth while insisting on the continued political domination of the CCP. Deng did not hesitate to suppress all opposition, most notably at Tiananmen Square in 1989, while granting his people an unprecedented amount of personal freedom in other spheres. In foreign policy, he combined a high degree of pragmatism with nationalism. He was a pivotal influence in the taking up of diplomatic relations with the USA in 1979, and normalized Sino‐Soviet relations in 1989. At the same time, he was insistent on the return to the People's Republic of China of all territories under outside control. He thus negotiated the incorporation into China of Hong Kong and Macao, while continuing to call for unification with Taiwan. Deng was the most important leader of the People's Republic of China after Mao. He became increasingly affected by Parkinson's disease, and was succeeded by Jiang Zemin.

Subjects: Politics — Contemporary History (Post 1945).

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