Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China Review

Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China
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Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China ReviewDeng 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.Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China Overview

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