February 22, 2012
Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China
By Ezra F. Vogel
(Belknap Press, 876 pp., $39.95)
Revolutionaries get all the attention, but reform is much harder. A reformer has to reshape a rigid structure without breaking it. Before Deng Xiaoping, only Kemal Atatürk in the twentieth century managed to do this. Others, like Nasser and the Shah of Iran, left key parts of the old system intact, or, like Gorbachev, destroyed the regime in trying to save it.
The China that Deng inherited from Mao Zedong was just such a brittle system. Power was hyper-centralized, with all actors below the supreme leader fearful and jealous. Society was divided into virtual castes, carrying class labels that defined who were members of the “people” and therefore qualified to benefit from the new order, and who were bad elements, fated by descent from landlords and capitalists to be persecuted for generations. The peasants were locked down in the rural countryside by the household registration system. Narrow-minded apparatchiks orchestrated all thought and culture. The economy was detached from the rest of the world and immured in poverty by a system of inefficient collective farms and state enterprises. In its foreign policy China stood at odds with both superpowers.
Read entire article on The New Republic