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Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China



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DSC01516Ezra F. Vogel. Harvard University Press, U.S.A. 2013. Tapa Blanda, 876 Págs. ISBN 9780674725867. Estado: Bueno con señales de uso.

When considering the modern history of China and to understand the current, modern China, we need not look at Mao Zedong, but at Deng Xiaoping, the architect of modern China. To understand China is to understand Deng Xiaoping. In his book, Ezra Vogel gives a detailed account of the life of Deng Xiaoping. He starts with his early life, how he became a communist, his rise and downfalls during Mao Zedong and ultimately his rise after the death of Mao Zedong and the transformation of Mao’s China to the China we now know today.

By the time Deng came to power, Mao had already unified the country, built a strong ruling structure and introduced modern industry – advantages that Deng could build on. However, he had left the country devastated after the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. More fundamental change was called for, and Deng could rely on help from disgraced former senior officials who had been removed from power but not eliminated. These returning revolutionaries stood ready to unite under the leadership of Deng and the Communist Party, providing a ready resource of skills and energy, a useful transition to a new generation better trained in modern science, technology, and administration.

Yet all the favorable conditions that China enjoyed in 1978 would have been insufficient to transform the huge, chaotic civilization into a modern nation without a strong and able leader who could hold the country together while providing strategic direction. Deng was far better prepared for such a role than Yuan Shikai, Sun Yat-sen, Chiang Kai-shek, or Mao Zedong had been. It was he who would finally realize the mission that others had tried for almost two centuries to achieve, of finding a path that would make China rich and powerful.

During the Great Leap Forward, Deng, like many other party loyalists, aware of Mao’s unwillingness to tolerate dissent during the Great Leap Forward, restrained himself from criticizing Mao. But the disasters of the Great Leap Forward had widened the gap between the unreconstructed romantic visionary and the pragmatic implementations. During the Cultural Revolution, Deng was banished to the country side, which he used to consider directions he would pursue to achieve reform. From now on, the question for Deng became not only how to work with Mao while he was still alive—since as long as Mao was alive, Mao would still dominate—but also how to maximize any decision-making leeway that Mao might tolerate. He knew that time for change would only come after Mao would die.

After Mao’s death, Deng became de facto leader of China. However, Deng reassured his colleagues, who were aware of his differences with Mao, that he would not become China’s Khrushchev: Chairman Mao had made extraordinary contributions to the party and the party should not launch an attack on Mao like Khrushchev’s attack on Stalin. Instead, they should focus on the modernization of the economy. The main question for Deng was how much could the boundaries of freedom be expanded without risking that Chinese society would devolve into chaos, as it had before 1949 and during the Cultural Revolution? This question remained a central and divisive one throughout Deng’s years of rule.

In the events leading up to the Tiananmen Square tragedy, Deng showed that he still believed in the Communist Party. Economic progress was achieved, but limits on the freedom had to be set. It was Deng (behind the scenes) who ordered the crack down on the square in 1989. This books gives a detailed overview of Deng’s life, politics and thoughts. For anyone who wants to understand modern China, this book is highly recommended.  (


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