Sizing up Deng Xiaoping on his centennial birthday

TAIPEI, Taiwan, The China Post Editorial

Mainland China is marking Deng Xiaoping’s centennial birthday this month with fanfare. It culminated in a memorial on Aug. 22 presided over by Hu Jintao, Deng’s appointed successor to Jiang Zemin, who had held power until March, 2003. Hu, state president and party chief, said at the gathering that China should “march on the road built by Deng Xiaoping and push forward the task of building socialism with Chinese characteristics.” The commemoration of Deng, who died in 1997, is spontaneous as organizations and groups at all levels, private and official, are holding a variety of programs to pay tribute to China’s “chief architect” of reforms and opening up to the West. Deng, who was purged and rehabilitated three times by Mao Zedong for being a revisionist and toeing the capitalist line, was mainland China’s liberator who brought the country out of isolation and led it to prosperity. Diminutive in physical stature, Deng was a giant who dwarfed the deified Mao, founder of the People’s Republic and leader of the Communist revolution who “liberated” China from the corrupt Nationalist rule.

But history, and the Chinese people in general, remember Mao as a tyrant whose Great Leap Forward and Great Cultural Revolution were disastrous and destructive to the mainland people. By contrast, Deng left a legacy of prosperity and a more open society. Although his reputation was tarnished by the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, yet there are people, such as Singapore’s Lee Kwan Yew, who favor Deng’s action. Lee said, arguably, that mainland China would not be better off today had the students managed to overthrow the Communist Party and build a democracy.

Deng was a dictator who admired Lee for his authoritarian rule of the city state which is now the most affluent among Asia’s four tigers. Mainland China’s “peaceful rise” owes much to Deng’s pragmatism. ——