Deng Xiaoping was a Chinese charismatic leader who is regarded as the father of modern China. Deng was China’s leader between 1978 and 1992 when the country embarked on a series of reforms that transformed her social and economic life from a backward country into a modern economy. Deng Xiaoping was born Deng Xiansheng on August 22, 1904 in Sichuan province changing his name from Xiansheng to Xiaoping after joining the revolution in 1924 (Vogel 15). His father was a prosperous landowner in a village located 65 miles from Chongqing city in Sichuan province.
In 1920, at the age of 16, Deng got a scholarship to study in France as part of a larger group of students on a student exchange program. In addition to the study Deng also worked and took time to study Marxism. He joined the Communist Party of Chinese Youth in Europe in 1922 and in 1924 joined the Chinese Communist Party proper. He travelled to Moscow for study in 1926 before returning to China in 1927 (Vogel 34). Deng was the General Secretary on the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party during the Long March era. He served as a military commander during the wars against the Kuomintang Nationalist Party and the Japanese. His major role was in leading the final assault against Chiang Kai-sheks forces in Sichuan.
After the war ended, Deng was appointed the mayor of Chongqing and political commissar for the Southwest region. He ascended to the position of General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party (CPC) IN 1957 but later fell out with Chairman Mao for promoting progressive policies that made him branded a capitalist (Yu et al 334). He was purged twice during the ‘cultural revolution by being stripped of all his party post and being held under house arrest. In the power struggle that followed Mao Zedong’s death in 1976, Deng emerged the paramount leader and by assembling a team of like-minded leaders, they initiated market reforms. Deng retired from the government in 1992 at the age of 88 to lead a quiet life in retirement. He died in 1997 at the age of 94.
Deng’s Contribution in Shaping Recent International Affairs
Deng’s contribution to the course of history in modern times is unmatched. Not many people have the opportunity of improving the lives of people and their global standing in such a big way and within such a short period of time. To accomplish this Deng proposed four key areas for modernization; agriculture, industry, science and technology and defense. This paper is going to demonstrate the effects of Deng’s modernization programs in China which makes him one of the greatest and influential men of the last quarter of the 20th century.
When Deng came to power in 1979, China was a backward country with a ruined economy that was on the brink of collapsing. This was occasioned by the poorly thought policies of the Mao era. Deng embarked on modernizing the economy by moving it steadily from socialism to capitalism (Yu et al 335). The results of the changes implemented helped China to enter a period of rapid growth that has seen it within three decades overtake Japan as the world’s second largest economy, has overtaken Germany as the world largest exporter and US as the world’s largest car market. These are not mean achievement for a country whose economy was on the brink of collapsing in 1976. Today China is exporting in one day exports equivalent to what it exported in the whole of 1979. Due to her economic might, China has also emerged as a major diplomatic force in the international scene.
Farmers, who were previously organized into communes, were allowed to farm individually on the farms that remained the property of the state. They were allowed to sell the extra farm produce in the market for profit (Vogel 423). This became a motivating factor and farmers improved their production buoyed by the desire to make more profit. Farmers have been increasing production year on year. Through agriculture, a good proportion of the rural population enjoy improved standard of living.
In the industrial sector under Mao concentrated on heavy industry. These were industries for producing steel, iron and machines meant for use in other industries. However by the mid-1970’s, the Chinese technology had become outdated and grossly inefficient. Deng encouraged the growth of light industries producing clothing, home appliances, toys and bicycles. These did not require a lot of capital outlay and therefore easy to start. More decision-making powers were devolved to the factories to enable individual factories to determine what they could produce competitively. A reward system was put in place to reward innovative managers and workers. In 1979 75% of China’s exports composed of primary and primary processed goods (MOFCOM par 1). In contrast manufactured goods accounted for 95% of exports in 2009.
Opening up to the Outside World
Deng also opened up China to foreign investors. Under Mao China had isolated itself from the outside world which hindered foreign investors from bringing in capital and expertise. Deng realized the importance of opening up the country to foreign investors. This would not only bring in the much needed foreign direct investments but would also lead to a transfer of technology (Vogel 312). China will therefore learn from the world’s best. Special Economic Zones were created geared towards attracting foreign investors. International student exchange program was resumed and scientific cooperation with other countries expanded.
One Country, Two Systems
On the diplomatic scene Deng was very pragmatic in that he advocated for a “one country, two systems” to woe those areas that were considered part of China but had a different system due to various reasons (Vogel 477). Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan were the targets. He successfully lobbied for the British to return Hong Kong to China in 1999 after the expiry of its 99 year lease period and Macau in the same year from Dutch. However no much progress was made on Taiwan. The one country two systems policy enabled Deng to score major diplomatic points against Britain and Netherlands.
One Child Policy
To protect the economic gains made and to reduce population pressure on resources, Deng introduced the “one child policy.” This was a departure from Mao who encouraged women to give birth to as many children as possible. This policy is credited for reducing fertility rate from 5.8 children per woman in the 1960s to 1.7 in 2009 (Yat-sen par 1). Minorities are exempted from the law and can therefore get more than one child. The law is credited for having prevented 300 million births (Watts par 7). The lower population has led to an improvement in the living standards due to reduced pressure on the national resources. It has also contributed to an upsurge in savings as family’s has less to spend on. Critics of the policy cite the ever-increasing gap between the population of boys and of girls. Due to cultural preference for boys, the practice of female infanticide that had subsided in the 1950’s, was resumed after the ban came into force. By April 2009 the British Medical Journal reported that China has 32 million more boys than girls (Watts par 3) . The number of young people is also low compared to the general population which may lead to shortage of youth labor as has been recently reported. The dependency ratio is sure to increase in future as there shall be many adults to be taken care of by fewer young people.
The CNN in an article titled “Reformer with an iron fist” hails Deng Xiaoping for his contribution towards the stabilization and prosperity of China (Yat-sen par 2). The article credits Deng for implementing policies that enabled the country to go the capitalist way and to grow its economy rapidly. The Guardian of UK in an article titled “China’s one-child policy means benefits for parents – if they follow the rules” mocks the One Child Policy for its much taunted benefits of environmental conservation and resource consumption (Watts par 3).
Deng has come under heavy criticism for the way he handled students’ demonstration at Tiananmen Square. The event that is referred to as Tiananmen Square Massacre left many dead at the hands of the military (Vogel 640). Students had occupied the square for almost two months demanding democracy. Some historians have justified the action arguing it was the only way to end the occupation. Chinese authorities blamed the West especially the US for incitement and financing the rebellion.
The history of the rise of China cannot be written without Deng Xiaoping’s name. It is incredible how the policies and the vision of one resolved man can make such a great transformation among the lives of so many people within a decade. China has risen from being an insignificant backward country into a major force in the world stage second only to the United States. Her economic might is being felt in every village in the world. There are few men whose history has bestowed on them what it did on Deng Xiaoping; an opportunity to tilt the global power equation.