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Customer Review

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An informative catalog of the Deng era, July 15, 2012
This review is from: Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China (Hardcover)
Prof. Vogel's story offers not really a biography of Deng, but rather the stories of Deng's involvement in China's major accomplishments from the early 1970s to the early 1990s. Buried back on page 689 is Vogel's assessment that among China's leaders during that period, Deng alone managed to retire with a sense of pragmatic accomplishment.

Except during the story of Deng's last Southern Tour, Vogel's details focus mostly on the evolution of Chinese policy. Vogel offers only modest insights into Deng's feelings and character, so Deng comes across as a master poker player. Early on, we learn that Deng developed great facility at memorizing his notes and avoiding purges during the plainly dangerous Mao era. While not remarkably well educated, Deng clearly had elements of genius.

The story reveals Deng as decisively practical, frequently exhorting people to trust "If it works, do it!" Clearly the man acted for the good of his country rather than for personal gain. He understood that the failure of the Cultural Revolution was a failure of the system. This book explains how he reformed Chinese communism, effectively turning the party into the Carlyle Group of China. His approach contrasted to the approach the Russians took, throwing away the levers of authority in their country in response to the failures of communism. Deng considered what did work, decided he valued cultural cohesion, and got on with improving the economy and international relations. He wasn't perfect, but he was pragmatic and shepherded astounding success in bringing growth to China.

The stories of Deng's performances on his trips to the West and his final Southern Tour suggest an ability to charm an audience. Vogel plainly notes that he never met Deng in person. So he couldn't personally assess Deng's skills in playing to the crowds. On the other hand, Deng was clearly capable of heartless decisions in his early years as a revolutionary, and was valued by his peers for his toughness. No one applauds the shootings at Tienanmen Square in 1989, but this book will help the reader understand the context.

This book is not written as personal life story or even as one, single coherent story line. At times you'll need to slog through it almost like a textbook. Vogel's book on Deng Xioaping will add a lot to the reader's knowledge and appreciation of modern China. But make sure your reader has an interest in the subject before choosing this as a gift.
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