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10 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Giving Deng his due, November 25, 2011
This review is from: Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China (Hardcover)
As a longtime scholar of East Asia Vogel is uniquely knowledgeable about the subject and has produced what can not only be called his magnum opus, but perhaps the most thoughtful and important biography on Deng Xiaoping to date. At a whopping 928 pages Vogel examines the entirety of Deng's life with an emphasis on Deng's rise through the ranks of Mao's Communist Party and his unlikely ascent to its leadership. Vogel's premise is that Deng's leadership of China from 1978 to 1992 wasn't so much a stabilization of China, but a subtle repudiation of Maoism and a complete change of course for the structure of Chinese society. That's not necessarily such a stretch considering the wholesale changes Deng put in motion which reshaped and refashioned China however Vogel touches on all aspects of the change Deng wrought, including some of the more overlooked nuances of Deng's East Asian foreign policy that led to China becoming a better and less threatening neighbor, showing the way to change Communism to a more market driven socialism and the futility of clinging to Soviet style planned economies. But Deng's pragmatism wasn't always a known commodity or a certainty as Vogel aptly points out that Deng was responsible for purges during the later years of the Cultural Revolution whose intensity and cruelty was only matched by the Gang of Four. There was also the willingness of the Communist Party and the Chinese public to embrace such a change. And despite Deng's propensity for pragmatism he still had regressive tendencies for brutal violence when necessary, as pointed out a Tiananmen Square in 1989. But Deng's occasional embrace of darkness was balanced by his pragmatic view of a rapidly changing world in the 1970s. Mao's death created a tremendous vacuum in Chinese politics and Vogel captures quite well Deng's ascent to the leadership in the party as well as the resultant demonization of the Gang of Four. For the West this was a truly murky and unclear period of Chinese history that Vogel helps to sort out with amazing clarity and insight. Drawing off previously unutilized and new sources Vogel adds greatly to our understanding of this period of China's history of Deng's role in helping to shape it.

The picture that Vogel creates of Deng and his accomplishments is nothing short of astonishing. Post-Maoist China could easily have exploded like a powder-keg given the factionalism and distrust within the party leadership. The disasters of the Great Leap Forward and latter Cultural Revolution caused many within the party to question the future direction for China. That Deng had the insight and the shrewdness to navigate those dangerous times and come out on top is testament to his power of persuasion and vision. The portrait that Vogel creates is of a man who has been truly undervalued and who deserves far more credit for shaping our current world than he receives. Ultimately Deng dials down the hegemonistic tensions between China and its neighbors (the short-lived 1979 war with Vietnam aside), allowing them the space to break free of China's domination (Laos, Cambodia, Mongolia) and to begin to recover from the traumas encountered following World War II. His broader rapprochement with the West marked a quasi-formal end of the struggles East Asia endured during the post-Colonial era and set the stage for a new era of foreign relations. Vogel's reframing of Deng puts him in the pantheon with Reagan, Thatcher, John Paul II, and Gorbachev as fundamentally reframing global relations and shaping the contours of the post-Cold War era. At home Deng breaks with the cult of personality embodied by Mao setting China on a path to rejoining the community of nations while simultaneously dialing down tensions with the West. No more need be said of Deng than that he coerced a thoroughly backward agricultural society from a 19th Century existence into a truly modern economic powerhouse that is now the second largest economy in the world. While the length of the book sounds daunting it never fails to engage, surprise, or astonish. Deng is a truly astonishing figure worthy of this reassessment and hopefully this elevates his standing in the Western world.
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Initial post: Apr 13, 2014 12:20:25 PM PDT
dudnpad says:
And the only biography to date.
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