Despite the scarcity of reliable information about China's supreme leader, the enormous difficulty of gaining access to key documents, and the problems of dealing with a country in which history is still viewed as a political weapon, this biography of Deng Xiaoping will be a reliable and valued guide for years to come. Written by the former British ambassador to China, Sir Richard Evans, a sinologist in his own right, the volume is superbly researched, quite readable and extremely judicious in its assessments.
Not the least of the author's accomplishments is to place the rise of Deng within the context of the tumultuous history of twentieth-century China -- the Japanese invasion, the rise of communism, the Long March, the Great Leap Forward, the innumerable struggles for power within the Chinese Communist Party, the Cultural Revolution and Tiananmen Square.
Evans says that Deng's greatest achievements were to put China on a path of rapid economic development and to bring it into the mainstream of international life. He sees three secrets of success in China's drive to development that distinguish it from the failures of the former Soviet Union. First, China began by reforming agriculture rather than commerce or industry. This made food and raw materials for light industry plentiful and thereby created conditions conducive to change in the cities. Second, China avoided hyperinflation and a rapid decline in living standards by removing price controls gradually, so that the consumer was not turned into an enemy of reform. Third, economic reforms preceded political reform, which improves the chances that a more open political order will survive once it does come about. According to Evans, democracy does best when it grows slowly in a developing country and reaches maturity only when that country has achieved high levels of prosperity and education.