Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China

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Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China
By Ezra F. Vogel
Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2011
928 pp. $39.95
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China scholars might think they have read enough about Deng Xiaoping. After all, at least three biographies of Deng were available prior to the release of this massive new book. But Vogel, one of the world’s preeminent Asia scholars, has produced the most comprehensive and authoritative account of Deng’s career as a revolutionary, party leader, and architect of China’s reform. Meticulously researched and highly readable, the book is not a typical biography. It does not dwell much on Deng’s personal life. Instead, the focus of the book is Deng’s unusual career trajectory, his unique style of rule, and the strategic choices he made during and after the Cultural Revolution. Vogel considers the extent to which Deng fundamentally and irreversibly transformed China’s society, governance, and relations with the outside world. In Vogel’s view, “no other leader in the twentieth century” did more to improve the lives of more people or had such a large and lasting influence on world history. Although he believes that Deng’s overall role in history has been underestimated, Vogel argues convincingly that Mao Zedong’s handpicked successor, Hua Guofeng -- and not Deng -- was the true harbinger of China’s reform and opening. The book could have paid more attention to the downsides of the changes Deng wrought, such as omnipresent corruption and a rapid decline in social morality. Nevertheless, this book should be read by anyone who wants to understand the domestic and international dynamics that have led to China’s rise as a great power.