Deng Xiaoping was born on August 22, 1904. As leader of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), Deng was not officially the leader of China but acted as such during the late 1970s until his death. Deng’s legacy was the creation of a Chinese form of socialism with limited economic liberalization.
Many Communist hard-liners, however, argued that Deng represented a threat and the potential of a return to capitalism. The divided opinion within the CCP with regard to Deng would be a pattern throughout his career. It was under Deng’s “second generation” of leadership that China became one of the fastest-growing world economies.
Deng left China in 1920 to work and study in France. He quickly gravitated to many of his seniors on the trip—including Zhou Enlai (Chou En-lai). Deng’s studies focused on the study of Marxism; in 1922 he joined the Communist Party of Chinese Youth in Europe. By 1924 Deng became a member of the Chinese Communist Party. He returned to China in 1929, led the failed uprising in the Guangxi (Kwangsi) province, then fled to Jiangxi (Kiangsi) Province.
Deng participated in the Long March (1934–35) and guerrilla campaigns against Japan in World War II as well as in the civil war against the Kuomintang. He became mayor and political commissar of the city of Chongqing (Chungking). Mao Zedong (Mao Tse-tung) promoted him to several prominent posts. Mao’s 1957 Anti-Rightist Campaign offered Deng the opportunity to work closely with another Communist leader, Liu Shaoqi (Liu Shao-chi).
As a result of Mao’s Great Leap Forward and the economic disaster that followed, Deng and Shaoqi took over control of the CCP and government and implemented a number of less radical and pragmatic policies. The Cultural Revolution, begun by Mao in 1966, dealt a major blow to Deng’s career, and he was disgraced.
By 1974, Chinese premier Zhou Enlai was able to bring Deng back to power, taking over as first deputy premier in charge of running the day-to-day affairs. However, the radical Gang of Four, committed to the ideals of the Cultural Revolution, viewed Deng as a significant threat and were able to purge him once again from his positions. Deng’s next opportunity came with Mao’s death in 1976, and he quickly emerged as Mao’s successor.
After 1978 Deng implemented policies that improved relations with the West, traveling to Washington in 1979 to meet President Jimmy Carter. Relations with Japan improved as well. In 1984 China signed an agreement with Great Britain for the return of Hong Kong to China in 1997. China promised not to interfere with Hong Kong’s capitalist system for 50 years.
Deng implemented the Four Modernizations Program in agriculture, industry, science and technology, and the military. The goal of the modernization program was to create a more modern Chinese economy. Under him China encouraged direct foreign investment and created special economic zones.
The Tiananmen Square massacre is the most controversial of all Deng’s policy decisions. Mass student demonstrations in favor of democratic reforms were met with a violent military crackdown ordered by Deng and his senior associates that resulted in thousands of deaths in Beijing and dozens of other cities in China. It was followed by widespread repression, which stained his career.