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My Father, Deng Xiaoping

China Newsweek published its interview with Deng Rong, the youngest daughter of the late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping, in the days leading up to the 100th anniversary of Deng's birth on August 22. In the following excerpts from that interview, Deng Rong reveals a private side of her father that even those who know him as a great statesman may have never seen.

China Newsweek: Seven years have gone by since Deng Xiaoping left us. Does your family have any observances to commemorate his passing?

Deng Rong: Nothing has changed since my father died on February 29, 1997. His body and corneas were donated for medical use and his ashes scattered over the ocean in accordance with his wishes. He had an enlightened attitude toward life and death. He emphasized over and over again that planting more trees was better than erecting memorials and statues. So to remember this day, all the relatives in Beijing get together with bunches of flowers. Following my mother, who called, "Are you well? My dear husband, we are all together with you," we scattered the petals in the courtyard.

CN: Deng Xiaoping experienced a number of ups and downs during his career. What changes did you feel when he returned to the leadership posts of the Party and the country?

DR: He never talked about official business at home. As children, we had no idea what our father did at work, even though many guards stood sentry in our courtyard. He was no different with his grandchildren: they only knew that they often saw their grandfather on TV.

CN: How did he act with his grandchildren?

DR: You could feel the love of an elderly man for his grandchildren. His happy smile always came from the bottom of his heart. That was my unpretentious and straightforward father. He was always relaxed even on some important occasions.

CN: It said that his subordinates were all afraid of him. Is that true?

DR: It is true that quite a lot of his former subordinates were afraid of him, especially those from the Second Field Army. When he was commissar, Deng was stern and terse compared with the kindly Liu Bocheng, the commander-in-chief. Later, he changed a lot and seemed more like a friendly older man. But he always stuck to his principles and firmly insisted on his decisions. One incident demonstrates that. Before Hong Kong returned to the motherland, some people said the mainland would have no garrison there. One time when he had finished greeting some guests from Hong Kong, he called back the journalists who were preparing to go. "Please come back, my journalist friends. You should be clear that it is rubbish to say there will be no garrison in Hong Kong." Perhaps those are the most uncompromising words he ever spoke in public.

CN: Deng Xiaoping was the first person in the history of the Communist Party of China to withdraw from the top leadership of the Party and the nation of his own accord when he was still in good physical and mental health. Did his decision have connection with the ups and downs in his career?

DR: Yes. When he went to France at the age of 16, his earliest goal was to save China and build it into a democratic and prosperous nation through the struggle against imperialism and feudalism. After he joined the Communist Party of China, together with his comrades-in-arms, he fought against the Kuomintang headed by Chiang Kai-shek. One of their aims was to end reactionary autocratic rule. Deng Xiaoping's goal, representing his generation of the Communist Party, was to realize the lofty ideals of communism and the grand socialist goal through their struggle.

However, as they pursued their goals, they had to face the fact that China had a 2,000-year history of feudal tradition and ideology. This was an obstacle that had to be removed on the way to modernization. When Deng Xiaoping considered the abolition of lifetime tenure, he was actually looking at a bigger issue: to discard the last vestiges of China's feudal tradition and ideology. He reiterated this many times, together with the emancipation of the mind after the "Cultural Revolution" (1966-76).

After a long career as a revolutionary and following the "Cultural Revolution," Deng Xiaoping came back to China's top leadership. In addition to the emancipation of the mind, he gave the priority to modernizing the existing system. He and his comrades took on the jobs of revising the Constitution, setting up a new legal system and making a series of reforms in the leadership mechanism of the Party and the nation, including abolishing lifetime tenure. These reforms of political systems are as significant as those of economic systems. In my opinion, they are among Deng Xiaoping's greatest contributions to China in the 20th century: abolishing lifetime tenure, reforming the leadership system of the Party and the nation and establishing a meaningful and effective democratic centralism in a country that had no democratic tradition.

CN: Did Deng Xiaoping ever really relax after retirement? What about his daily life?

DR: His retirement reflected his life as a soldier. He called himself a veteran. After retirement, he woke up at 8:00 every morning, had breakfast, went for a walk and read official documents. He had lunch at 12:00 and a nap followed. Then he read some papers and books in the afternoon. At 6:30 PM, he had supper and watched TV or played bridge after that. Other family members followed his schedule, because it was inflexible. This was the secret of his long life. He never waited for latecomers to a meal, and the table would be cleared off as soon as the meal was finished. If you came late, you would go hungry.

CN: Did he enjoy life?

DR: He loved life. He was a soccer fan and turned all of us into soccer fans. He liked playing bridge, swimming, walking and playing with children. He also watched basketball games, table tennis matches, stage plays, operas, ballet performances, everything. He often took us to watch sports and performances when we were children. In those days, there were not many attendants. We could call for a car and start off at once. In his later years, he also liked watching TV, including news, dramas, all kinds of programs.

CN: In your book I read that he was a good cook.

DR: He was really good at cooking. He often cooked Sichuan dishes in Jiangxi Province during the "Cultural Revolution." He could cook Braised Pork with Brown Sauce, Hot Bean Curd with Chili and Pepper and other famous Sichuan dishes.

CN: But it could not have been easy for him to live like an ordinary citizen. If he went out on the street, he would be recognized immediately.

DR: That is true. One time he tried to go shopping in Shanghai, but when he got to the store he was surrounded by people applauding him and taking pictures. Later we asked him, "What did you see on your shopping trip?" He replied, "Nothing, just the people."

So even though he wanted to get out among the citizens and have a first-hand look at their lives, his position made that very difficult. He ultimately decided that he would stop going out because it disturbed the public order.

However, whenever he traveled he went by train so that he could look out the windows and see how people were living. He noticed that houses in the northern rural areas still had thatched roofs, while farmers in the rapidly developing south were already building two-story houses. He was very happy to see that development. He would check to see how the crops were growing and whether people had television aerials on their roofs.

In my memory, after retirement, his main focus was on two of China's issues: One was how to establish a democratic centralist system that best suited the country; the other was common prosperity. He thought the essence and advantage of socialism could only be represented by the common prosperity of all the people.

(China Newsweek, translated by Wang Ruyue, Yuan Fang and Li Shen for China.org.cn, August 20, 2004)

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