Often referred to simply as "Comrade Xiaoping", Deng Xiaoping is revered in China as a leader who changed the course of the world by steering the country's class-orientated revolutionary struggle into tangible economic development.
Although considered as "the general architect of China's economic reform and socialist modernization", Deng Xiaoping modestly shied away the cult of personality that was all too often enjoyed by his predecessor Mao Zedong.
Deng died from a lung infection and Parkinson's disease on Feb. 19, 1997, at the age of 92. Even ten years after his death, many of his countrymen still adore him as a saint.
"I miss Grandpa Deng a lot," said Feng Daishu while fertilizing lettuce in his kale yard in the outskirts of Chengdu, in Deng's home province of Sichuan.
Without Deng's "opening-up" policy, the 64-year-old vegetable farmer said that he could have ended up becoming homeless, begging in the street.
"When he passed away, I almost cried my heart out," Feng said. "I felt I had lost a family member."
Indeed, before economic reforms were carried out in 1978, Feng was as poor as a church mouse. Feng remembered how he barely had some pennies to rub together. "I had to borrow money in order to buy a new bucket," he said. "It cost only two yuan (US$0.25)!"
Deng's reforms replaced Chairman Mao's "collectivization" with the privatization of farmland, giving the land confiscated during the "Great Leap Forward" in the 1950s back to the farmers. As long as they regularly delivered a proportion of staple crops to the government, the farmers were free to grow whatever crops they wanted.
"Now my family of three can make a comfortable living on our kale yard. We earned more than 20,000 yuan (US$2,500) last year," Feng said, laughing from cheek to cheek.
Feng holds Deng in high esteem, lamenting the 10th anniversary of his death he remarked. "Grandpa Deng made our rice bowl full, and pockets deep as well. He bailed us farmers out from poverty."
"It's really sad he's gone," he said. "We are enjoying the rice he helped us grow. He's the savior of the farmers."
Without a doubt, Deng was a pragmatic leader with a vision of a modern nation.
Cai Jinwei, a well-established cinema-photographer, noted that Mao saved China once by founding the People's Republic of China in1949 and overthrowing imperialism, feudalism, and bureaucratic-capitalism.
A veteran communist at the age of 79, Cai commented that during Mao's era, however, people were living a simple life, in part because Mao's rigid political ideology dragged the country into numerous political movements. "At the time, you might have money, but you couldn't get what you needed or wanted."
"Back then," he recalled, having a small plate of peanut on your dinner table was a wild wish. You had to wait till the Spring Festival," he said. "Then you could get a quarter of a kilo with a food coupon from the government."
In Cai's view, it wasn't until Deng's opening-up policy that the people at large started to believe an affluent life was possible and reachable. He said. "What made Deng great was his innovation, creativity, and honesty."
When Deng realized the fact that the Soviet-model of socialism, practiced in China for 30 years under Mao, had not improved people's livelihood, he pioneered a new form of socialism, dubbed socialism with Chinese characteristics. Along with this, Deng initiated a series of economic reforms toward socialist market economy.
Before Deng, many communist or socialist ideologues regarded the market economy as an evil brainchild of capitalism, whereas the planned economy was the correct road to socialism.
"Deng was a wise man. He didn't care much about -isms, he was happy to use any doctrine, as long as they brought about real benefits to the people. "That's what a good leader should be like," Cai said. "Deng will live forever with the people who have already benefited from and, in the future, will benefit from his legacy."
The creation of the socialist market economy widened the road for China's development, increasing the responsibility of local authorities, and freeing the entrepreneurial spirit of the citizens, thus allowing a wide variety of small-businesses to flourish.
Qi Xiaojing, 39, is just one of the millions of people that benefited from Deng's reforms. He had worked for a state-owned bank, and is the owner of five small businesses in one of Beijing's busiest commercial areas.
He recalled how motivated he felt to have his own business after reading Deng Xiaoping's speeches, published in Beijing Youth Daily after Deng's visit to the country's south in 1992.
At the time, China's reform and opening-up program were at a crucial juncture. In the tour, Deng delivering a series of speeches aimed to clarify the muddled idea of whether the development of special economic zones was capitalist or socialist in nature.
Deng's speeches had a profound impact upon Qi. Many people like Qi had quit their jobs in state-owned enterprises, but the idea of jumping ship was strongly opposed by family members. Qi's parents were concerned that state policy might be changed and then he would lose everything, including his decent monthly pay of 2,000 to 3,000 yuan at that time.
Much to his parents' approval, Qi reluctantly stayed at the bank while keeping an eye on national policy toward private business. Qi noticed that between 1997 and 2000 private business grew and developed drastically, encouraged by the government.
In 2000, Qi resigned from the bank and opened a bar in the Houhai area of Beijing. There were very few bars in the area then, but Qi sensed with his peculiar business savvy that it would become a hot spot for bars in the future as a result of Deng's opening-up policy.
Noting that private business was gaining more respect and recognition, Qi opened three more bars in the area over the past two years.
"Now I feel I'm really participating in the country's economic development," he said.
"The district government organizes a policy briefing with private business owners every year, informing us of the development direction and policy analysis," he added.
While China's economy continues its unprecedented growth, social problems such as wealth distribution, widening income gap, corruption, land requisition, and an overall degradation of the environmental landscape, are becoming alarmingly severe.
Some conventional socialist ideologues attribute the problems to Deng's socialist market economy, claiming that China is falling into chaos once again.
"Some of the current social problems existed before Deng and some emerged in post-Deng era. These problems only suggest that his reforms have not yet been fully realized," said Ding Yuanzhu from the Macroeconomic Research Institute under the National Development and Reform Commission.
"However, we can not expect economic reforms to resolve all problems, whether social, political or economical," Ding said.
In fact, Ding noticed, Deng Xiaoping had left a legacy of both the accomplishment of reform, and some resultant social problems. "The former was a foundation for the post-Deng leadership to better administrate the country, and the latter is an opportunity for them to make a new political achievement," he said.
Indeed, Deng said that there was no definite road map for economic reform. "We must cross the river by feeling the stones with our feet," Deng said.
The opened door cannot be closed any more, even if opening-up results in problems to some extent. Ling Fei, 51, a freelance artist trained in France, believed such a move would be disastrous, claiming that an attributing factor behind China's previous lack of significant economic development was that "we closed the country outside international intercourse."
"The development of China is impossible if it stands aloof from other countries," he said.
Ling said Deng's opening-up policy has helped China blend into the modern world, and into the mainstream of international relations.
In other words, he said, whenever China speaks today, the international sits back and listens, thanks to Comrade Xiaoping.
(Xinhua News Agency February 19, 2007)