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Remembering Deng the Reformer

The presses at scores of printing companies across China have been busy lately. August 22 marks a century since the birth of who many believe to be the trailblazing father of China's modernization.

Deng Xiaoping was born in 1904 and in the 25 years since he launched China's on-going economic reforms, million of Chinese have seen their lives transformed.

It is not surprising therefore that many of those helped by Deng's pioneering thinking want to tell the rest of the world of his life.

Bookstores nationwide are preparing for a plethora of publication launches. Written by Deng's relatives, colleagues, aides, historians and the common men and women, they each pay homage via personal accounts.

Though small in stature, Deng, who died in February 1997, possessed the courage of several men.

It was this bravery which helped him to defeat the outdated leftist dogma, initiate reforms and open China to the outside world and catapult millions of Chinese into prosperity.

And it is this daring and resolve in the face of overwhelming odds that is captured in probably the best book on the late leader. Deng Xiaoping and the Cultural Revolution -- a Daughter Recalls the Critical Years provides an observant, personal insight into the life of Deng as seen through the eyes of his fourth child, Deng Rong.

The Chinese version of the book -- wo de fuqin, Deng Xiaoping, wenge suiyue -- was first published by the Central Archives Publishing House four years ago, and the English version, published by the Foreign Languages Press, appeared in bookstores late last year. It is translated by American-turned Chinese citizen Sydney Shapiro.

As a participant in the publication of the book's English version, I spent months delving into almost every word of the book -- both the original Chinese and English translation -- by Deng's daughter nicknamed Maomao.

It is a moving personal account of her father's life during the tumultuous decade-long "cultural revolution" (1966-1976). It was during these years of turmoil that Deng rose from the political purges he had suffered to become the much respected leader of the Chinese people.

During the intimate narrative, Deng Rong shares with readers the moments of sorrow and happiness of the Deng family, revealing the inner thoughts of the great man in the most difficult years of his life.

Deng Rong narrates us through the political upheaval that began as a trickle in the later months of 1965 and quickly became a deluge of mayhem by the mid 1966 when the "cultural revolution" broke out.

She effortlessly plunges many of us back into our own memory, forcing us to reexamine the wrongs and the foolishness committed in those years.

Painful paradox

The experiences of Deng Xiaoping and his family in those days were something of a paradox -- they were both unique and common.

Unique because at the start of the "cultural revolution", Deng was the general secretary directly serving the Party's Political Bureau headed by late Chairman Mao Zedong (1893-1976). At the same time, he was the country's vice-premier, a righthand man to late Premier Zhou Enlai (1903-1976).

Whether he would have admitted it or not, Deng, a veteran politician with decades of experience in the Party, could not have overlooked what his daughter describes as the foreboding political "clouds" gathering at that time.

But he was a national-level administrator who had assiduously co-operated with his colleagues to bring China out of the economic disasters between 1959 and 1962, and had helped set the country on a course for further economic growth.

Unwilling to see China plummet into yet another political storm and period of unrestrained anarchism that would impede the country's development, Deng and other like-minded leaders tried to disperse the "clouds" and put things in order.

However, the storm had begun and as Deng Rong writes: "No one could stop it."

But Deng did oppose the extremism, and in the process was labelled "the second biggest capitalist roader" in China, a term synonymous with "second most political evil" in the country.

He suffered excessive criticism from the State media and other verbal bombardments, and was eventually placed under house arrest. At the age of 65, he was banished to work in a tractor factory as a fitter in a faraway province -- a little more than 2,000 kilometres from influence and the national political and administrative centre.

Deng Rong takes us to the small courtyard inside the People's Liberation Army's infantry school in Nanchang, capital of East China's Jiangxi Province, where the Deng family were forced to live. We can almost see with our own eyes how the three elders -- Deng, his wife Zhuo Lin and the children's Grandma, Xia Bogen -- pulled through those difficult times.

In one episode, the three elder Dengs went through especially trying hours taking care of the bed-ridden Deng Pufang, Deng's eldest son.

Deng Pufang had been one of the top students at Peking University. In 1968, suffering severe political persecution, he jumped from the window of a dormitory on campus, where he had been forced to live in confinement. The resulting injuries left him permanently paralyzed.

But hundreds of millions of people suffered almost the same plight as those of Deng and his family.

As Deng Rong notes in her memoirs: "Among teaching staff, workers, employees and students (at Peking University), over 60 people were driven to their graves."

Meanwhile, hundreds of millions had to give up their office jobs, studies and research and were forced to settle down in the countryside to receive so-called "re-education."

But Deng Xiaoping was a man of tenacity, as Deng Rong vividly recalls in her narration. Every morning, he took a shower with a bucket of cold water, even on the coldest days of the winter when the temperature dropped to zero.

During his six years' house arrest and factory work away from Beijing, he had time to read and mull over the state of the Party and the country's development since the founding of New China.

When he did resume his political and administrative duties at national level between 1973 and 1975, Deng took the chance of trying to correct the wrongs of the first few years of the "cultural revolution," and tried to steer the country back on course toward economic recovery.

Deng knew only too well what his actions would bring upon himself. But he went ahead regardless, and he was again purged and removed of all his Party and government posts in April, 1976.

Deng's turbulent life mirrored that of his fellow country men and women, and it is through the memoirs of his daughter that we learn what drove this remarkable man.

The political and economic turmoil, which had occurred during the "cultural revolution," and his own sufferings, only strengthened his resolve and determination to introduce reforms and his "opening-up policies."

Those of us who grew up during those years know very well how the leftist political bondage, chaos and material shortages had deprived China of 10 years of economic growth and stripped us -- the common people -- of the opportunity to learn and realize our ambitions and dreams.

Of course, history now shows Deng's reforms have provided many of us with treasured opportunities to take up new careers and develop our lives and the lives of our families.

Authentic translator

From the vivid narrative in the original Chinese version, Sidney Shapiro, an American lawyer who became a Chinese citizen in 1963, produced the English version.

His authentic English translation of the book makes it easier for international readers to read without being bogged down by too much Chinese political jargon.

In his translator's introduction, Shapiro, who also endured the hard years of the "cultural revolution," offers his own insight into social and political events in modern China. His introduction serves as a valuable reference.

Most of the many narratives of Deng Xiaoping's life during the "cultural revolution" ends with the simple statement: "Nine months after the fall of the Gang of Four, in July, 1977, Deng Xiaoping was finally restored to office."

Since then, great changes have taken place in China.

And though we are dealing with sophisticated and unknown challenges in our society, we are improving both our lives and the society by facing and tackling these problems with the same courage and resolve that Deng possessed when he rolled back outdated policy and pushed open China's door to the outside world.

(China Daily August 18, 2004)

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