In the summer of 1920, Deng Xiaoping graduated from the Chongqing Preparatory School, filled with fervent hopes, he and 80 schoolmates boarded a ship for France (traveling steerage) and in October arrived in Marseilles. Deng, the youngest of all the Chinese students, had just turned 16.
Things did not turn our as he had hoped. He found that he had to spend most of his time working, and at the most unskilled jobs. Two months after his arrival he began to do odd jobs at the Le Creusot Iron and Steel Plant in central France. Later he worked as a fitter in the Renault factory in the Paris suburb of Billancourt, as a fireman on locomotive and as a kitchen helper in restaurants. He barely earned enough to survive. He attended middle schools briefly in Bayeux and Chatillon.
It was shortly after the end of World War I, and the European countries had not yet recovered from the devastation. In France job-hunting was especially difficult because of the depressed economy. Even those Chinese students who were fortune enough to find jobs in big factories were paid only half the wages of the ordinary French workers. Worse still, at this time Deng Xiaoping's family could no longer afford to send him money, so he had to scrape along on his own. His high hopes of studying abroad were crushed by the grim reality.
But new ideas were taking strong hold of the young man. Thanks to the October Revolution in Russia, the workers' movement in France was gaining momentum, and Marxism and other schools of socialist thought were winning more and more adherents. A number of ideologically advanced Chinese students were starting to accept Marxism and take the revolutionary road. Under the influence of his seniors, Zhao Shiyan, Zhou Enlai and others, Deng began to study Marxism and do political propaganda work. In1992 he joined the Communist Party of Chinese Youth in Europe (later the name was changed to the Chinese Socialist Youth League in Europe). In the second half of 1924 he joined the Chinese Communist Party and became one of the leading members of the General Branch of the Youth League in Europe. When he worked in Lyons the following year, the Party organization appointed him special representative to the Lyons Area Party Branch, where he directed the Party and League work as well as the Chinese workers' movement.
During the five years he spent in France, from age 16 to 21, Deng Xiaoping was transformed from a patriotic youth into a Marxist. It was the beginning of his revolutionary career. The Chinese Socialist Youth League in Europe published a mimeographed magazine, the Red Light, designed to help the Chinese comrades in France, Belgium and Germany to study theory. Deng not only co-edited and wrote articles for the journal but also cut stencils and did the mimeographing.
At about this time groups of Chinese Communist Party and Youth League members in Europe were going to the Soviet Union to study. In early 1926 Deng Xiaoping left France for Moscow. At first he entered the Communist University of the Toilers of the East, but shortly afterwards he transferred to the Sun Yat-sen University. Named after the pioneer if the Chinese revolution, this university was intended to train personnel for the revolution. In China, meanwhile, a united front had been formed between the Kuomintang and the Communist Party. Inspired by Dr. Sun's policy of alliance with Russia, co-operation with the Communist Party and assistance to peasants and workers, large numbers of Chinese young people with lofty ideals were arriving at the university to study. Today, Deng Xiaoping still remembers the two youngest students in his class -- Feng Funeng, the eldest daughter of Feng Yuxiang, and Jiang Jingguo (Chiang Chingkuo), the eldest son of Chiang Kai-shek.
Deng spent a year at the Sun Yat-sen University, reading books and studying the basic theories of Marxism-Leninism. At this time Feng Yuexiang, commander of the National Army in northwest China, arrived in the Soviet Union. He was preparing to join in the national revolution in China, so he asked the Communist International to send a number of its Chinese comrades to work in his army. Deng was one of the score of people selected. Traversing the deserts of Mongolia, he arrived in his homeland in the spring of 1927.
After six ears abroad, Deng Xiaoping was no longer the naive young man he had been before he left China. He was now a staunch revolutionary with a basic understanding of Marxism-Leninism and some experience of practical struggle.
(Deng Xiaoping Pictorial)