Seven years after he died, a mere mention of Deng Xiaoping's name instantly brings back fond memories of the man who was bigger than life.
Deng Xiaoping is, and will always be, remembered as a most unforgettable man in China and the world because of what he did for China and the Chinese people and because of his personality.
John Roderick, a retired Associated Press China watcher, recalls him as "a very impressive leader, sharp, witty and having a great sense of humour."
Back in the 1940s, Roderick spent months in Yan'an, where the Chinese Communist Party was headquartered, and profiled most of the Party's top leaders.
Deng Xiaoping was born on August 22, 1904 in Guang'an County under the jurisdiction of Chongqing Municipality, which used to be a part of the southwestern province of Sichuan.
At 16, he sailed to France, the youngest in a group of 80 youths eager to study Marxism in Europe, its birthplace, and find a way out for their impoverished, war-torn motherland. When back from Europe, Deng was already a sophisticated revolutionary.
He was a most brilliant military commander during those Communist-led wars that eventually ushered in the birth of the People's Republic of China -- the Second Revolutionary Civil War (1927-37), the War of Resistance against Japan (1937-45) and the Third Revolutionary Civil War (1946-1949).
Despite what he did for the Chinese revolution, Deng was purged twice during the chaotic "cultural revolution" (1966-76) for being pragmatic and seeking truth from facts as epitomized by his favourite saying, "Whether black and white, a cat is a good cat so long as it catches mice."
By the time he was reinstated after the "cultural revolution" was brought to an end in October 1976, he was already 73. Nevertheless, he became an up and coming star in the global political arena.
In the late 1970s, he initiated a string of market-oriented economic reforms with Chinese characteristics. When Soviet-style egalitarianism held sway, he advanced the policy of allowing a few to get rich first through honest labour.
Shortly after he kicked off the reforms, the world found this legendary Chinese leader standing side by side with US President Jimmy Carter, indicating his resolve to open China to the world.
To create an international environment conducive to China's economic development, Deng demonstrated the same toughness and wit in diplomacy.
When meeting with Margaret Thatcher on Hong Kong's future, he got to the point by telling the "Iron Lady" that sovereignty was not negotiable. Behind such toughness, however, was flexibility and pragmatism characteristic of China's paramount leader.
He devised the "one country, two systems" policy, which has proved to be a success in Hong Kong since the territory's return to China's embrace on July 1, 1997.
In an interview with the PBS immediately after Deng's death in February 1997, Zbigniew Brzezinski, who worked as national security adviser to US President Carter, acknowledged Deng's achievements in helping better the life of Chinese and opening China to the outside world.
Deng himself was twice the subject of cover stories on Time Magazine, in 1978 and 1985, respectively, a rare honour for a foreign leader.
(China Daily August 11, 2004)