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The Oregonian: "Harvard's Ezra Vogel, author of Deng Xiaoping biography, says China's leader had world's greatest 20th Century impact"
Author: Richard Read, The Oregonian
Posted: October 22, 2011

Ezra Vogel, who speaks Friday, October 28th, at Portland State University, says Deng's reforms of China will have more lasting historical impact than his role in the Tiananmen Square massacre.

Read the original article at The Oregonian.

Harvard University's Ezra Vogel foreshadowed the rise of an economic superpower in 1979 with his best-seller, "Japan as No. 1: Lessons for America." Now Vogel explains China with the biography of a man he maintains had greater world impact than anyone else in the 20th century. 

"Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China" is an exhaustive 714-page work that shows how Deng, a revolutionary and military commander under Mao Zedong, emerged from political exile to become paramount leader and change China from communist backwater to economic dynamo. He outmaneuvered opponents to reform China as it brought more people out of poverty than any nation in history. 

Vogel, who speaks Friday at Portland State University, is a Harvard professor emeritus and a consummate Asia hand, fluent in Mandarin Chinese and Japanese, who never met Deng before he died in 1997. 

But Vogel, who served as the Clinton administration's national intelligence officer for East Asia, gained unprecedented access to Chinese sources, producing a favorable portrait. He worked on the book for a decade, more than twice as long as he expected. He took a year just researching Deng's main reform opponent, Chen Yun

Vogel spoke in an interview with The Oregonian. His comments have been edited for brevity and clarity. 

More than Deng's reforms, many Americans remember him for ordering a military assault on unarmed protesters in Tiananmen Square. Is that impression of him also valid? 

He did do that. A lot of people were killed. But I think that history, 50 years or 100 years from now, will remember him as I do. That is, the man who turned China around. And that will have far more lasting historical impact. 

Many Chinese feel that, on June 4, 1989, if he hadn't done that, China would have fallen apart like the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. We now estimate over 40 million died in the Great Leap Forward; some people say at least 1.5 million died in the Cultural Revolution; and then you think of all the millions who died in World War II and the Civil War. The death of several hundred people on the streets of Beijing is big. But by long historical standards, Deng's role was to change the course of China. 

You describe how Mao exiled Deng from 1969-73, sending him and his wife to work in a remote tractor-repair station. Red Guards tormented Deng's son, who jumped from a high window and became paralyzed. Why did Deng remain so loyal to Mao? 

He was more angry at Mao than he would let on. Deng was a soldier. He was disciplined. As Mao said, he was like a needle inside a ball of cotton. 

Vogel.jpgEzra Vogel, Harvard University professor emeritus, spent 10 years researching and writing his book on Deng Xiaoping. 

Going forward, will China continue to operate as an authoritarian single-party state, or could forces that Deng helped unleash ultimately launch another revolution? 

It's going to be hard to maintain a single party in quite the same way. But there's nobody outside the party who has enough power that they could really be a threat. 

How has your book been received in China? 

When the Chinese edition comes out, from The Chinese University Press, in Hong Kong, I think a lot of copies are going to make it into the mainland. 

Several publishers there wanted to publish it. They said, "We'd just change a few things." I don't want to do it that way. 

There's no book like it in China. They can't write such a rounded picture. A lot of people in China who would like a more open society would feel that it's the kind of book that should be read by more Chinese. 

Reading: Vogel discusses "Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China" at 6 p.m. Friday in Room 75, Lincoln Hall, 1620 S.W. Park Ave. Admission: Free. 

-- Richard Read, ReadOregonian