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Deng Xiaoping

[duhng shou ping] the central figure behind China's political and cultural thaws in the early 1980's

Deng Xiaoping

Deng Xiaoping was born in Paifang, Sichuan Province, on August 22, 1904. He graduated from the Chongqing Preparatory School in the summer of 1920, and in October of that year was enrolled in a work-study program in Marseilles, France.


It was while struggling to earn a living in France that Deng was first exposed to the ideals of Marxism. In 1922 he joined the Communist Party of Chinese Youth in Europe (which later became the Chinese Socialist Youth League in Europe). In 1924 he joined the Chinese Communist Party and became one of the leading members of the General Branch of the Youth League in Europe. In 1925, while working in Lyons, he was appointed special representative of the Chinese Communist Party to the Lyons Area Party Branch, in which capacity he directed the Chinese workers' movement. During the five years he spent in France (from age 16 to 21), Deng also co-edited and wrote articles for the Red Light, a mimeographed magazine for Chinese Communists in France, Belgium and Germany; he also cut stencils and did some of the mimeographing.

In early 1926, Deng left France for Russia, where he entered the Communist University of the Toilers of the East; he subsequently transferred to the Sun Yat-sen University. He left the university in 1927 to join in the national revolution in China.


Deng's return to China coincided with the beginning of the Communist Party's fight against the Kuomintang government. He would take a very active part in the fight, as both a Communist Party organizer and leader and as a soldier in the Red Army, including as a participant in the Long March (1934-1935). He also took a very active part in China's fight against Japan, taking part in and leading several military campaigns.

People's Republic of China

When the People's Republic of China was proclaimed on October 1, 1949, Deng attended the grand inauguration ceremony in Beijing. Soon afterwards he joined his comrades-in-arms and set out to help liberate the Great Southwest of China. His first official positions under the Communist government were First Secretary of the Southwest Bureau, Vice-Chairman of the Southwest Military and Administrative Commission, and Political Commissar of the Southwest Military Command. In less than three years, Deng and his comrades succeeded in not only bringing the Great Southwest under Communist control but in greatly improving the region's economic abilities.

From this point on Deng moved up rapidly in the Communist Party hierarchy. He served first as both Executive Vice-Premier of the Government Administration Council and Vice-Chairman of the Financial and Economic Commission, and was then appointed Director of the Office of Communications and Minister of Finance, at one time holding all of these positions simultaneously. In 1954, retaining only the position of Vice-Premier, he became in addition Secretary-General of the Party Central Committee, Director of the Organization Department, and Vice-Chairman of the National Defense Commission.

At the Fifth Plenary Session of the Seventh Central Committee in 1955, Deng was elected to the Committee's Political Bureau. In 1956, at the Party's Eighth National Congress, he made the report on the revision of the Party Constitution, and at the First Plenary Session of the Eighth Central Committee he was elected member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau; in September 1956, he was named General Secretary of the Central Committee.

Between September 1956 and May 1966, Deng, in concert with President Liu Shaoqi, carried out a number of economic reforms that bolstered both men's prestige among Party members and the Chinese people. Unfortunately for both, Mao Zedong was fearful that Deng and Liu's popularity would lead to his own downfall. Both men were purged from the Communist Party during the Cultural Revolution; Deng was forced to retire from all his offices, and then sent to work in a rural tractor factory.

When Premier Chou Enlai fell ill from cancer, Deng became Chou's choice for a succesor, and Chou was able to convince Mao to bring Deng back into politics in 1974 as First Deputy Premier. Deng's return to favor was short-lived, however, as he was purged once again following Chou's death in January 1976.

Following Mao's death in September 1976, Deng was able to mobilize his supporters within the Party and gradually regain his former standing. Brought back to power by Hua Guofeng in 1977, he was able to oust Hua from his top leadership positions by 1980-1981. He subsequently served as Chairman of the Party's Central Military Committee from 1981 to 1989, and of the Party's Central Advisory Commission from 1982 to 1987.

Although Deng was never officially China's leader, he was the central figure behind China's political and cultural thaws and its modernization drive during the early 1980's. He developed close ties with Japan and the United States, and, on December 19, 1984, he oversaw the agreement with Britain that resulted in Hong Kong being returned to China in 1997. The most serious threat to Deng's position came in 1989, when demonstrations across the country ultimately resulted in a showdown in Tiananmen Square that was broadcast around the world.

Deng stepped down as Chairman of the Central Military Commission in 1989, and officially retired from the political scene in 1992. He died on February 19, 1997.

Wives and Children

Zhang Xiyuan -- died a few days after giving birth to a baby girl, who also died.

Jin Weiying -- left him after he came under political attack in 1933.

Zhuo Lin -- married 1939 -- three daughters (Deng Lin, Deng Nan, Deng Rong) and two sons (Deng Pufang, Deng Zhifang).


People's Daily

See Also

Mao Zedong
Chou Enlai
Hong Kong

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The Robinson Library >> People's Republic, 1949 to Present

This page was last updated on September 12, 2018.