Deng's achievements have lasting value

By Wen Chihua and Qiu Lin (China Daily)
Updated: 2007-02-16 07:12

Often referred to simply as "Comrade Xiaoping", Deng Xiaoping is revered in China as a leader who changed the course of the world by steering the country's class-orientated revolutionary struggle into tangible economic development.

Although considered "the chief architect of China's economic reforms and socialist modernization," Deng Xiaoping shied away the cult of personality.

Deng died from a lung infection and Parkinson's disease on February 19, 1997, at the age of 92. Even 10 years after his death, many of his countrymen still adore him as a saint.

"When he passed away, I almost cried my heart out," said Feng Daishu, whilst fertilizing lettuce in his kaleyard, situated in the outskirts of Chengdu, in Deng's home province of Sichuan. "It felt like losing a family member."

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Feng remembers he barely had two pennies to rub together before economic reforms were carried out in late 1978, "I had to borrow money in order to buy a new a bucket," he said. "It cost only 2 yuan (25 cents )!"

Deng's reforms enabled Feng and other farmers to contract to land. Today, the farmers are free to grow whatever else they wanted.

"Now my family of three can make a comfortable living on our land we earned more than 20,000 yuan ($2,500) last year," Feng said.

"It's really sad he's gone," he said. "We are enjoying the rice he helped us grow. He's the saviour of the farmers."

Deng was a pragmatic leader with a vision of a modern nation.

Cai Jinwei, a well-established cinematic photographer, said Mao founded the People's Republic of China in 1949, overthrowing imperialism, feudalism, bureaucratic-capitalism.

A veteran Communist now 79 years old, Cai commented that before the reforms and opening up in the late 1970s, however, "People were living a simple life, in part because the rigid political ideology dragged the country into numerous political movements. At the time, you might have money, but you couldn't get what you needed or wanted."

Back then, he recalled, "Having a small plate of peanuts on your dinner table was a wild wish. You had to wait until Spring Festival," he said. "Then you could get a quarter of a kilo with a food coupon from the government."

In Cai's view, it wasn't until Deng's "opening-up" and reform policies that the people started to believe an affluent life was possible and attainable. "What made Deng great was his innovation, creativity, and honesty," he said.

When Deng realized the fact that the Soviet-model of socialism, practised in China for 30 years, hadn't improved people's livelihoods, he pioneered a new form of socialism, dubbed "Socialism with Chinese Characteristics". Along with this, Deng initiated a series of economic reforms, known as the "Socialist Market Economy" often referring to them as, "China's second revolution."

Before Deng, many Communist or socialist ideologies regarded the market economy as capitalism, believing the planned economy was the correct road to socialism.

"Deng was a wise man. He didn't care much about 'isms', he was happy to use any doctrine, as long as they brought about real benefits to the people that's what a good leader should be like," Cai said, adding, "Deng will live forever with the people who have already benefited from and, in the future, will benefit from his legacy. "

The creation of the "Socialist Market Economy" widened the road for China's development, increasing the responsibility of local authorities, and freeing the entrepreneurial spirit of the citizens, thus allowing a wide variety of small businesses to flourish.

Qi Xiaojing, 39, is just one of the millions of people that benefited from Deng's reforms. As the owner of five small businesses in one of Beijing's busiest commercial areas, Qi, who once worked for a State-owned bank, calls himself "a beneficiary of post-socialist transition."

He recalled how motivated he felt to start his own business after reading Deng Xiaoping's speeches, published in Beijing Youth Daily during his visit to the south in 1992.

At the time, China's reform and "opening-up" program was at a crucial juncture. Deng Xiaoping had embarked on his tour to the south of China in January 1992, delivering a series of speeches aimed at clarifying the muddled idea of whether the establishment of special economic zones was capitalist or socialist in nature.

Deng's speeches had a profound impact upon Qi, for as he noted, while many had already quit their jobs in State-owned enterprises his idea to jump ship was strongly opposed by his family. Qi's parents were concerned that policy might be changed and then he would lose everything, including his decent monthly pay of 2,000 to 3,000 yuan (US$250 to US$375 ).

Much to his parents' approval, Qi reluctantly stayed at the bank whilst keeping an eye on national policy towards private business. Qi noticed between 1997 and 2000 that private businesses were starting to grow and develop, encouraged by the government.

In 2000 Qi resigned from the bank and opened a bar in the Houhai district of Beijing. There were very few bars in the area then, and the savvy Qi sensed it would become a hot spot for bars in the future as long as Deng's "opening-up" policy wasn't changed.

Noting that private business was gaining more respect and recognition, Qi opened three more bars in the area over the space of two years.

"Now I feel I'm really participating in the country's economic development," he said.

"The district government organizes a policy briefing with private business owners every year, informing us of the development direction and policy analysis," he added.

While China's economy continues its unprecedented growth, social problems such as wealth distribution, a widening income gap, corruption, land requisition and an overall degradation of the environment are becoming alarmingly severe.

Some people attribute the problems to the market economy, claiming that China is falling into chaos once again.

But Ding Yuanzhu from the State Development & Reform Commission's Macroeconomic Research Institute says this is oversimplifying matters.

"Some of the current social problems existed before Deng and some emerged in the post-Deng era. These problems only suggest that his reforms have not yet been fully realised," he said.

However, Ding noted, "We cannot expect the economic reforms to resolve all problems, whether social, political or economical."

In fact, Ding said, Deng Xiaoping left a legacy of both the accomplishment of reform and some resulting social problems.

Indeed, Deng himself said that there was no definite road map for economic reform, stating, "We must cross the river by feeling the stones with our feet."

The opened door cannot be closed any more, even if "opening-up" results in chaos. Ling Fei, 51, an artist trained in France, believes such a move would be disastrous, claiming that an attributing factor behind China's previous lack of significant economic development was because "we closed the country to international communication."

"The development of China is impossible if it stands aloof from other countries," he said.

Ling pointed out that Deng's "opening-up" policy has helped China to blend into the modern civilized world, and into the mainstream of international relations.

In other words, he said, whenever China speaks today, the international community sits up and listens, thanks to "Comrade Xiaoping".

(China Daily 02/16/2007 page5)

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