In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Deng Xiaoping

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Detailed Studies

Chinese Studies Deng Xiaoping
Delia Davin
  • LAST REVIEWED: 19 May 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 August 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920082-0064


Deng Xiaoping became China’s effective leader in 1978, two years after the death of Mao Zedong. He formally retired in 1992 but was referred to in the Chinese press as the paramount leader and remained influential until his death in 1997. Deng presided over the economic reforms of the post-Mao years, which produced dramatic growth, profound social transformation, and, eventually, a market economy. He also oversaw the arrangements by which Hong Kong was returned to China. He did not favor political liberalization, was suspicious of dissent, and suppressed the prodemocracy movement in 1989. Deng was born in rural Sichuan in 1904. He traveled to France when he was only sixteen and, in his six years there, became involved in the nascent Chinese Communist movement. After a further year of study in Moscow, Deng returned to China. He worked as a political commissar with the Communist armies in South China, participated in the Long March in 1934–1935, and served with the Communist armies both in the Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945) and the second phase of the Chinese Civil War (1946–1949). When the Communists took power nationally in 1949, Deng became mayor of Chongqing and held various posts in Southwest China. Transferred to Beijing in 1952, he played a major role in the Eighth Party Congress in 1956, at which he was elected general secretary. Although Deng had not opposed Mao’s Great Leap Forward in advance, he expressed concern about the food shortages to which it gave rise, and in its aftermath worked with Liu Shaoqi and Zhou Enlai to bring about economic recovery by increasing peasant family incentives within collective agriculture. In the Cultural Revolution, Deng was criticized, with Liu Shaoqi, for revisionism and dismissed from his posts. Mao brought him back to Beijing in 1973 and subsequently gave him day-to-day control of the government as vice-premier. However, Mao became concerned that Deng valued production more highly than class struggle and that he might one day reverse Mao’s radical policies. On the death of Zhou Enlai in January 1976, Deng was passed over for the premiership, and in April he was again dismissed from office. At Mao’s own death in September 1976, his chosen successor, Hua Guofeng, took his place. But by the end of 1978, Deng’s wealth of experience and his network of loyal supporters in the army, the party, and the government allowed the veteran leader de facto to oust Hua Guofeng from the leadership. Deng’s program of market reform and modernization produced rapid economic advance, greatly improved living standards, and enhanced China’s international standing. However, he did not encourage political reform and is remembered for the military suppression of the student movement in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

General Overviews

A number of biographies cover Deng’s life and work. All were written after he rose to prominence as China’s supreme leader in the late 1970s. The first to be published were popular accounts that responded to a demand for information about a man whose rise seemed so sudden. Later, academic studies followed that benefited from access to the copious material on Chinese Communist Party history that was first made available in the 1990s. Goodman 1994 and Yang 1998 offer short overviews of Deng’s life and his part in the Chinese Revolution. David Goodman’s study is of interest for its assessments and contains a bibliographic chapter on Deng’s speeches and writing. Benjamin Yang, who had much newly published Chinese material available to him and was able to conduct many interviews in China, makes various factual corrections to earlier biographies. He speculates on motivations and makes judgements. Evans 1995, written by a former British diplomat to Beijing, provides a more dispassionate but readable account of Deng’s life and career. Franz 1988 and Bonavia 1989 have been largely superseded, but Salisbury 1993 is still of interest for information gleaned from interviews and for its comparative perspective.

  • Bonavia, David. Deng. Quarry Bay, Hong Kong: Longman, 1989.

    An early study by a British journalist long based in Beijing.

  • Evans, Richard. Deng Xiaoping and the Making of Modern China. Rev. ed. London: Penguin, 1995.

    Based mostly but not exclusively on English-language sources, this knowledgeable study gives attention to all aspects of Deng’s career. Evans was the British ambassador to Beijing when the agreement that ended 150 years of colonial rule in Hong Kong was finalized. Largely sympathetic to Deng. A good introduction also of interest to specialists.

  • Franz, Uli. Deng Xiaoping. Translated by Tom Artin. Boston: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1988.

    English translation of Deng Xiaoping: Chinas Erneuerer; Eine Biographie, originally published in 1987 (Stuttgart: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt). Pioneering study of Deng, largely superseded by more recent biographies.

  • Goodman, David S. G. Deng Xiaoping and the Chinese Revolution: A Political Biography. London and New York: Routledge, 1994.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203296684

    A lively, accessible account that considers the sources of Deng’s power and is not afraid to attempt evaluations. The bibliographic chapter on Deng’s writing, speeches, and so on is particularly useful.

  • Salisbury, Harrison E. The New Emperors: Mao and Deng; A Dual Biography. London: HarperCollins, 1993.

    A chatty journalistic work still of interest for its format as a comparative biography and for the material drawn from interviews conducted by the author as a foreign correspondent in China. Full of intriguing but not necessarily reliable personal detail.

  • Shambaugh, David, ed. Deng Xiaoping: Portrait of a Chinese Statesman. Studies on Contemporary China. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995.

    Originally published as Special Issue: Deng Xiaoping; An Assessment, edited by David Shambaugh, in China Quarterly 135 (September 1993). A slightly dated collection of articles by modern China specialists. Its organization by topic—Deng as a politician, an economist, a social reformer, a soldier, a statesman—makes the volume useful for examining any particular aspect of Deng’s life.

  • Yang, Benjamin. Deng: A Political Biography. Armonk, NY, and London: M. E. Sharpe, 1998.

    Chatty, informal style, but based on considerable scholarship. The author visited places where Deng had lived, and conducted many interviews. Provides good detail on Deng’s childhood and family background. Portrays Deng as an ordinary though resourceful person who achieved extraordinary things.

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