FEBRUARY 19, 1997
China's paramount leader, Deng Xiaoping, died in Beijing. He was 92. Deng came to power in 1977 and was responsible for the market-oriented reforms that helped promote rapid economic growth. He was in charge when the democracy movement in Tiennamen Square was squashed by Chinese troops. Following a background segment, Elizabeth Farnsworth is joined by a panel of China watchers to look at the life of the man who changed the face of modern China.
A RealAudio version of this NewsHour segment is available.
February 19, 1997:
Elizabeth Farnsworth leads a discussion of Deng's legacy and the challenges China's new leaders face.
January 28, 1997:
A report on the already shaky handover of Hong Kong to China.
December 17, 1997:
A report on the 10 day tour to the U.S. by the Chinese defense minister.
November 26, 1996:
Out-going Secretary of State Warren Christopher discusses the U.S./China relationship and other elements of America's foreign policy.
November 25, 1996:
President Clinton is extending his hand to China's leadership, despite its notorious human rights record. A panel discusses the merits of the president's decision.
May 17, 1996:
The Secretary of State discusses U.S.-China relations.
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ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Our lead tonight is the death of China's leader, Deng Xiaoping at age 92. His life spanned this century, one of the most tumultuous and violent of China's history. We begin with his obituary as reported by Ian Williams of Independent Television News.
IAN WILLIAMS: Deng Xiaoping was last seen in public in 1994. He was then 90 years old, frail and unsteady on his feet. More recently, he received intense medical care. He stopped taking part in affairs of state and no longer held any formal titles. But right until the end, the former revolutionary who opened China to the outside world, unleashed its economic reforms and who Mao once described as "that little fellow" retained the supreme authority.
Deng was born in 1905 in the province of Szechuan. He joined the European branch of the Chinese Communist Party during a stint working at the Renault factory in Paris. He turned to join the revolution, distinguishing himself as a guerrilla leader. He took part in a long march, and soon after the Communists gained power in 1949, he became party general secretary. Within the late 1960's, he became a victim of Mao's cultural revolution, banished to the countryside during this frenzied period of extremism and political terror. It was one of three occasions Deng was purged from the party leadership.
It was only after Mao's death in September 1976 that Deng was able to move against his rivals, the Gang of Four, and take control of the party. He was then able to put into action the sort of economic ideas that earlier had been his downfall, breaking up collective farms and allowing peasants to manage their own land, leading to a big increase in income and output. He attracted foreign companies to a series of special economic zones where capitalist business practices were encouraged. He told the people, "To get rich is glorious," calling it "socialism with Chinese characteristics."
Relations with the West improved markedly. Deng traveled abroad and had a series of amicable meetings with western leaders, traveling to America in 1979 to meet President Carter at the White House. The future of Hong Kong was also settled. It was Deng who endorsed the concept of one country, two systems, guaranteeing the colony's capitalist way of life for 50 years after the hand-over.
MARGARET THATCHER: I'm particularly pleased to see that Chairman Deng Xiaoping is able to be present.
IAN WILLIAMS: Margaret Thatcher, then British prime minister, traveled to Beijing to sign the agreement. In May 1989, President Gorbachev's visit marked the end of a long rift with the Soviet Union.
Deng's health already appeared to be faltering, and much of the world's goodwill towards him was about to be brutally shaken. As pro-democracy protests grew in Tiananmen Square, it soon became clear that whatever economic freedom Deng had granted he was determined there would be no challenge to the political control of the Communist Party. On June 4th, he turned the People's Liberation Army on its own citizens. More than a thousand people have thought to have been killed in and around Tiananmen Square during the massacre. This was to be followed by a nationwide crackdown on dissent.
Soon afterwards, Deng named Jiang Zemin, a colorless party leader from Shanghai, as his successor. While Deng's portrait holds pride of place in the southern boom town of Tsenzhen, this is one of many regions that now pay only lip service to Beijing's directives. It was one of the last places to be visited by Deng in 1992 in an effort to boost reform.
Yet, with runaway economic growth have come big regional disparities and rampant corruption. Everywhere the authority of the party is under threat. In economic terms, Deng has certainly changed China almost beyond recognition. But overall, the legacy he leaves his mixed and presents a tough challenge to the new generation of Communist leaders.