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China: Deng Xiaoping Consolidates Power
Country Study > Chapter 11 > The Political Process > Political Realignments at the Party Center > Deng Xiaoping Consolidates Power

DENG XIAOPING CONSOLIDATES POWER


Deng's second rehabilitation marked another milestone in the career of one of the party's most remarkable leaders. Born in Sichuan Province in 1904, Deng was the son of a wealthy landlord. A bright student, he went to France on a work-study program in 1920. There Deng, like many other Chinese students, was radicalized and joined the nascent Chinese Communist Party. He had returned to China by 1926 and, after the party was forced underground in 1927, became involved in guerrilla activities. After the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949, he was assigned his home province of Sichuan, where he was made first secretary of the Southwest Regional Party Bureau. In 1952 Deng was transferred to Beijing and given several key positions, the highest of which was vice premier of the State Council -- a remarkable development that he probably owed to Mao's favor.

In 1956 Deng was promoted over several more-senior party leaders to the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau and became secretary general of the party, that is, head of the party Secretariat. As secretary general, Deng became involved in the dayto -day implementation of party policies and had immediate access to the resources of the entire party bureaucracy. Consequently, Deng's power grew immensely. Because he perceived Mao's radical economic policies to have been harmful to China's development after 1958, Deng began to work more closely with State Chairman Liu Shaoqi. Deng's behavior irritated Mao, and his stress on results over ideological orthodoxy struck Mao as "revisionism". In 1967 Deng was driven from power and sent to work in a tractor factory in Jiangxi Province.

After the excesses of the Cultural Revolution and the shock of an attempted military coup in 1971 by Lin Biao, Premier Zhou Enlai apparently recommended that Deng be brought back to aid in dealing with increasingly complex domestic and international issues. Mao agreed, and Deng returned in April 1973 as a vice premier. He rejoined the Political Bureau in December, becoming more active in national affairs as Zhou Enlai's health weakened. By early 1975 he was in charge of the work of the Central Committee as one of its vice chairmen. From this powerful vantage point, Deng concentrated on moderating the effects of the more radical aspects of the policies introduced during the Cultural Revolution and on focusing national attention on economic development. He also continued to build his own political influence through restoring to high office many old cadres who had been purged during the Cultural Revolution. Mao again began to distrust Deng and, after Zhou's death, decided that Deng should once again be removed from his positions.

Deng has been described as aggressive, brash, impatient, and self-confident. He inspired respect among Chinese officials as a capable administrator and a brilliant intellect. He did not, however, inspire loyalty and devotion, and he admitted that his hard-driving personality often alienated others. In contrast to Mao, Deng offered no expansive socialist vision. Rather, Deng's message was a practical one: to make the Chinese people more prosperous and China a modern socialist state. Deng's pragmatic style arose primarily from his dedication to placing China among the world's great powers.

Deng consolidated his power and influence by removing his opponents from their power bases, elevating his proteges to key positions, revising the political institutional structure, retiring elderly party leaders who either were hesitant about his reform programs or too weak and incompetent to implement them, and raising up a replacement generation of leaders beholden to him and apparently enthusiastic about the reform program. As a first step toward achieving these goals, Deng set out to remove Hua Guofeng, apparently a firm believer in Mao's ideals, from the three pivotal positions of chairman of the party and of its powerful Central Military Commission and premier of the State Council. At that time, Deng was on the Political Bureau Standing Committee, vice chairman of the party Central Military Commission, and vice premier of the State Council.

At the Third Plenum, four new members were elected to the Political Bureau, all to varying degrees supporters of the reform program. Hu Yaobang, an energetic protege of Deng Xiaoping, was elected, as was Wang Zhen, a Deng stalwart. Also elected were Deng Yingchao, widow of Zhou Enlai, and Chen Yun, architect of China's 1950s economic policy. Chen also became head of the newly established Central Commission for Discipline Inspection. Following the plenum, Hu Yaobang was appointed secretary general of the party and head of its Propaganda Department. Further personnel changes beneficial to Deng occurred at the Fifth Plenum, held February 23-29, 1980. Hu Yaobang was elevated to the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau, as was another Deng protege, Zhao Ziyang. With these promotions, accompanied by the forced resignations of members associated with the Cultural Revolution, the Standing Committee was comprised of seven members, four of whom were strongly committed to party and economic reform.

Hua Guofeng's position was eroded further in mid-1980, when he was replaced as premier by Zhao Ziyang. A fast-rising provincial party official, Zhao spent his early career in Guangdong Province, where he gained expertise in managing agricultural affairs. Unlike Hua, whose political status had improved during the Cultural Revolution, Zhao Ziyang was purged in 1967 for supporting the policies of Mao's opponents. After his rehabilitation in 1972, Zhao worked briefly in Nei Monggol Autonomous Region (Inner Mongolia) and then returned to Guangdong Province. In 1975, a peak period in Deng's influence, Zhao was sent to troubled Sichuan Province as party first secretary. Under Zhao's leadership Sichuan Province returned to political and economic health. Zhao believed firmly in material incentives, and he promoted experiments in returning decision-making authority to the local work units, rather than centralizing it exclusively in provincial-level or central administrative bureaus.

Hua Guofeng's political isolation deepened when at the Central Committee's Sixth Plenum, in June 1981, he was replaced as party chairman by General Secretary Hu Yaobang. This key meeting reevaluated party history, including the Cultural Revolution, and charged Mao with major errors in his later years. Hua, having been identified with the "two whatevers" group ("support whatever policy decisions Chairman Mao made and follow whatever instructions Chairman Mao gave"), was marked for political oblivion. At this same meeting, Deng Xiaoping assumed Hua's former position as chairman of the party's Central Military Commission, advancing his goal of ridding the top military ranks of reform opponents. With these developments, Deng was poised for an even more thorough consolidation of the reform leadership at the upcoming Twelfth National Party Congress.

Data as of July 1987




Last Updated: July 1987


Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for China was first published in 1987. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on Factba.se.

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