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on 21 October 2011
Deng was a giant of a man. Not in size but in stature. He was the man who ensured China grew to be a economic power house within 20 years after his death. What is remarkable is that he only became paramount leader after he was released from exile imposed during the Cultural Revolution. So he started ruling China at the ripe age of 73.

This just released 700 page biography is a very readable book. It is written in a chronological manner. Not much is known of Deng's life as his modus operandi is not to leave notes but to commit all records to memory. This was his means to stay alive.
I highly recommend this book as the previous biography by Richard Evans was published way back in 1994.
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on 23 February 2012
Ezra Vogel's biography of Deng Xiaoping is a work long overdue within the numerous literature on modern China, and a work in every way entirely worth the wait.
As the most consequential Chinese leader of the past 3 decades, or arguably within the world, Deng Xiaoping had long been entitled to a thorough, and scholarly biography, and finally such a work is here.
As many may be previously familiar with the later parts of Deng Xiaoping's life, his downfall in the Cultural Revolution, and his return to power in 1978, here more detail is given to his earlier life in Sichuan Province, and his crucial early years as a student in Paris.
That is not to say that any detail is spared on the later more crucial parts of his life, such as his return under Mao and later Hua, and his period at the helm from 1978-1989. Here we learn the difficulty of the path he navigated between hardline conservatives such as Chen Yun, who were ambivalent toward economic reform, and the difficult process of opening up and maintaining the authority of the party.
This biography in some ways repudiates the commonly held notion that Deng was a capitalist in disguise. A key insight offered was that he was initially influenced by the new economic policy implemented in the USSR in the early 1920s, which was a much milder version than the socialism implemented by Stalin, and later Mao.
We also learn, that Hua Guofeng was the first to initiate Special Economic Zones, and had an inkling toward reform, even if he did not say so, but ultimately lacked the leadership pedigree inherent in Deng, making Deng's outmaneuvering of Hua inevitable.
More than just a chronicling of his economic reforms, the book contains a chapter on his flexible political vision, One Country, Two Systems, Hong Kong Tibet and Taiwan. This details the success of the return of Hong Kong, which despite the expiration of the lease, the British still wanted to continue to administer, and his generous offers at reconciliation with Taiwan and the Dalai Lama.
The above chapter should be given thorough reading and re-reading by any sympathizers with Tibetan and separatism, as it exposes the generous opportunity missed by the Dalai Lama and his hardline exile community in Dharamsala.
We learn that the Dalai Lama's offer of return was the most generous he was ever likely to get, residence in Lhasa and Beijing, being made a Vice Chairman of the National People's Congress, and the autonomy they had long sought. Only this offer was rebuffed to demand more autonomy than was being offered to Hong Kong, and extension of the TAR to include all Tibetan areas in neighboring Chinese provinces.
While many China hands will be familiar with Deng's economic achievements, which are impossible to understate, this book also underscores his foreign policy achievements, which were equally remarkable.
Deng set about full reconciliation with the US and the USSR, and on both counts, achieved reconciliation entirely on his terms. Deng's foreign policy in itself was every bit as remarkable as his economic achievements.
What we have is a thorough biography and chronicling of the life of Deng in all aspects, and rather than being simply a biography of the man, it is also in itself, a standalone history of modern China.
Truly essential reading for any China enthusiasts, regardless of the immersion in the subject.
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on 26 April 2012
Ezra Vogel does a good job in covering the life of Deng Xiaoping. One is left with the impression that if it wasn't for Deng China would still be a backward communist country. One wonders where China might be today if Deng had become leader back in 1949 rather than after Mao's death.

I shall spare you a summary of the book because it would be impossible to do so in any meaningful way. Besides, you will find it far more interesting to read the book yourself.

A number of issues I wasn't terribly excited about. Even though the author concentrates mostly on Deng's period as China's supreme leader I would have liked more details about his earlier life - 35 pages to cover 65 years struck me as a bit inadequate. I would have loved to read something about Deng's position on the "100 flowers campaign" and on "the great leap forward" to name just two major events prior to 1969.
Secondly, the author could have made better use of the editor. The text could do with some tidying up. The word Deng is used a lot more than is necessary - at times its use becomes quite tedious.
Also the author should avoid `silly mistakes' such as ... `Deng did engage in the majority of his reforms after Jiang Qing's death'. She died (or committed suicide) in 1991 and not a lot earlier as the author implies.
At the end of the narrative the author lists a number of `key people in the Deng era'. I think the key people who ran China in the 1990s should be included there. Also the information given could have been tidied up quite a bit and lastly I would have liked to see this section at the beginning of the narrative because it makes more sense to list the key people there rather than at the end.

Having said all this Ezra Vogel's book on Deng Xiaoping should be compulsory reading for anyone interested in this period of China's history. For anyone interested in Deng's early life I can recommend Richard Evans' book on Deng Xiaoping and the Making of Modern China because he covers that side of his life quite well. There are also a number of other books mentioned in Ezra Vogel's Preface, which should be worthwhile reading.

The author states somewhere in his Preface, that he hopes that this book will become the standard volume on the subject. I think not. A more correct second edition perhaps.
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on 6 June 2013
Taking into account the large number of published Amazon reviews I limit myself to seven points, from my perspective of studying political leaders and advising them. But, first, an overriding observation:
In the discussion on the role of leaders in history, Deng clearly is a paradigmatic case of a leader who changed the trajectory into the future of a major country with crucial global repercussions. China could have developed differently but for the impact of Deng, who crafted "basic policies, which resonated with the economic needs and wishes of the people [that] continued to guide policy-making for decades" (p. 685). This was not deterministically ordained, but happened because of Deng, despite much opposition which nearly gained the upper hand.
Deng was an outstanding foundational ruler, changing the dynamics of China by a kind of "revolution from within," while maintaining the unity of the country and of the party as the basis of capacities to govern. When compared with Gorbachev the grand-strategy of Deng is all the more impressive, assuring both dramatic economic growth and overall political stability. The case of Deng clearly demonstrates that individual leaders can sometimes, if they have fitting qualities and the context provides facilitating conditions, impact significantly and even critically on the future.
To move on to seven more specific points:
1. Deng developed large parts of his approach while in exile during the Cultural Revolution, illustrating the benefits of periods of withdrawal and thinking, as pointed out by Toynbee and shared with other foundational rulers, such as Mandela.
2. He laid the bases for China becoming an economic and soon a geopolitical superpower and dramatically raising the welfare of the population - by increasing reliance on market processes and opening China to the global economy, while maintaining central controls. What he introduced, with the assistance of many advisors and actors, was a "socialist market economy" which was not only very successful, but elastic and open to further development fitting changing situations by Deng's successors.
3. A lesson of broad applicability central to the book is the need for high-quality thinking in terms of long-term futures, with all uncertainties, as essential for successful foundational rulership. But this requirement contradicts the short-term preferences built into consumption-oriented cultures, requiring overcoming in one way or another tensions between "nowtime" democratic political pressures and the duty of political leaders to look out after future generations. Deng did so successfully, thanks to the party regime and some Chinese traditions.
4. All civilizations, including modern Western culture, bias and distort understanding of other civilizations. Within Chinese civilization maintaining the unity of the country is a top priority. Lack of understanding of this and other crucial points resulted in disproportional Western criticism of the "Tiananmen Tragedy." Vogel avoids the misperceptions and exaggerated reactions characterizing much of the West and especially the United States, evaluating instead the episode judiciously (especially pp. 636-639).
5. Given its history, civilization, size and other main features, it is a delusion to expect China to become a Western-type liberal democracy and it is a serious mistake to recommend that it should become one. But other, partly unique, forms of democracy may develop in China with time, as indeed postulated by Deng.
6. Deng understood the critical importance of science and technology for the future of China, importing relevant knowledge, sending many students abroad, consulting outstanding experts including especially Chinese scientists living in the USA, and advancing university teaching of science and technology.
7. Upgrading the quality of leadership was a main concern of Deng, including mandatory retirement age, leadership teams, self-criticism (if not imposed forcefully), cultivating successors, competitive meritocratic examinations (having a long Chinese tradition, but modernized), careful selection taking into account knowledge and experience, high-level party leadership schools, and more.
To conclude: All countries and humanity as a whole are cascading into radical novel and in part inconceivable futures, making foundational rulers essential world-wide. Therefore the experiences of Deng, as well presented in this book, are very relevant to the concerns of political leaders and their advisors, and to the study of leadership as a whole.
All in all, the book is fascinating, in part because of its subject matter but also thanks to the author. In contrast to some other reviewers, I think it is well edited and regret it is not longer. This book deserves more than five starts. I strongly recommend it to students, politicians, executives, thinkers and activists interested in China and the future of the world as a whole. All the more so, this biography is obligatory reading for all who want to understand foundational leaders or aspire to become one.

Professor Yehezkel Dror
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
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on 22 April 2016
Superb book for its insight and information but very long and sometimes hard work. It leans towards the academic and away from outright entertaining but the detail is excellent and Ezra Vogel certainly presents a comprehensive picture of Deng Xiaoping who was without doubt an exceptional world leader. Once the book is finished you really feel you've gained a strong understanding of Chinese politics and one of its most pragmatic leaders; it is difficult to imagine where China would be today without his contribution to its path of transformation.
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on 29 August 2014
The importance of Deng Xioaping in the development of 'modern' China has been immense. The reforms that he enacted as the Paramount Leader of China has changed the historical discourse of China in a positive and immense way.

Ezra Vogel, a specialist on China, provides a great in-depth biographical study of Deng Xiaoping utilising a great breath of primary sources. This book will provide a great understanding to how China changed and it future evolution over the course of the twentieth-century.
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on 21 April 2012
Deng is "perhaps the" greatest change leader in World History - in terms of his influence on the number of people and the economy and his nationally, regionally and globally effect.

I can warmly recommend Vogel's biography, which also provides many detailed descriptions to those who have not previously read about Deng and China.
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on 31 January 2014
it is bought for my friend. He likes it just after 1/3 of his reading. It seems this book tells the story of Deng from a special angle.
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on 28 July 2015
I received this book today and just can't wait to read it. Service was everything you could hope for.
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on 8 October 2014
Excellent I feel I have learned a lot from this book
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