Book Review — Deng Xiaoping: A Revolutionary Life

Deng Xiaoping: A Revolutionary Life by Alexander V. Pantsov, Steven I Levine is the biography of arguably the second most important person in modern China. Paston is a professor of history and holds the Edward and Mary Catherine Gerhold Chair in the Humanities at Capital University in Columbus, Ohio. He has published numerous scholarly works including fifteen books, among them The Bolsheviks and the Chinese Revolution 1919-1927 and Mao: The Real Story. Levine is research faculty associate, Department of History, University of Montana. He is the author, co-author, and editor of numerous works, including Mao: The Real Story and Arc of Empire: America’s Wars in Asia from the Philippines to Vietnam, co-authored with Michael H. Hunt.

Without a doubt, Mao played the key role in creating twentieth century China. He molded the country to his ideals and kept China on the path he saw fit. From a budding relationship with Stalin to breaking with Khrushchev over reforms, violently interfering in other socialist countries, and his general boorish public behavior, Mao lead China on the “true socialist” path. Behind Mao were trusted colleagues, one would rise to set China up a world power in the twenty-first century. Xiaoping for the most part was behind the scenes shaping what would become modern China and its mix of socialism and capitalism.

Xiaoping was a long time follower and supporter of Mao from his earliest days fighting the Japanese and Chiang Kai-shek. He became a loyal follower of Mao and rose through the ranks. From his early days studying in France as part of “Diligent Work-Frugal Study Movement,” Xiaoping became disenchanted with the capitalist world. He joined the Communist Youth League and then the Chinese Communist Party. He also studied in Moscow before returning to China. He recalled his Moscow days were much more comfortable than his time in France.

In the West, Xiaoping is probably best known for his quote: “It doesn’t matter if a cat is black or white, so long as it catches mice.” Although devoted to Mao, Xiaoping like others who turned to communism were probably more interested in ending colonial rule or bringing their nation to their rightful place in the world. In the bipolar post-World War II world nations and leaders wanting independence often turned to the communists because it was the capitalist countries that were doing the colonizing. Xiaoping wanted to see China occupy a place of prominence on the world stage. His work as a “capitalist roader” inside China’s elite shaped China into the powerhouse it is today. However, it was the same ideas that caused him to get purged in the Cultural Revolution. Unlike many victims of purges, Xiaoping came back and returned to the party elite.

A Revolutionary Life covers not only Xiaoping’s life but also gives a history of China in the twentieth century. Xiaoping’s life is presented as part of the timeline of China as much as it is about the individual. The writing is very detailed as well as very well documented. This book is a little examined but important part of history as well as the basis for the current growing Chinese hegemony. An outstanding history and biography.

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