Vogel: Deng Xiaoping 'Terrific Leader'

Harvard Professor Ezra Vogel spoke at Asia Society Hong Kong Center on May 21, 2012. (Asia Society Hong Kong Center)

HONG KONG, May 21, 2012 — Professor Ezra Vogel of Harvard University described the late Chinese statesman Deng Xiaoping as a "terrific leader" at a talk centered on his book Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China at Asia Society Hong Kong Center.

Vogel's biography of Deng Xiaoping, who is recognized for transforming China into a market economy and thereby spearheading economic growth when he led the country from 1978 to 1992, traces Deng's life, leadership and reforms in China. Vogel emphasizes how Deng's leadership and market-oriented economic reforms transformed China into the country we know today.

"I would choose him [Deng] as my national leader," explained Vogel. "He's an extremely rare combination of military experience, finance experience, local leadership and foreign affairs... I don't know if there's anyone who comes close to having that combination that Deng did."

Deng's varied career background, "clear vision," and his readiness to "push very hard" helped him accomplish national growth and raise China to global relevance, Vogel elaborated. He ranked Deng's contribution to modern China as greater than that of Mao Zedong, the founding father of the People's Republic of China. There is widespread recognition among Chinese leaders and ordinary citizens that Deng did more for their lives than Mao, he said.

"People think Mao screwed up," said Vogel. "Even though Mao is in the museum, that's not the reality. The reality is that it's Deng's China."

Although Vogel praised Deng's leadership, he expressed less confidence in the upcoming leadership transition in the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) later this year. He noted two factors that could destabilize the Party: the growing level of frustration against the corruption and impunity of Communist Party members and their families and the rise of factions within the Party.

"I don't see any other source of leadership in the CCP to keep things under control," he explained. "I'm really worried about what's going to happen in the next few years in keeping order in China."

When asked how Deng would keep order if he were still alive today, Vogel replied, "He would have found out that corruption is terrible and people are frustrated. He wouldn't give up the one-party system, but he would take more steps against corruption."

Reported by Audrey Yoo

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