INTERVIEWER: And joining us now here in studio, Ezra Vogel, a Lionel Gelber prize winner for his book Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China. And we have a nice tradition here of welcoming the Gelber prize winner to our studio. We're glad you could continue the tradition.
EZRA VOGEL: I'm glad to receive the prize. I'm glad to be here.
INTERVIEWER: Let me start by just reading a short excerpt of your book that will help set up the first question here. You write, "In the summer of 2000, I told my friend Don Orberdorfer, one of America's greatest 20th century reporters on East Asia, that I was retiring from teaching and wanted to write a book to help Americans understand the developments in Asia. Without hesitation, Don, who had covered Asia for half a century said, 'You should write about Deng Xiaoping.'"
First question. Why is understanding Deng Xiaoping so important to understanding today's China?
EZRA VOGEL: Because after Mao died in 1976, China took a completely new course. And just as if you understand the United States' government, you have to understand how Jefferson Madison formed the government and their philosophy and direction. So to understand China's new course, they have to understand how it was built and who built it. Deng Xiaoping was the one who built the new course that China has followed.
In 1978 if you had asked, could a communist country grow faster than a capitalist country, nobody would have said yes. And nobody did say yes in the Western world. And yet he brought it about.
INTERVIEWER: Now we're asking the opposite question. Can the capitalist countries grow as fast as China? Not sure about that. He was-- I mean, you talk about a political survivor. This was a guy who was at the center of things and then ostracized three different times?
EZRA VOGEL: Right.
INTERVIEWER: He made a political rehabilitation. How did he do that?
EZRA VOGEL: Well, the first time he had been cut down about six months. It was in the early 1930s, and he was accused of being too much of a follower of Mao Zedong. At the time it cost him about six months because Mao was then in trouble with the Central Committee. And then after Mao came back he brought Deng back with him. And when Deng had a chance to rise in the early 50s in Beijing, Mao was a great sponsor. But Mao was a purist and revolutionary, and Deng was more practical. So Mao wanted to teach Deng a lesson. And he put him aside at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution and attack him. But he didn't put him in jail and didn't punish him so badly that he couldn't come back later. He was teaching him a lesson.
INTERVIEWER: Why do you think he did that? Because obviously Mao was absolutely brutal and ruthless to many of his political adversaries, but not Deng.
EZRA VOGEL: I think there are perhaps three reasons. One was because the first time Deng was birds it was because he was a Mao faction. He'd been a loyal follower of Mao for decades. Secondly, his performance, moving so quickly and so rapidly and doing things so well, that Mao was very proud of his performance. And the third thing was he was especially good at arguing with the Soviet Union. In the early one 19602 he thought Deng was getting a little too pragmatic about approving markets, but Deng was the key arguer with the Soviet Union, and Mao loved and respected that. So I think those are all three bound up in why Mao was not going to dispatch Deng and to just teach him some lessons.
INTERVIEWER: It's funny. He was more of a hawk on the Soviet Union than many American presidents were. In fact, he kept telling them, you guys got to pick up your socks and get in there and get tougher with these guys.
EZRA VOGEL: Deng was tough. Especially after the United States pulled out of Vietnam and 1975, Deng, who is beginning to have a strong power, felt that the Soviet Union was the greatest threat and was taking advantage of the vacuum that America had created in Asia, and was going to cause lots of problems with China. So he became very tough on the Soveit Union.
INTERVIEWER: I want to show a bar graph right now. If any picture shows, perhaps, what Deng Xiaoping's influence was on the Chinese economy-- if we can, let's bring up this next bar graph here-- this might show it. That was the value of the Chinese economy before Deng became the paramount leader. And that's where it is as of a couple of years ago. Now if that's not a stark picture of this man's influence, I'm not sure what was. He inherited a large party bureaucracy. He inherited a stagnating economy. He inherited a country that he described as backward. What approach to reform did he uniquely bring that allowed that bar graph to take place?
EZRA VOGEL: Well Deng had been overseas in France for five years a young man. And he was familiar with the outside world having visited the United States and France in '74 and '75. And he understood what you had to do to catch up with the world. And he believed that you had to send scientists abroad and young students to bring back technology in all spheres. He didn't have any single model. He wanted to send bright young people abroad in all fields to bring back the most modern up to date way of thinking, the technology, management that would help China grow.
INTERVIEWER: What were the fields that interested him the most?
EZRA VOGEL: Surprising enough it was natural science, even more than economy. I've gone through the list of the people that Deng met over many years. I haven't found one meeting with an economist. The people that he liked to meet-- number one scientists, and number two businessmen, and number three politicians. He wanted people who had run things themselves. He wasn't interested in a broad theory. He was interested in people who had confronted problems and figured out a way to make them work.
INTERVIEWER: Speaking of Brzezinski, Jimmy Carter's national security advisor--
EZRA VOGEL: Yes.
INTERVIEWER: Looked at him and said, you're a guy in a hurry.
EZRA VOGEL: And he was. And he also said, this is a guy we can deal with.
INTERVIEWER: OK, let's bring this up. I'm in chapter three right now, Michael. This is another excerpt from the book. This is Deng Xiaoping's visit in 1978 to Japan. "At Kimitsu, then the world's most advanced steel plant, Deng saw a new continuous-casting production line and computer-controlled technology that would become the model for China's first modern steel plant at Baoshan, just north of Shanghai. Dung said that to make the Baoshan work, the Chinese needed Japanese aid to learn management skills. He tried to explain to his countrymen, who believed what they had been taught under Mao about Western exploitation of workers, that the reality was quite different. Japanese workers owned their own homes, their own cars, and electronic equipment that was unavailable in China."
Here's a question. He obviously was blown away by what he saw in terms of what a capitalist economy could achieve. I guess what's somewhat surprising is that he never felt China needed to take the next step, which was economic liberalization, yes, but political liberalization, absolutely not. How come?
EZRA VOGEL: He thought that China had been so divided from the time of the Opium War right after 1949. They couldn't grow because there were too many contending forces and led to chaos. His experience was that the Cultural Revolution, when you let people have full blown democracy, encourage them to express their views, including on the street, that it could ruin China. China did not yet have the commitment of its people. They weren't rich enough to have a comfortable way of life. There were too many people who'd been upset with the way that landlords intellectuals had been treated, that there was not the basis, at the time when he was empowered, to have a confident leadership, you can count on the support of the people. And he felt in this short run, you certainly needed a strong government that was united and can make things happen quickly.
INTERVIEWER: Do you think by the end, though, he still believed in communism, per se? Or was it more just the power of the Communist party?
EZRA VOGEL: Deng was not one to quibble about words. He wouldn't quibble about the word of communism. But I think it was not what we Westerners call capitalism. Some people thought of what Deng did as capitalism, just under another name. But land ownership is still by the state in China. They have large state companies that control more than half the economy. They still have a planned economic system. The Communist party is still in charge. And so it's not exactly what we would call capitalism. But open markets wide, and that he had no hesitation in opening markets and encouraging competition.
INTERVIEWER: Socialism with a Chinese character.
EZRA VOGEL: That's what he called it. That was a way of allowing him to do whatever he wanted without getting bogged down by any logical arguments.
INTERVIEWER: I want to take it to June 4 1989, which I suspect, sadly for Deng Xiaoping, is how many people in the West are going to remember him-- as the guy who, when he saw a couple of 100,000 Chinese students protesting in Tienanmen Square, gave the order to clear the square by any means necessary.
EZRA VOGEL: Exactly.
INTERVIEWER: Why did he give that order?
EZRA VOGEL: He gave that order at the end of two months of turmoil in which he was really frightened that China was going the path of Eastern Europe where communist parties were falling apart. The Soviet Union was falling apart. And he felt the only way to enforce order, at that time, when so many people were demonstrating-- and on May 20 of '89 had blocked the entrance of the military, who then went in an armed, to try to restore peace. And they were unsuccessful. So he felt the country was just getting too lax. And the only way to bring it back together was, as you say, sadly, by force. And he would do what was necessary. And he never regretted it.
INTERVIEWER: It's odd because I guess, what? 12 years earlier? 13 years earlier? There had been demonstrations in Tienanmen Square for him. And yet, I guess, he didn't see the irony.
EZRA VOGEL: You read the book carefully, and you're exactly right. He understood the difference. And it wasn't that he believed that all demonstrations are bad, or that all democracy was bad. Some Westerners thought Deng was against all democracy, but not so. In 1978 he allowed students to write on the wall, what was known as Democracy Wall. And it took about three months before he decided it was getting out of hand, and he had to clamp down. And the same way in 1986, and the same way in '89. He didn't reflexively stop every demonstration. But when he felt it was getting out a hand and he needed to use force, he was always ready.
INTERVIEWER: One of the things that I'd forgotten about this time, which you reminded me about in the book, was the Tienanmen happened, in part-- I mean, the gathering of the students in the first place-- because Mikhail Gorbachev was there. He had come to visit to sign a friendship treaty, I guess, with China.
EZRA VOGEL: Right.
INTERVIEWER: And Deng Xiaoping didn't want having happen to him what was about to happen to Gorbachev.
EZRA VOGEL: Exactly. Exactly.
INTERVIEWER: And did he respect Gorbachev?
EZRA VOGEL: He regarded Gorbachev as a young man who was trying to move things ahead. But his son once told a foreigner that my father thought Gorbachev was stupid because he was trying to have political economic reform at the same time. And if you had economic reform, you had to have a strong political structure to make it happen. And so he thought that Gorbachev was trying to deal with the problems of the Soviet Union, but he made a serious mistake in allowing things to get out of hand.
INTERVIEWER: In looking at the research material that you encountered to write this book-- and I understand that Deng kept it all up here. He didn't leave notes.
EZRA VOGEL: Right. He left no notes.
INTERVIEWER: Did you ever find anything that would lead you to believe that this man, who I guess was 84 years old at the time when he ordered Tienanmen Square cleared out, that he had any regrets about the fact that he had, who knows how many-- maybe 5,000 people put to death with automatic machine guns in public?
EZRA VOGEL: Oh, it wasn't 5,000.
INTERVIEWER: How many was it?
EZRA VOGEL: The best estimate is by a Canadian scholar Tim Brooke were 700 and 800. He was there, went to the hospitals, took the data.
INTERVIEWER: Maybe 5,000 including injured?
EZRA VOGEL: Oh yes. There were 5,000 casualties.
EZRA VOGEL: But some 700 to 800 died. Deng had fought for 12 years-- first against the Japanese and against the [INAUDIBLE]. He had seen people killed in land reform, in the anti-rightist campaign. He felt that, as Mao said, the revolution is not a dinner party. To get established power, you do what's necessary. And Deng was far more willing to have the voice of democracy than Mao was. But, in the end, if he felt the country were falling apart-- he had experienced lots of battles and lots of deaths. And it was a lot more important to him to keep 1.3 billion people under some kind of stable order than it was to protect the lives of the 500 protesters, 800 protesters.
INTERVIEWER: That actually leads nicely to the next quote I was going to take from the book here. Which of the following: "When many Chinese people compare Deng's response to the Beijing student uprising with those of Gorbachev and his Eastern European counterparts to their own versions of the Beijing Spring, they believe the Chinese people and the Chinese nation today are far better off. They are convinced given its early stage of development, China could not have stayed together had the leadership allowed the intellectuals the freedom of thought. They believe even greater tragedies would have befallen China had Deng failed to bring an end to the two months of chaos in June 1989. You've looked at it. Are they right?
EZRA VOGEL: I think that there are a lot of students who believe that. And if I had to come down, I would guess yes. There's no way to prove one way or the other counter-factual, something didn't happen. Many of my Chinese friends that I respect thought if he had been moved more to democracy before Tienanmen would have never happened, and China would be far better. That's possible. I don't really know. I mean, I try to tell what happened and why it happened. Try to tell what he thought. But the ultimate judgment of could he have done it another way to have it work? History just doesn't answer that. And any scholar who seriously tries to understand can't leap and suddenly say one of the other. We just don't have that data.
INTERVIEWER: Well, fair enough. But the sprite inside you must occasionally ask yourself, what if he'd listen to his number two instead of ostracized him, and what if he'd allowed a liberalization, and what if he'd allow this? Would it have been so bad for him to go out and speak to the students? How might history have been different?
EZRA VOGEL: It's possible if he had gone out and talked to the students in May or June that they would have quieted down. But he was already, at that time, as you say, 84 years old. He didn't get out much. And he was determined to be fairly tough with the students. He thought that the students had benefited from the measures that he had brought about, and he had worked so hard to bring about. And now they were complaining and trying to overthrow the kind of structure that had brought all the changes to China. So I think he was really angry with the students at that point.
INTERVIEWER: In the long run, did China's relations with the rest of the world suffer all that much because of the Tienanmen Massacre?
EZRA VOGEL: For several years it suffered. There were a lot of sanctions. China was not involved in a lot of international affairs. And some of the sanctions for the sale of military weapons are still in existence even today. But as Deng said at the time, Westerners have a short memory. Businessman will want to be in the China market. And before long, we can resume contacts. We should not only stay open, we should open wider. And some people in China said, you know the foreigners are a threat. We have to stay clear of them. And they're the ones supporting the students who caused all the trouble. Deng said, no. We have to be open even wider to the outside world.
INTERVIEWER: It's odd because he didn't suffer from the xenophobia that many of his colleagues would have suffered from.
EZRA VOGEL: He certainly did not.
INTERVIEWER: Maybe because he was in France so really?
EZRA VOGEL: I think that the French five years had a lot to do with it. He understood the outside world. And he understood that countries that did well in the contemporary era were those that were linked to the world economy. And he was prepared to endure a few more years of difficulty, as China done in the 50s and 60s when it was closed, but in the long run, he wanted it wide open.
INTERVIEWER: The China that we see today, how closely do you think it mirrors what he had in mind?
EZRA VOGEL: I think it's very close to what he had in mind. I think if Deng, who died in 1997, were back today, 15, 16 years later, he'd be very pleased that more Chinese were now able to afford a comfortable way of life. And he would be proud that China is now a stronger and respected and listened to in world affairs. I think he would be strong against corruption. He would feel that his followers have not done enough to tighten up on corruption. I think he would still feel that they could begin to experiment with democracy, when the time came. And I think that, as a whole though, he would feel that the leaders are just a little too cautious. He was a broad revolutionary willing to make big stances. His followers who grew up in the system by being nice people and getting along with everybody else were not bold enough in tackling the problems that China faces.
INTERVIEWER: And unlike Mao, he didn't feel the need to kill millions of his fellow citizens to make it happen.
EZRA VOGEL: That's right. And he believed that China should be a peaceful country in the world. The Soviets made a big mistake by having too many enemies, putting all of the money in the military, which wasted the country and led to the ruin. He wanted China not to spend so much on the military, to keep good relations with the countries, and put the resources in the domestic economy. And that's what he believed should happen.
INTERVIEWER: A couple of minutes left. I want to touch on two more things. He dealt with a number of American presidents. Who do you think was his favorite?
EZRA VOGEL: That's hard to say, but I wouldn't be surprised it was Bush Sr. Because he had known Bush Sr. In 1975 when he, under Mao, was in charge of running China, basically. And Bush was in charge of the liaison office in Beijing and therefore saw them very often. Surprisingly enough, he probably liked Nixon because Nixon was a grand strategist. He didn't meet him in 1972 because he was [INAUDIBLE] at that time. When he met Nixon at the White House, and he met him when Nixon and later came China after that. And he also got along with Reagan. He and Jimmy Carter hit it off very well. Tip O'Neill and he hit it off. It's surprising the range of American political leaders-- he got along with all of them.
INTERVIEWER: And just finally, as a person-- he's not a person who managed to avoid personal tragedy, right? A first wife who died and a child who was--
EZRA VOGEL: Died seven several days later, yes.
INTERVIEWER: Yeah. And another son who was handicapped I think from having been--
EZRA VOGEL: In the Cultural Revolution, he was pursued by Red Guards. And there's a question whether he was pushed or jumped out the window. I think the evidence is that he was jumped out of the window.
INTERVIEWER: Do you have any sense of how all of those personal tragedies might have affected the man he became?
EZRA VOGEL: I think he was steeled by the time he came to office. Particularly 12 years in war time fighting-- I think this is one very tough person who was just determined to think of the big picture and to look at things and not to be frightened. And I think that he was there for a very bold and doing what he thought was good for the country.
INTERVIEWER: Professor Vogel there aren't many people who can say I beat Henry Kissinger at something. But you beat Henry Kissinger for your book on China against his book on China for the Lionel Gilbert prize, for which we congratulate you.
EZRA VOGEL: Thank you.
INTERVIEWER: Ezra Vogel. Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China.
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