Saturday, July 4, 2015

Deng Xiaoping - pretty decent for a nearly all powerful authoritarian

Deng Xiaoping is in Britannica under "De", but there is no comma after the "Deng" despite the fact that Deng is his last name. Normally, Britannica lists biographical articles by last name first like "Smith, Bob". So in this case it could have been "Deng, Xiaoping". However, because Chinese folks actually say their family names first, Britannica doesn't put the comma in. It's just "Deng Xiaoping". At first I thought this was inconsistent, but I've come to think that it probably makes sense. The comma only gets inserted when order is changed, not to separate the name.

Deng lived 1904-1997. He was a Chinese communist leader who was the most powerful figure in China from the late 1970's to 1997. He was primarily responsible for the shift to a capitalist society and for stabilizing the nation after the excesses of the Cultural Revolution. He abolished the class background system and the commune system. In 1961 he pronounced "it doesn't matter whether a cat is black or white, if it catches mice it is a good cat".

It's not all good though. He supported military suppression in Tiananmen Square. Britannica indicates that he was at first reluctant, but the wikipedia article doesn't make it sound that way. After those 1989 protests an 18 month purge was undertaken to remove sympathizers. Deng later told the Canadian Prime Minster Pierre Trudeau that the protesters could have seized weapons and that the country had risked civil war. That is kind of a weak justification though. The protests could have been quelled without killing so many people.

Still, two years later Deng endorsed Zhu Rongji as a vice-premier candidate. Zhu had refused to declare martial law in Shanghai during the demonstrations despite pressure from socialist hardliners.

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