The notion that Deng Xiaoping had kept the PRC afloat both in Mao Zedong’s collapsing economy and away from the former Soviet Union’s suicidal “path to freedom” enjoys some popularity today. “To date, no socialist country had successfully—and without serious disruptions—made the shift from a planned economy to a sustained open, market-based economy,” writes Ezra F. Vogel. This essay reviews Vogel’s book, entitled Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China. The essay has two tasks. The first is to look at how Vogel’s narrative identifies China’s recent “transformation” into a global economic power with Deng’s “socialism with Chinese characteristics.” Specifically, it lays out how Vogel celebrates Deng’s role as “the general manager” of China’s post-1978 “opening” and in so doing defines the temporal relation between China’s modernity and global capitalist modernity. The second task of this essay is to place Vogel’s interpretation of China against the ideological hegemony of global capitalism. Vogel enjoys marked success in spinning a legend out of China’s experience of “transformation” because, importantly, he contributes to the discourse of global capitalism. In Vogel’s legend, Deng appears as the corrector of Mao, who set China on the road to recovery and “rise.” What is missing in this legend are the legacy of China’s revolutionary past and the darker sides of Deng’s career, most notably June 4. In evaluating Deng’s historical place, Vogel ensures that people “concerned about human life and the pursuit of liberty” “know” about Deng’s contribution to China’s “spectacular” economic growth.
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Ruth Y. Y. Hung; How Global Capitalism Transforms Deng Xiaoping. boundary 2 1 May 2014; 41 (2): 165–196. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/01903659-2686133
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