The China Code pp 124-172 | Cite as

Reform Roulette

  • Frank Sieren


Deng Xiaoping always wore a Mao suit but was not a Maoist. In this uniform he demonstrated continuity and managed to organise himself to manoeuvre so that he could be different from his predecessor, fighting companion and adversary. Mao unified China and exercised authority over his people — and he did both with the same reckless abandon. Deng on the other hand set free the business savvy of the Chinese, although he did keep a tight reign on it in times of political necessity. Mao placed his bet on the power of the group. Deng placed his on the economic obstinacy of the individual. Mao strived for autocracy. Deng searched for the protection of collective leadership. Mao was self-righteous, Deng self-critical. Mao raised himself above the law and ruled as an arbitrary tyrannical reformer according to the motto, ‘my wish will become a reality’. He could afford to do this as he was a cult figure, was idolised by the people and was painted by the pop art artist Andy Warhol. Deng on the other hand was only admired, sometimes even hated, and it was only 25 years after he had opened China to the modern world that he was able to oust Mao as one of Chinese public’s greatest idols. All his life Deng exhibited his down to earth nature and so even in the presence of photographers he spat like a farmer and chain-smoked — pictures which never existed of the mystically transfigured Mao.


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© Frank Sieren 2007

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  • Frank Sieren

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