[Viewpoint] Exorcising the Tiananmen butcher

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[Viewpoint] Exorcising the Tiananmen butcher

In November 1949, the Communist Party of China conducted its final attack on the Guomindang, or the Nationalist People’s Party, which was cornered in Chongqing. Deng Xiaoping was the main military figure who attacked Chiang Kai-shek’s army.

Mao Zedong and Deng disagreed on how to attack the Guomindang, which was about to collapse. Deng sent a telegraph to Mao, asking him to order an all-out attack.

However, Mao sent a reply that read, “Let’s wait,” an unexpected answer indeed. But Deng did what he believed was right and set out on his own.

This story is in the book “Deng: A Political Biography” by Benjamin Yang, an author who earned international recognition for this work. The book compiles and analyzes detailed information and shows the aspects of Deng that were different from Mao.

Mao wanted to wait, absorb the Guomindang gradually and achieve full unification of the country, instead of hurriedly attacking it. Meanwhile, Deng was more concerned with short-term goals. Judging from the results, Mao had the longer perspective because the final attack led the Guomindang to flee to Taiwan, separating the country.

To ordinary Chinese people, both Mao and Deng are great politicians. But when comparing the two persons’ judgments on the battlefield in 1949, the two have different characteristics. Mao had great imagination as a strategist, while Deng was quick to discern the targets in his sights.

Today is the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre. In 1989, the tragedy produced countless victims, and heated debate still continues in China about who gave the final order to fire. But these days, people are saying that the 1989 protests must be evaluated from a different perspective.

The memoir of Zhao Ziyang, the general secretary of the Communist Party when the Tiananmen Square protests occurred who was then kicked out by Deng, is the catalyst for this new tone. Zhao respected the student protestors who gathered in Tiananmen Square, while Deng defined them as a mob and led a violent crackdown on the protestors.

Hu Yaobang also served as the general secretary of the Communist Party until the mid-1980s, before being fired by Deng. Both Zhao and Hu paid attention to political democratization. Student protestors, the main force of the Tiananmen Square demonstrations, also demanded political reform in order to narrow the gap between the rich and the poor. Since the country carried out reform and opened its doors in 1978, it had experienced unbalanced growth, and corruption had become commonplace, making the rich richer and the poor even poorer.

Deng prioritized economic growth, while Hu and Zhao pursued political development as well as economic growth. Amid such differences in opinions and views, the Tiananmen Square Massacre broke out, and it ended in tragedy because of the decision of Deng, who focused on economic growth only.

A person who is straightforward and bold, like Deng, the man who pushed in against the Guomindang in 1949, is ji gong jin li in Chinese. This expression describes those people who work hard to achieve the goals in front of them and have very pragmatic views. Deng’s realistic and pragmatic reign has led to China’s rise, which stunned the entire world.

However, the bright light casts a deep shadow as well. Senior members of various ranks in the political party and the government are corrupt, the gap between the haves and the have-nots is tremendous, and protests demanding improvements in people’s lives take place frequently. As China grows on the surface, a variety of problems have followed.

Now some have started to question Deng’s model, even though it led to glamorous growth after the country conducted reform and opened its doors. This is the atmosphere among Chinese intellectuals. Developing politics and the economy at the same time may be an ideal for developing countries. But unbalanced growth that focuses on either of them exclusively always leads to many problems.

Deng’s economic growth-oriented model has been established so firmly that achieving political development in China seems nearly impossible. It draws attention to the dilemma China’s leadership faces: how to overcome the problems of Deng’s legacy.


*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.


by Yoo Kwang-jong

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