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After Chairman Mao and Zhou Enlai, Deng Xiaoping was the main leader of the Communist Party of China (CPC), who achieved economic prosperity in the People's Republic of China (PRC). He played an important role after the death of Chairman Mao in 1976. Deng gradually rose to power and made China a world economic power by leaps and bounds through far-reaching economic reforms. That is why Deng Xiaoping is considered the "architect of modern China."

Born in the province of Sichuan in the Qing Dynasty, Deng studied and worked in France in the 1920s, where he became a follower of Marxism-Leninism and joined the CPC in 1924.

In early 1926, Deng travelled to Moscow to study Communist doctrines and became a political commissar for the Red Army upon returning to China. In late 1929, Deng led local Red Army uprisings in Guangxi province.

Deng played an important role in the Long March (1934–1935), the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945) and the Chinese Civil War (1945–1949). Following the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) on 1 October 1949, Deng worked in Tibet as well as in southwest China as the regional party chief to consolidate CPC control until 1952, when he returned to Beijing to serve in the central government.

Following Mao's death, Hua Guofeng succeeded him but soon Deng became the de facto leader of China in December 1978 at the 3rd Plenary Session of the 11th Central Committee.

Amidst institutional disorder resulting from the chaotic political movements of the Mao era, Deng started the Boluan Fanzheng Socialist Modernization Construction program which gradually brought the country back to order.

From 1977 to early 1979, he resumed the National College Entrance Examination that had been interrupted by the Cultural Revolution for ten years, initiated the Reform and Opening-up of China and designated Special Economic Zones including Shenzhen.

On 1 January 1979, the PRC established diplomatic relations with the United States, and Deng became the first Chinese paramount leader to visit the U.S.

In August 1980, Deng embarked on a series of political reforms by setting constitutional term limits for state officials and other systematic revisions, which were incorporated in China’s third Constitution (1982).

In the 1980s, Deng supported the one-child policy to cope with China's overpopulation crisis, helped establish China's nine-year compulsory education, and launched the 863 Program for science and technology. Deng also proposed the One Country, Two Systems principle for the governance of Hong Kong and Macau, as well as the future unification with Taiwan.

The 863 program, named after the date it was set up: March 1986 or State High-Tech Development Plan was a programme funded and administered by the government of the PRC, intended to stimulate the development of advanced technologies in a wide range of fields for the purpose of rendering China independent of financial obligations for foreign technologies.

The reforms carried out by Deng and his allies gradually led China away from a planned economy and Maoist ideologies, opened it up to foreign investment and technology, and introduced its vast labour force to the global market, turning China into one of world's fastest-growing economies. He was eventually characterized as the "architect" of a new brand of thinking combining socialist ideology with free enterprise, dubbed "socialism with Chinese characteristics" (now known as Deng Xiaoping Theory).

Despite never holding office as either the PRC's head of state or head of government, or as the head of CPC, Deng is generally viewed as the "core" of the CPC’s second-generation leadership, a status enshrined within the party’s constitution. Deng was named the Time Person of the Year for 1978 and 1985.

Deng's “Four Modernizations — Economy, Agriculture, Science and Defense” have received prominence. He quoted the old proverb "it doesn't matter whether a cat is black or white, if it catches mice it is a good cat."

The point was that capitalistic methods worked too.

In 1981, Deng assumed the post of chairman of the Central Military Commission. Under his command, an actual border war ensued with Vietnam in 1977–79, which puzzled outside observers, but Deng had multiple goals: Stopping Soviet expansion in the region, obtaining U.S. support for his four modernizations, and Mobilizing China for reform and integration into the world economy.

Deng also sought to strengthen his control of the PLA, and demonstrate to the world that China was capable of fighting a real war. It also gave him the opportunity to initiate the modernization of the PLA and enable China to develop an advanced civilian scientific infrastructure before it could hope to build modern weapons.

Therefore, he concentrated on downsizing the Army, cutting 1 million troops in 1985, retiring the elderly and corrupt senior officers and their cronies. He emphasised the recruitment of much better educated young men who would be able to handle the advanced technology when it finally arrived.

Instead of patronage and corruption in the officer corps, he imposed strict discipline in all ranks. In 1982 he established a new Commission for Science, Technology, and Industry for National Defense to plan for using technology developed in the civilian sector.

From 1980 onwards, Deng led the expansion of the economy, and in political terms took over negotiations with the United Kingdom to return the territory of Hong Kong, meeting personally with then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

Thatcher had participated in the meetings with the hopes of keeping British rule over Hong Kong Island and Kowloon—two of the three constituent territories of the colony—but this was firmly rejected by Deng. The result of these negotiations was the Sino-British Joint Declaration, signed on 19 December 1984, which formally outlined the United Kingdom's return of the whole Hong Kong colony to China by 1997.

Under pressure from China, Portugal agreed in 1987 to the return of Macau by 1999, with an agreement roughly equal to that of Hong Kong. The return of these two territories was based on a political principle formulated by Deng himself called "one country, two systems", which refers to the co-existence under one political authority of areas with different economic systems of communism and capitalism.

Officially, Deng decided to retire from top positions when he stepped down as Chairman of the Central Military Commission in November 1989 and his successor Jiang Zemin became the new Chairman of Central Military Commission.

China, however, was still in the era of Deng Xiaoping. He continued to be widely regarded as the "paramount leader" of the country, believed to have backroom control, and appointed Hu Jintao as Jiang's successor on 14th Party Congress in 1992. Deng was recognized officially as "the chief architect of China's economic reforms and China's socialist modernization".

To the Communist Party, he was believed to have set a good example for communist cadres who refused to retire at old age. He broke earlier conventions of holding offices for life, a tradition that would remain until 2018 with Xi Jinping’s elimination of term limits. He was often referred to as simply Comrade Xiaoping, with no title attached.

Because of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, Deng's power had been significantly weakened and there was a growing formalist faction opposed to Deng's reforms within the Communist Party. To reassert his economic agenda, in the spring of 1992, Deng made his famous southern tour of China, visiting Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Zhuhai and spending the New Year in Shanghai, using his travels as a method of reasserting his economic policy after his retirement from office. The 1992 Southern Tour is widely regarded as a critical point in the modern history of China, as it saved the Chinese economic reform and preserved the stability of the society.

Deng died on 19 February 1997, aged 92 from a lung infection and Parkinson’s disease. The public was largely prepared for Deng's death, as rumours had been circulating for a long time that his health was deteriorating.

At 10:00 on the morning of 24 February, people were asked by Premier Li Peng to pause in silence for three minutes. The nation's flags flew at half-mast for over a week. The nationally televised funeral, which was a simple and relatively private affair attended by the country's leaders and Deng's family, was broadcast on all cable channels.

After the funeral, his organs were donated to medical research, remains were cremated, and his ashes were subsequently scattered at sea, according to his wishes.

There was a significant amount of international reaction to Deng's death: UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Deng was to be remembered "in the international community at large as a primary architect of China's modernization and dramatic economic development".

French President Jacques Chirac said, "In the course of this century, few men have, as much as Deng, led a vast human community through such profound and determining changes"; British Prime Minister John Major commented about Deng's key role in the return of Hong Kong to Chinese control; Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien called Deng a "pivotal figure" in Chinese history.

The article does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Business Recorder or its owners

S. M. Hali

The writer is a retired Group Captain of PAF, and now a security analyst

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