Professor Vogel on Deng Xiaoping
Deng Xiaoping is a major figure in China's past and Professor Ezra Vogel has been focusing on his life, writes Ysabelle Cheung
World renowned scholar and sociologist Professor Ezra F Vogel has touched down in Hong Kong to discuss the controversial material in his latest book Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China. Print and online publications have been rife with criticism (mostly from Beijing reporters) and praise alike for the comprehensive tome, a result of 10 years of extensive research. Vogel spoke to academics and book lovers at the Chinese University of Hong Kong in Sha Tin on January 18.
Historians have debated the division of topical content in the novel, some arguing that the Tiananmen Square incident and Deng’s iron-fisted rule were not highlighted enough in comparison to other subjects. However, throwing these much-publicised events into relief, the Professor argues, doesn’t give readers an informative view of what really happened. “I mentioned all of those things in my book,” says the Professor, diplomatically, “But to only feature those things would not be giving the full picture. There was a lot more disorder than people realise.”
Professor Vogel’s post-retirement (he taught at his alma mater, Harvard University) plan was to raise socially important topics about Asia and to dispel any gross generalisations that the West may still have about the East. Solipsist, totalitarian, megalomaniac – these and many more words have been used to describe Deng Xiaoping but the book aims to explore his first title, ‘leader’, and to show exactly how and why Deng transformed China from a vast land of rural disarray to one of the forerunners in the economic and social market in the 21st century.
“Nobody else could do it,” says Professor Vogel. “He felt very strongly that in order for China to develop economically, you had to have good international relationships. China succeeded because of this policy.” However, the Professor concludes that he’s not exactly apologising for Deng’s actions, but rather giving an unbiased, fact-by-fact review of Deng’s life.