Deng Xiaoping: A great legacy posing a great dilemma for China

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China celebrates with honours the 110th anniversary of the birth of their admired reformist leader Deng Xiaoping. The Chinese Communist Party does not want to miss the public appeal the landmark date. And its new president Xi Jinping strives to quote as often as he cans the worshiped philosophy of progress from the great mentor Deng:  “A path, a system and theories” that are unique to China and which are intended to strengthen Socialism with Chinese characteristics. And so, Xi is devoted to China’s great mission.

According to Ezra F. Vogel, author of Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China, the bold leader Deng is definitely Xi’s model. However the circumstances nowadays have changed.

“Deng created a new structure. A new way of internationalization and opening up the markets and many of these things cannot be done today. But he still will try to be a bold leader like Deng Xiaoping,” adds Vogel.

While the Southern city of Shenzhen celebrates a solemn ceremony to praise Mr Deng’s legacy, further North in the arid province of Inner Mongolia, Zhang Shu Meishou is facing a family drama that contradicts the spirit of self-assertion and self-subsistence typical of the great opening-up orchestrated by Mr Deng. Mrs Zhang is left helpless by a system that successfully achieved rampant economic growth.  She doesn’t speak about politics or those economic theories that fill the speeches from the leadership. As an ordinary citizen belonging to the lower middle class, her only tool for progress is following her survival instinct. 

Mrs Zhang has been living in Beijing for years, but she is not entitled to any social benefits in the capital because she comes from another province. Now, eight months pregnant of her second child, she has to leave her job and return to her native Inner Mongolia to give birth. When she recovers, she will leave her new-born baby at the care of her elderly and sick mother and she will return to the city. In Beijing she works all day and can’t afford a babysitter. Nor have any maternity leave or reduced working hours during the breastfeeding months.

The lack of a welfare state and social safety net equally available to the overall population poses a great question to Deng’s visionary theories.

China’s economy has grown into the world’s second largest. And it is expected to become the first economic power, ahead of the United States, in the coming months. But economic growth masked the urgent need of addressing the structural problems created by a political system that no longer fits into a modernized society. Apparently Mrs Zhang is living the Chinese dream. She works in Beijing and uses a smartphone. Her husband owns a car, she was able to provide an education to her daughter and she even has some little whims (as many as she can afford). But what Mrs Zhang doesn’t have are options. And therefore she has no choice but to drop everything and return to her hometown to give birth.

The Communist Party is aware of the fact that changes are needed in order to allow the population to become the new engine growth. In fact, Mr Xi publicly announced its commitment to act in this direction in several of his speeches. The problem is that three decades after Deng launched his experimental plan of economic reforms, Xi is nowadays facing the exact same challenges (and pressures) than his revered comrade. Moreover, Mr Xi’s political survival depends on his ability to earn the trust of the masses and offer them real options for progress. And he will need to find a way to do so without tamping the juicy privileges of all those wealthy entrepreneurs that benefited from Deng’s capitalist reforms.

According to Vogel, Mr Xi wants to be a strong leader and make clear that he is in charge.

“Deng believed that internal unity was the most important thing. And Xi believes in the exact same thing. But he has to deal with much higher levels of corruption than Deng did”, he adds.

Mr Xi is at the crossroads: he has to maintain the country’s internal unity and at the same time he must empower the people to ensure China’s future progress and allow the country to be globally competitive.


About the Author

The Corner
The Corner has a team of on-the-ground reporters in capital cities ranging from New York to Beijing. Their stories are edited by the teams at the Spanish magazine Consejeros (for members of companies’ boards of directors) and at the stock market news site Consenso Del Mercado (market consensus). They have worked in economics and communication for over 25 years.

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