Chinese Language Blog

Mr. Hu Goes to Washington, pt. 2: Deng Xiao Ping’s Legacy Posted by on Jan 7, 2011 in Uncategorized


Now that we’ve gone over Nixon’s visit to Beijing, lets fast forward through history to the late 1970s and focus upon Deng Xiao Ping’s or 邓小平 (dèng xiǎo píng) visit to the United States. In what has been dubbed “ping-pong diplomacy” (due to the back and forth nature of travel),  the lessons learned are simple: make a monumental gesture and establish relations or 关系 (guān ) so that a foundation of trust emerges.

Following Nixon’s visit to Beijing, Deng Xiao Ping gained influence and ascended into the highest echelons of the CPC. Like Nixon, Deng held a a similar viewpoint of opening China to the rest of the world, due mostly through vast changes in the Chinese economic system. Deng, while probably one of the most important leaders and figures in modern Chinese politics and development, always seems to fly under the radar in the mainland. When I talk to regular citizens, it’s always about Mao and his great reforms, not the man who brought capitalism, market liberalization and consumerism to China. Sometimes I point out all the awesome new gadgets, technologies and goods Chinese people have today and say that Deng is responsible, but that is almost always greeted with a shrug (not like China is really about giving due credit where it is deserved…intellectual property rights?).

What Deng Did (改革开放)

Deng opened China to foreign investment, the global market, and limited private competition. He was generally credited with developing China into one of the fastest growing economies in the world for over thirty years and raising the standard of living of hundreds of millions of Chinese. His policy, known as the “Open Door Policy” or 改革开放 (gǎigé kāifàng) was predicated on this notion.

Deng, ever the pragmatist, saw Maoist era economic reforms as failures, and instead sought to open the Chinese economy to the rest of the world. The goals of Deng’s reforms were summed up by the Four Modernizations, those of agriculture, industry, science and technology and the military. So praise be to Deng Xiao Ping and his market revolution!

Returning the Favor

Deng, realizing that his Open Door Policy required improvement of diplomatic relations with foreign nations, set out to “visit old friends” from the Nixon administration, essentially returning the favor made by Richard Nixon’s 1972 visit. Following Deng’s ascension to power in 1977, the Carter Administration sent an envoy to Beijing again (including Mr. Brzezinski) to pick up where Nixon left off. It was only a matter of time before the Chinese leadership would take the trip across the Pacific and have their hospitality repaid.

Two years later, (then) Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping paid an official good-will visit to the United States at the invitation of President Carter from 29 January to 4 February 1979 for the purpose of enhancing mutual understanding between the two countries and promoting the development of their relations. Like Nixon’s visit to China, Deng’s visit to Washington was hugely symbolic as this was the first visit by a Chinese leader to the United States after the founding of the People’s Republic of China. By Jan 1, 1979 Beijing and Washington had officially established diplomatic relations, ending 30 years of recognition of Chiang Kai-shek’s government in Taipei.

US-Sino relations were born, setting the stage for future diplomatic interaction…not to mention President Hu Jintao’s upcoming visit January 19, 2011.

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About the Author: Stephen

Writer and blogger for all things China related. Follow me on twitter: @seeitbelieveit -- My Background: Fluent Mandarin speaker with 3+ years working, living, studying and teaching throughout the mainland. Student of Kung Fu and avid photographer and documentarian.

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