This is graham earnshaw in Peking. right now, every person in China who can read is supposed to be busily perusing the country’s latest best seller, the selected works of chairman deng xiaoping.
deng has been China’s paramount leader for nearly five years, but this is the first time he has been treated as a political superstar by the propoganda machine.
of course, deng’s personality campaign does not match the one which 15 years ago made the late chairman mao tsetung into a god-like figure. but when you see copies of deng’s little cream- coloured book in the shops, you immediately think of another book — the little red book of chairman mao’s thoughts.
deng is now 78, and he clearly wants to leave behind an ideological legacy in book form that his followers can turn to for reference in times of uncertainty.
But the book is strangely out of character in some ways. deng has been the real power in China since late 1978 and until now, he has always managed to resist the temptation to use that power to satisfy his own ego. he has turned down the jobs of communist party chairman, and state president, and has installed proteges in these and other key posts. but now, he has become the only Chinese leader apart from mao to have his works published in his lifetime.
But deng’s thoughts are different from mao’s thoughts. for a start, they’re not as snappy. mao’s book had some great catchy lines in it such as “political power grows from the barrel of a gun”, and “making revolution is not a dinner party.” there’s nothing like that in deng’s book.
In fact, deng has published his selected works now for a very particularly reason, that is to put more pressure on the unrepetent maoists in the army, the main source of opposition to his rule.
The very first article in the book is very pointedly entitled the army has to be re-organised. but the key article in the book is one criticising something called the “two whatevers”, a communist Chinese codephrase for complete, slavish obedience to every decision and instruction ever issued by chairman mao. it is a direct slap at hua guofeng, the former communist party chief who deng managed to toppled from power in 1981.
as usual, the communist party press has rather overdone the propaganda on deng’s works. The official new China news agency carried a report quoting various ordinary people what they thought of the book. but instead of saying normal, believable things, the agency had a Shanghai shipyard worker saying: “this book will help me understand the line, principles and policies of the party since late 1978.” another avid reader of deng’s works, described as a “disabled shoe repairer”, said “deng’s xiaoping’s works express the will of the party, the army and the people.”
That’s not bad for a disabled shoe repairer. that is, assuming he wasn’t just reading from a a script. for Sunday Morning, this is Graham Earnshaw in Peking.