I have always been fascinated with anything related to Deng Xiaoping. It is thus not surprising that an article from the Journal of Contemporary China caught my attention a few days ago.
In the scope of a few pages, the late Ezra Vogel compares the stewardship of Deng to the one of the current leader of China, Xi Jinping. The Harvard University academic, who passed away a few days before last Christmas, was also the acclaimed biographer of Deng, who was at the helm of the People’s Republic of China between 1978 and 1989.
Xiaoping, in the author’s words, established “[…] the foundations for the most successful four decades in China’s history”. He rose to power at the age of 74, cumulating decades of experience, notably collaborating with Zhou Enlai and 13 years spent in the inner sanctum of power. This enviable track record prepared him well for supreme responsibility. Well versed in the discipline of power and most probably surrounded by people who were well acquainted with his methods and thinking, Deng could afford to be a macro-manager. To that end, the following anecdote told by Ezra Vogel is illuminating:
“Every morning around 9 o’clock he began reading the newspapers and the reports from various departments. He then took a vigorous morning walk. He sometimes saw people in the afternoon for brief meetings and worked through his secretary Wang Ruilin. He spent a few hours each day relaxing.”
On his part, Xi Jinping obviously doesn’t have that luxury. His track record is not the same as his predecessor’s and he reached power at the much younger age of 59 years old, which means that his experience was 15 years short of Deng’s – an eternity in politics. In his case, being a micro-manager goes with the territory.
This being said, Ezra Vogel considers Xi a stronger leader than Deng in three regards: 1) he leads a more powerful country that can stand stronger in front of other countries; 2) he is more personally involved in the daily operations of governance; and 3) he is more invested in the management of local areas. To that end, the campaign to fight corruption notably permits Xi to thwart potential rivals.
This short article (too short to my taste) is a very insightful look at the governance of China in an historical perspective – with a keen sense for the pertinent anecdote about the workings of power. If one seeks to compare the current President of China with one of his predecessors, one must inevitably take into consideration the context of their reigns. For my part, I would be extremely curious to read more about the comparison between Deng and Xi and the influence of the former on the latter.