CNN logo


Main banner

Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping dies

Led economic reform; cracked down on political dissent

February 19, 1997
Web posted at: 5:24 p.m. EDT (1724 GMT)

BEIJING (CNN) -- Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, who opened China's economy to the world while maintaining strict ideological control, died Wednesday at age 92.

China's state-run Xinhua News Agency said Deng died from complications from Parkinson's disease and a lung infection.

Deng was the great reformer, the man who first initiated the process of change that swept the communist world. But, even when challenged in the streets, Deng never abandoned his commitment to Communist Party rule in China.

icon Chinese Central Television (English version)
Official announcement on Deng's death
405K/37 sec. AIFF or WAV sound
icon CNN's Rebecca MacKinnon:
Initial report on Deng's death
256K/23 sec. AIFF or WAV sound
icon CNN's Rebecca MacKinnon:
"Streets are very quiet," report from Beijing at 1845 GMT
416K/36 sec. AIFF or WAV sound
icon Wolf Blitzer on U.S.-China relations
288K/23 sec. AIFF or WAV sound

Deng joined the Chinese Communist Party when he was 20, and rose to prominence with the triumph of Chairman Mao Tse- tung's revolution. But Deng's pragmatism brought him into repeated conflict with Party ideologues. Twice he was purged from the ruling hierarchy, twice he was rehabilitated.

Finally, following Mao's death in 1976, Deng emerged as China's paramount leader, and set the People's Republic on a course of reform and liberalization that would change the face of China and the world.


His goal was a wealthy, modern, powerful China -- one worthy of international respect. His method was the open door, establishing ties with the United States and other Western nations, encouraging international investment, private enterprise, family farming, and other aspects of a market economy.

For Deng -- who never officially took the posts of Communist Party chief or head of government -- the guiding principle was pragmatism. "It doesn't matter if a cat is black or white," he was fond of saying, "as long as it catches mice." The results were immediate and impressive. The standard of living in China shot up. Freed from the shackles of Maoism, the people rediscovered style, music, romance, fun, and hope.

But liberalization also led to economic dislocation and to outbursts of public discontent -- tensions which finally exploded on the streets of Beijing in the spring of 1989.


It was the most serious challenge to Communist rule since the revolution. But it was crushed, at a cost of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of lives, on the orders of Deng. Tiananmen Square became a vivid symbol of Chinese leaders' fierce opposition to democracy.

But despite his opposition to political liberalization, Deng never abandoned his vision of economic reform. Following the collapse of Soviet communism, Deng concluded that the best hope of keeping the Chinese Communist Party in power -- and avoiding another Tiananmen -- was to deliver the economic goods to the people.

And so, in 1992, after a year out of public view, Deng emerged from retirement and launched a campaign for more and faster capitalist-style reform.


The country responded with a boom that gave China the highest economic growth rate in the world and left the Communist Party in power but increasingly irrelevant to the daily lives of the people, who became more interested in making money than making revolution.

And so -- despite his role in the bloodshed in Tiananmen Square -- in trying to preserve the revolution he served for so long, Deng set in motion the forces which may have begun to turn China away from the path of communism.

In recent years, Deng has been increasingly in the shadows, as his health failed. But Chinese officials rallied to give the appearance that he was still in command of the most populous country in the world.

Correspondent Mike Chinoy contributed to this report.


Related stories:

Related sites:

Related newsgroups:

Some newsgroups may not be supported by your service provider.

External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.

What You Think Tell us what you think!

You said it...

To the top

© 1997 Cable News Network, Inc.
All Rights Reserved.

Terms under which this service is provided to you.