Deng Revisionism and Sino-US Relations

Wang, Zejun, History - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Hitchcock, William, History, University of Virginia

It is tempting to identify Deng Xiaoping’s ascendency in late 1978 as the single signifier of the turning to a brand-new page in Chinese history, which enjoys support from both sides of the Pacific: narratives go, in China, that the country redeemed itself with Mao Zedong’s death and Hua Guofeng’s dismissal as a reactionary loser in power struggle, and, in the United States, that Chinese aspiration to liberal capitalism negated its proletarian revolution and evidences American Cold War triumphalism. However, the Mao period did set the stage for what ensued, in which respect Deng’s role was crucial. Returning in February 1973 from exile after being purged at the Culture Revolution’s inception, he thence assumed stewardship of Chinese diplomacy in April. Underlining his statesmanship long before the sanctified 1978, this essay focuses on the manner he, epitomizing China’s shift from revolutionary diplomacy to reform and opening, laid the foundation for Sino-US dialogues’ breakthrough. Consulting diversified primary sources — official archives, transcripts, proclamations, chronicles, and biographies; works, diaries, and memoirs of key historical actors; and periodicals — I interpret Deng’s diplomatic revisionism in three dimensions. First, familiar with ground-level statecraft and open to au courant concepts, he, downplaying ideological orthodoxy, accentuated US ties’ utility for domestic reorganization and conceptualized international politics through geopolitical realism and as serving economic growth. Second, contrary to Marxist-Leninist prophecy of capitalism’s demise, Deng was acclimatized by proficiency in global affairs and practical modesty to seeking dividends from interstate negotiation and relegating war’s possibility or potential scale. Lastly, Deng the professional proved an extraordinarily proactive, outspoken, and pragmatic diplomat.

MA (Master of Arts)
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