If the basis of normal U.S China Relations is the “One China” Policy, its father is Deng Xiaoping. With his famous “Reform and Opening Up” policy of 1979, Deng is accredited with bringing China out of economic isolation and back into the international sphere, laying the foundation for its status as the world’s second largest economy today. Deng died on February 19th 1997, and this year marked the 20th anniversary of his death. With tensions between the United States and China on the rise since Donald Trump was elected president, it is interesting to note that there was no mention of the anniversary in the United States. This is not the case in China.
On the China side there are mixed responses. Official News outlets such as Xinhua or CCTV are mute about the anniversary but local, urban, and online media outlets have been going all out in their commemoration of Deng’s Political and strategic legacy. Southern Metropolitan Daily, Caixin Weekly and the English edition of the Global Times have published numerous commentaries highlighting the importance Deng had on shaping China’s future and its relations to the U.S. An exception on this front is a commentary published by China Youth Daily, who instead opted to release an article discussing the strategic thinking of Deng.
There was also coverage of the varying ways Chinese citizens are gathering to celebrate the life of the departed leader in places such as Shenzhen and Sichuan. The Global Times released an in depth article looking at the long lasting implication of Deng’s life and deeds, and the opinions reflected in the article can be seen as representing the overarching feeling of the Chinese towards Deng. In the piece, Dr. Yawei Liu of our own Carter Center was quoted as saying that “Without Deng’s courage and determination, Sino-US ties wouldn’t have been normalized in 1979, as there were still a lot of obstacles and difficulties at that moment”, and we can see this attitude being echoed through the halls of the Chinese internet as well.
On the web, the Chinese netizen response to the anniversary was less subdued. On China’s social Media outlets such as WeChat and Weibo were abuzz with a variety of articles on Deng Xiaoping. One such poignant take was that of commentator Chen Jibing who hits the nail on the head as he tries to explain why there is a huge need to remember what Deng Xiaoping had done for China: Without liberation from the past ideological shackles brought about by Deng there would be no reform and opening up, and without the same kind of expansion of thought it is difficult to have another period similar to it. After his passing people should remember what we are going to inherit from Deng Xiaoping is not the restrictions and taboos he had imposed when he was alive but his courage and wisdom to break through old restrictions and taboos during his time. That Deng Xiaoping did not paint the frame, but with courage and wisdom broke through it.
Daniel Grober is one of the Spring 2017 interns at the Carter Center’s China Program. You can follow him on Twitter @Daniel_Grober.