The western view of Deng Xiao Peng is pretty clear.
He was the man responsible for the Tiananmen Square massacre.
For crushing democracy and reinforcing the dictatorship of the state.
That’s our view of events: open, balanced, fully informed.
We know that is the only correct view.
But now let’s look at it from Deng Xiao Peng’s point of view.
Deng had been a member of the government under Mao Tse Tung.
But he and Mao didn’t agree on everything.
Mao idolised communism in its purest form.
Deng thought communism needed to be modified to the Chinese character.
In 1958, Mao began his ‘Great Leap Forward’.
His plan to turn China into the idealised communist state.
Absolutely no private property.
Everyone would work for the state, then the state would provide equal for everyone.
Deng didn’t think this was suited to the Chinese character.
People wouldn’t work harder if they weren’t going to get any more for it.
Deng was right.
Mao’s purist communist policies between 1958 and 1962 lead to around 40 million people starving to death.
Obviously Mao’s polices weren’t working.
Deng tried to persuade Mao to modify communism to suit the Chinese character.
Allow a small amount of private ownership, so that people could earn a bit more.
Reintroduce an incentive to work harder.
Mao said this wasn’t pure communism.
In a quote that Mao would use against him, Deng said “It doesn’t matter what colour a cat is as long as it catches mice.”
Mao labelled Deng “a capitalist roader”, someone who would lead China away from communism.
He appealed to students, and the young across China, to rise up in the name of communism and overthrow the capitalist-roaders.
This became the Cultural Revolution.
Across China, The Red Guard imprisoned and tortured anyone they considered the bourgeoisie.
The anti-revolutionary middle classes.
Teachers, artists, doctors, scientists, writers, businessmen, musicians, lawyers, journalists, managers.
The Red Guard created chaos in order to control and terrorise the entire country.
Deng Xiao Peng was arrested and thrown in jail.
His son was imprisoned and tortured by the Red Guard.
During interrogation he was thrown from a fourth story window.
He would spend the rest of his life as a paraplegic.
Around 5 million people died during The Cultural revolution.
Eventually Deng was released from prison and, when Mao died, he was able to introduce reforms into communist China.
He opened it up to foreign investment, to global markets, to limited private competition.
He is generally credited with being the person most responsible for making China the world’s fastest growing economy, and improving the lives of hundreds of millions of Chinese.
So when Deng saw young people rioting in Tiananmen Square it didn’t look like democracy to him.
It looked like The Red Guard all over again.
Trying to create chaos in order to take power.
Deng knew it couldn’t be ignored, it had to be stopped.
By the time it was over, it’s estimated around 50 police and soldiers were dead and around 600 civilians.
Looked at in isolation, we see that as a brutal totalitarian regime crushing a legitimate democratic protest.
Of course, looked at from the other side it doesn’t look like that.
In quantum physics it’s called Heisenberg’s uncertainty principal.
“You can never look at something without the act of looking at it altering what you’re looking at.”