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Deng Xiaoping's Seminal Role

Although post-Mao pronouncements by the Chinese Communist Party officially emphasized collective leadership, Deng Xiaoping clearly occupied center stage and acquired unique political stature in the party hierarchy (without even holding the titular number-one position). Following the consolidation of Deng's power at the Twelfth National Party Congress in 1982, the party issued The Selected Works of Deng Xiaoping. The book was intended to provide authoritative ideological backing for the reform program in progress and became required reading for party members. Another volume, entitled Building Socialism with Chinese Characteristics, issued in 1985, contained speeches and writings on economic policy, ideological questions, and foreign policy written by Deng after the Twelfth National Party Congress. A major purpose of the later work was to support the dramatic reforms introduced at the Third Plenum of that congress's Central Committee in October 1984. This book was re-released in March 1987 with additional speeches and remarks on intervening events, purportedly with the intention of providing extensive guidance for reform. Given the volume and frequency of publication, it became difficult for the reform leadership to avoid the appearance of creating a cult of personality around Deng.

Deng was an effective bridge between China's legendary revolutionary generation and the generation engaged in carrying out the Four Modernizations. At the same time, Deng's preeminence called attention to the succession issue. The resolution of problems emerging in the course of reform depended heavily on Deng's political backing and on his authoritative reform pronouncements. In large measure, Deng's published works would support later leaders by providing them an authoritative source with which to bolster their own reform measures. Like any body of writing, however, Deng's thoughts are open to interpretation and thus might as easily be used by an opposition group for its own ends.

Data as of July 1987