Vision, grit, decisiveness, and pragmatism

Here is a review on of Ezra Vogel’s new book on Deng Xiaoping. Somebody sent it to me today, and I think is summarizes the way many people think. It helps remind us of where China has come from in the past few decades. I guess the question China now faces is whether the country can continue to move forward with the same system that worked for the past decades.

Review on Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China by Ezra F. Vogel

This is a great book that offers by far the most balanced view of a legendary figure who has done more than anybody else to transform China and the lives of the Chinese people. I had lived the first 28 years of my life in an inland province of China. Before I went to college in early 1980s, my hometown of 600 thousand people was an economic backwater. There was only one run-down hotel (or more appropriately, a lodge) and a couple of restaurants, offering no more than wanton soup, wheat buns, deep-fried saseame twists (MaHua) and maybe a handful of other simple items. By the time I traveled back there in the summer of 2011, the same town now has a 4 star hotel with state-of-the-art facility and amenities, several 3 stars, countless beautifully decorated restaurants offering full menu of hundreds of items. Many families have their own cars. It used to take 3 hour bumpy bus ride to go from my hometown to the provincial capital located merely 60 miles away. Now you can get there in 45 minutes via a 8 lane freeway (though the way some locals drive left much to be desired, but that’s a whole different story). The changes China has accomplished in the last 3 decades are beyond recognition and beyond description. I later traveled to several other cities, including Beijing, Xiamen, Shenzhen, Hong Kong and Macau. Standing in front of the Water Cube looking out at the spectacular nightly skyline where the PanGu Hotel Complex paints a flying dragon, my only feeling was: China has risen.

And for this, Deng deserves a major share of leadership credit. His vision, grit, decisiveness, and pragmatism has helped shape one of the greatest transformation mankind has ever witnessed.

Admittedly, Deng was not a fan of Western style political system. He once commented that western politicians’ words could not be trusted, because they say one thing in the campaign to get elected, and say another thing when they are in office, and then say yet another thing when they try to get re-elected. In his view, Chinese policy in the post Mao era is more consistent, more coherent and more efficient. He viewed the political infight accompanying western-style democracy as too costly in time and resource, and therefore not suitable for developing countries, who badly needed to catch up rapidly, or else they would lagged more and more behind. Looking at what’s happening in the US nowdays, one has to say Deng’s view is not without merits. No system has no vice. No system has the monopoly of virtue. I tend to agree with what Tom Friedman et al pointedly noted in their latest book “That Used to Be Us”, China may have a second rate system, but the Chinese people make the best out of their second rate system; US may have a first rate system, but we only make 50% out of this good system. Deng once remarked that if China proves its model really works, then it will reveal an alternative path of development for the majority of humanity still remaining have-nots. As the China model gains more traction, history may prove he’s right.

Link to Ezra Vogel’s book on Amazon:


About James McGregor
James McGregor is an American author, journalist and businessman who has lived in China for more than 25 years. Currently, he is chairman of APCO Worldwide, Greater China. A professional speaker and commentator who specializes in China’s business, politics and society, he regularly appears in the media to discuss China-related topics. McGregor is the author of the books "No Ancient Wisdom, No Followers: The Challenges of Chinese Authoritarian Capitalism" (2012) and "One Billion Customers: Lessons from the Front Lines of Doing Business in China" (2005). He also wrote the 2010 report "China’s Drive for ‘Indigenous Innovation’ – A Web of Industrial Policies." From 1987 to 1990 McGregor served as The Wall Street Journal’s bureau chief in Taiwan, and from 1990 to 1994 as the paper’s bureau chief in Mainland China. From 1994 to 2000, he was chief executive of Dow Jones & Company in China. After leaving Dow Jones, he was China managing partner for GIV Venture Partners, a $140 million venture capital fund specializing in the Chinese Internet and technology outsourcing. In 1996, McGregor was elected as chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in China. He also served for a decade as a governor of that organization. He is a member of the Atlantic Council, Council on Foreign Relations, National Committee on US-China Relations and International Council of the Asia Society. He serves on a variety of China-related advisory boards.

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