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Deng Xiaoping and the Opening of China

A Discussion With:

Ezra F. Vogel, Ph.D.
Henry Ford II Professor of the Social Sciences Emeritus at Harvard University

Tuesday April 10, 2012
Mandel Center, Room 108
4:30 – 6:00 p.m.
This forum is free and open to the public.
This program is sponsored by the Asian Studies Program, the Baker-Nord Center
for the Humanities and the Political Science Department at Case Western Reserve University

Perhaps no one in the twentieth century had a greater long-term impact on world history than Deng Xiaoping. And no scholar of contemporary East Asian history and culture is better qualified than Ezra Vogel to disentangle the many contradictions embodied in the life and legacy of China’s boldest strategist.

Once described by Mao Zedong as a “needle inside a ball of cotton,” Deng was the pragmatic yet disciplined driving force behind China’s radical transformation in the late twentieth century. He confronted the damage wrought by the Cultural Revolution, dissolved Mao’s cult of personality, and loosened the economic and social policies that had stunted China’s growth. Obsessed with modernization and technology, Deng opened trade relations with the West, which lifted hundreds of millions of his countrymen out of poverty. Yet at the same time he answered to his authoritarian roots, most notably when he ordered the crackdown in June 1989 at Tiananmen Square. Deng’s youthful commitment to the Communist Party was cemented in Paris in the early 1920s, among a group of Chinese student-workers that also included Zhou Enlai. Deng returned home in 1927 to join the Chinese Revolution on the ground floor. In the fifty years of his tumultuous rise to power, he endured accusations, purges, and even exile before becoming China’s preeminent leader from 1978 to 1989 and again in 1992. When he reached the top, Deng saw an opportunity to creatively destroy much of the economic system he had helped build for five decades as a loyal follower of Mao—and he did not hesitate. (Source: Book description of Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China courtesy of

About Our Guest

Ezra F. Vogel is the Henry Ford II Professor of the Social Sciences Emeritus at Harvard. After graduating from Ohio Wesleyan in 1950 and serving two years in the U.S. Army, he studied sociology in the Department of Social Relations at Harvard, receiving his Ph.D. in 1958. He then went to Japan for two years to study the Japanese language and conduct research interviews with middle-class families. In 1960-1961 he was assistant professor at Yale University and from 1961-1964 a post-doctoral fellow at Harvard, studying Chinese language and history. He remained at Harvard, becoming lecturer in 1964 and, in 1967, professor. He retired from teaching on June 30, 2000.

Vogel succeeded John Fairbank to become the second Director (1972-1977) of Harvard’s East Asian Research Center and Chairman of the Council for East Asian Studies (1977-1980). He was Director of the Program on U.S.-Japan Relations at the Center for International Affairs (1980-1987) and, since 1987, Honorary Director. He was Chairman of the undergraduate concentration in East Asian Studies from its inception in 1972 until 1991. He was Director of the Fairbank Center (1995-1999) and the first Director of the Asia Center (1997-1999). Vogel was Chairman of the Harvard Committee to Welcome President Jiang Zemin (1998). He has also served as Co-director of the Asia Foundation Task Force on East Asian Policy Recommendations for the New Administration (2001).

Drawing on his original field work in Japan, he wrote Japan’s New Middle Class (1963). A book based on several years of interviewing and reading materials from China, Canton Under Communism (1969), won the Harvard University Press faculty book of the year award. The Japanese edition of his book Japan as Number One: Lessons for America (1979) is the all-time best-seller in Japan of non-fiction by a Western author. In Comeback (1988), he suggested things America might do to respond to the Japanese challenge. He spent eight months in 1987, at the invitation of the Guangdong Provincial Government, studying the economic and social progress of the province since it took the lead in pioneering economic reform in 1978. The results are reported in One Step Ahead in China: Guangdong Under Reform (1989). His Reischauer Lectures were published in The Four Little Dragons: The Spread of Industrialization in East Asia (1991). His most recent publication is Is Japan Still Number One? (2000). He has visited East Asia every summer since 1958 and has spent a total of over six years in Asia.

Vogel has received honorary degrees from Kwansei Gakuin (Japan), the Monterrey Institute, the Universities of Maryland, Massachusetts (Lowell), Wittenberg, Bowling Green, Albion, Ohio Wesleyan, Chinese University (Hong Kong) and Yamaguchi University (Japan). He received The Japan Foundation Prize in 1996 and the Japan Society Prize in 1998. He has lectured frequently in Asia, in both Chinese and Japanese.

From fall 1993 to fall 1995, Vogel took a two-year leave of absence from Harvard to serve as the National Intelligence Officer for East Asia at the National Intelligence Council in Washington. He directed the American Assembly on China in November 1996 and the Joint Chinese-American Assembly between China and the United States in 1998.