Deng Xiaoping

Deng Xiaoping interviewed by Oriana Fallaci (1980)

72 minutes | English | China Interviews

On August 21 and 23, 1980 Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci interviewed Deng Xiaoping in Beijing.

It was one of many such exchanges with political figures of such stature, and can be found in her collection Interviews with History and Conversations with Power. The exchange was translated by Shi Yanhua, the former interpreter of Mao Zedong. This edition has been lightly edited for romanization, spacing, and the like.

A shorter summarized version is also available from the Communist Party of China’s online encyclopedia. [1]

Fallaci: Mr. Deng — you once said, in an article you wrote for the Western press, that China is in the grips of a movement that could be called a second revolution. And, indeed, the traveler who arrives in Beijing today, the last days of summer 1980, experiences an almost physical sense of change: no uniforms, no slogans, no abundance of red. And the portraits of Mao Zedong can be counted on the fingers of one hand; up until now, I’ve seen only three, including the one at the entrance to the Forbidden City that looks onto the images of Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Stalin. I’ll use this detail to ask you my first question: will those few portraits of Mao remain, or will they be taken down?

Deng: They will certainly remain. They will always remain, even the one in Tiananmen Square. In the past, there were too many portraits of Chairman Mao; there were so many that instead of being solemn they began to seem banal, even disrespectful, and so we took them down. But… look, Chairman Mao made mistakes, yes. Nonetheless, he was one of the principal founders of the Communist Party of China and the People’s Republic of China. Thus, when we look at his merits together with his mistakes, we think that his mistakes take second place, while his merits take first. And this means that the contribution he made to the Chinese revolution cannot be forgotten and that the Chinese people will always cherish his memory; they will always think of him as one of the founders of the party and of the republic.

Fallaci: Yes, it’s often remarked that today, all the blame is attributed to the Gang of Four: to Jiang Qing, Mao’s widow, and the other three who started the Cultural Revolution. But is that historical fact, Mr. Deng? Someone told me that many Chinese, when talking about the Gang of Four, raise five fingers and reply “Yes, yes — four!” in irritation.

Deng: [He smiles.] Well, it seems I must immediately and clearly explain to you the difference between Chairman Mao’s mistakes and the crimes perpetrated by Lin Biao and the Gang of Four. I should remind you that Chairman Mao dedicated most of his life to China, that he saved the party and the revolution in their most critical moments, that, in short, his contribution was so great that, without him, the Chinese people would have had a much harder time finding the right path out of the darkness. We also shouldn’t forget that it was Chairman Mao who combined the teachings of Marx and Lenin with the realities of Chinese history — that it was he who applied those principles, creatively, not only to politics but to philosophy, art, literature, and military strategy. Yes, before the 1960s — or, better, up until the late 1950s — some of Chairman Mao’s ideas were, for the most part, correct. Furthermore, many of his principles brought us victory and allowed us to gain power. Then, unfortunately, in the last few years of his life, he committed many grave errors — the Cultural Revolution, above all. And much disgrace was brought upon the party, the country, the people.

Fallaci: Would you permit me to tweak your answer a bit, Mr. Deng? When you say “Chairman Mao’s ideas,” are you referring to what is often defined as “Mao Zedong Thought”?

Deng: Yes. During the Revolutionary War, when the party was still in Yan’an, we gathered together all the ideas and principles advanced by Mao Zedong; we defined them as “Mao Zedong Thought”; and we decided that this thought would guide the party from that point forward. And that is precisely what happened. But, naturally, Mao Zedong Thought was not created only by Mao Zedong. What I mean is: even though most of the ideas are his, other old revolutionaries also contributed to the formation and the development of those concepts — Zhou Enlai, Liu Shaoqi, Zhu De, to name the most important among them.

Fallaci: And you don’t include yourself in that list?

Deng: I don’t count, but of course I also did my part. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t be an old revolutionary; I wouldn’t be a veteran. [He laughs.] Then, I was telling you, in the last years of his life Chairman Mao contradicted himself and the good principles that he had established. And unhealthy ideas and incorrect reasoning began to emerge from his behavior and his actions. The most unhealthy idea of all was the idea of the Ultra-Left. Humph! Maybe the fact that he had removed every trace of prudence from his character, or maybe he had lost contact with reality. You know, because of everything he had done for the revolution, he enjoyed great prestige in this country, and as a result he received too much praise, too much flattery. He ended up ignoring even democratic centralism, which is to say, the collective direction that he had always preached. And this was one of his most fatal errors, even though other revolutionaries, in some way, had their share of the responsibility — myself included. And it was thus that the patriarchal method began to develop in him; the life of the Party and the life of the country lost any semblance of normality. As you see, we are still talking about his mistakes.

Fallaci: Yes. And if that’s the case, Mr. Deng, shouldn’t we acknowledge that the mistakes began to emerge much sooner — almost immediately — and that the Great Leap Forward was an error?

Deng: Of course — and when I chose the second part of the 1950s as the start of all the mistakes, I should have made it clear that I was talking about the Great Leap Forward. But, here too, we cannot attribute all the responsibility to Chairman Mao; even here, we veterans had our share of the blame; we acted against the laws of reality; and we claimed we could hasten economic development with methods that ignored all economic laws. So it is true that the person most responsible for this was Chairman Mao, but he was also the first to understand our error — to suggest ways to correct it. And in 1962, when other negative factors began to emerge and the proposals were not carried out, he admitted he was at fault. But even that wasn’t enough for us; even that didn’t teach us the lesson we should have learned. And so the Cultural Revolution occurred.

Fallaci: But what was the Cultural Revolution really trying to accomplish?

Deng: It wanted to avoid the restoration of capitalism in China. Yes — that was the intention. The intention of Chairman Mao, I mean to say, not the intention of the people who would later become the Gang of Four. However, despite the good intentions, such a goal was born of an erroneous judgment of Chinese reality. In short, once more Chairman Mao was wrong. He was also wrong when he chose what target to hit; he said that the target should be the followers of capitalism — the compagnons de route [roaders] of the capitalists who existed within the party — and with this accusation he attacked a great number of high-level veterans: men who not only had made excellent contributions to the revolution but had great experience. And among them was Premier Liu Shaoqi, who was arrested and expelled from the party. As a result, all of the revolutionary leadership was dissolved. A year or two before his death, Chairman Mao recognized this error. He said that the Cultural Revolution was wrong in two things: destroying the revolutionary leadership and provoking a wide-ranging civil war.

Fallaci: So it was truly a civil war.

Deng: Yes, it was! The people were divided into two factions who were killing each other. And since the old revolutionaries had been swept aside, only those who declared themselves “rebels” were able to emerge. Like Lin Biao and the Gang of Four. Eh! Many people died in that civil war.

Fallaci: How many?

Deng: An exact figure is impossible. It will never be possible, because they died for various reasons and because China is such a vast country. But look: enough died that we are able to say today that their deaths were reason enough for the Cultural Revolution to have never taken place. Anyway, Chairman Mao’s errors were political errors. This makes them no less serious, nor does it justify them, but political errors are one thing; crimes that are judged in court are another. I refer to the crimes for which we tried the Gang of Four and, posthumously, Lin Biao: the two groups of the Cultural Revolution that we consider counterrevolutionary. Of course… well, of course it was Chairman Mao who permitted Lin Biao and the Gang of Four to take advantage of his political errors and usurp power…

Fallaci: That’s the point, Mr. Deng. Because I understand that you, as the leader of a new China, are attempting to survive a terrible situation: rescaling and possibly erasing the myth of Mao without destroying it — throwing out everything while trying to throw out as little as possible. Ultimately, you are experiencing what some have defined as “the dilemma of choosing between accepting the past and disowning the past.” But, short of rewriting history and burning all the libraries, how will you choose? The director of the Gang of Four was Mao’s wife, and it was Mao himself who chose Lin Biao as heir to the emperor. Was this also a “mistake”?

Deng: I believe it was, and I would group it with the other errors I have already noted. Then… well, it’s obvious that the investiture of Lin Biao wasn’t right. It’s obvious that choosing your own successor like an heir to the throne is, from a leader’s perspective, a feudal practice. But we also need to be aware of the fact that democratic centralism no longer existed — that we no longer had a system for avoiding things of this nature.

Fallaci: To conclude this line of questioning: I can’t imagine that, at the next Congress of the Communist Party of China, we will see a repeat of the events of the twentieth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, when Khrushchev denounced Stalin. Or am I mistaken?

Deng: You are not mistaken. At the Congress we will objectively evaluate the merits and the mistakes that characterized the life of Chairman Mao; we will celebrate his merits and recognize that they are of primary importance; and we will admit his mistakes, recognizing that they are of secondary importance. By making public the mistakes that Chairman Mao committed in recent years, we will adopt a realistic attitude. But we will certainly continue to follow Mao Zedong Thought — or, rather, all that which constituted the just part of his life. And, no, it is not only his portrait that remains in Tiananmen Square but also the memory of the man who brought us to victory and who, in essence, founded a country. And this is no small feat. And I’ll repeat: the Communist Party of China and the people of China will always look to him like a symbol — a very precious treasure. Write this down: we will never do to Mao Zedong what Khrushchev did to Stalin at the twentieth Congress of the CPSU.

Fallaci: But, besides the Congress, there will also be a posthumous trial for Lin Biao and the Gang of Four and… there will be a trial, correct?

Deng: Certainly — we are preparing for it now. It should take place at the end of the year.

Fallaci: I only ask because you have been announcing these trials for at least three years, but they have yet to take place.

Deng: They will; I am telling you that they will. We needed all this time to prepare. The crimes that they are accused of are numerous! And by now the country is acting under a socialist legal system.

Fallaci: And the Gang of Four are alive, is that correct? Jiang Qing is alive, is that correct?

Deng: She eats — quite a bit — and sleeps. In prison, naturally. And from that you may deduce that she is alive.

Fallaci: Good. And since she is alive, she will speak. Since the other three are alive, they will speak. And they will invoke Mao’s name; they will say many things about Mao. So the trial could bring about a moral condemnation of Mao — in other words, a verdict that is very different from the a priori absolution that will come about at the Congress.

Deng: I assure you that the trial of the Gang of Four will not sully the memory of Chairman Mao in any way. Of course, it will show that he had some responsibility — for example, that he used the Gang of Four — but nothing more. The crimes that the Gang of Four will be convicted of are so evident that there will be no need to involve Chairman Mao to prove them.

Fallaci: I’m very surprised, Mr. Deng. With one hand, you accuse him; with the other, you defend him. But you defend him even when you accuse him; and you were deposed twice on Mao’s orders.

Deng: Not twice — three times. But I wouldn’t say that I was deposed with the approval of Chairman Mao. (He laughs). Yes, I had three deaths and three resurrections. Have you ever heard the name Wang Ming, the man who led the Communist Party of China in 1932, directing the faction of opportunists who defined themselves as the extreme left? Eh! My first fall occurred in ‘32, thanks to Wang Ming. He accused me of stirring up trouble for Mao Zedong’s group; he got rid of me; and it took three years for me to recover. But I did recover; in 1935, during the Long March, at the Zunyi Conference, when the opportunists on the extreme left were defeated, Wang Ming was cast aside, and Mao Zedong retook control of the party, making me secretary general. My second fall, as you know, happened at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution, when I was secretary of the party and one of the directors of the Central Committee, not to mention vice-premier. And Mao tried to protect me this time too. He wasn’t successful, however; Lin Biao and the Gang of Four hated me too much. They didn’t hate me as much as they hated Liu Shaoqi, however, so I wasn’t arrested and left to die in prison; but they certainly hated me enough to send me to Jiangxi province to do hard labor. And in 1973, when Chairman Mao called me back to Beijing…

Fallaci: Mao Zedong or Zhou Enlai?

Deng: Chairman Mao. I know, some believe that it was Premier Zhou Enlai. But it wasn’t Zhou Enlai; it was Chairman Mao. Zhou Enlai was already gravely ill at that time, and, since the government was resting almost exclusively on his shoulders, the damage that his illness was inflicting on the country was great. Chairman Mao called me back; he asked me to substitute Zhou in his day-to-day affairs; and he charged me with the office of vice-premier. He said that my case should be judged by a score of thirty to seventy; that is, thirty percent for my errors, seventy percent for my merits. And this shows you that even my second resurrection was due to Chairman Mao — even though, at that time, he was seriously ill himself. He couldn’t even meet with the officers of the Politburo; he only saw the members of the Gang of Four. As far as my third fall is concerned, it occurred in April of 1976 — three months after the death of Zhou Enlai and five months before the death of Chairman Mao. And since, the following October, the Band of Four was arrested, it’s no surprise that I rose again.

Fallaci: I’m surprised, however. Three times! Mr. Deng, how can a man fall and get back up again three times? Is there a secret?

Deng: [He laughs, happy.] There is not. I kept serving him again, and they kept throwing me out again. That’s all.

Fallaci: And were you never afraid that you would be killed during those purges?

Deng: Yes, I was afraid of being killed. During the Cultural Revolution, Lin Biao and the Gang of Four always wanted to kill me. They didn’t because Chairman Mao stopped them. Look, even when I was sent to labor in Jiangxi province, Chairman Mao made sure that someone there was looking out for my safety. Eh! Foreign friends often ask me how I survived so many trials, so many tribulations, and I always reply, “Because I am an optimist, because I am never discouraged, and because I know that politics is a seesaw moving up and down.” But that answer is incomplete. The truth is that, through it all, I always believed in Chairman Mao. I believed because I was always sure that he knew me well.

Fallaci: I had always read that he couldn’t stand you — that he complained about you continually: “He’s deaf, but he always sits far away from me at meetings,” “He treats me like a dead ancestor; he never asks me anything,” “He never even tries to find out what I think; he always gets his own way.”

Deng: It’s true, it’s true, even though he didn’t say only those things about me. He complained about everything to everyone, always saying that he wasn’t being listened to, or consulted, or informed. But I truly did give him cause to complain, because I didn’t like the way he behaved — his way of acting like a great patriarch. He acted like a patriarch; he never wanted to hear anyone else’s ideas, even if they were good — never listened to opinions different from his own. He behaved in an unhealthy way, that’s what it was; he had a feudal way about him. If you don’t understand this, then you can’t understand how he was able to launch the Cultural Revolution.

Fallaci: I don’t understand many things, Mr. Deng. And the first involves Zhou Enlai. How do you explain that the one man who was not caught up in the Cultural Revolution was Zhou Enlai? How do you explain the fact that, even though he was a noble man, he never tried to check the infamy that was happening right under his nose; for example, the scandalous arrest of Liu Shaoqi?

Deng: Let me begin by telling you who Zhou Enlai was: he was a man who worked like a dog his whole life without ever complaining. Listen, there were days when he was working twelve or even sixteen hours. I can tell you this because I knew him well; we came into the Cultural Revolution at around the same time, Zhou Enlai and I, and when we were in France in the 1920s I thought of him as a big brother. Furthermore, he was respected by everyone who knew him — by his friends and his enemies, his comrades, and his people.

And this explains, at least partially, why Zhou Enlai was able to remain in his position as premier when everyone else was caught up in the Cultural Revolution; something that, it should be said, was a great good fortune for a great many people — a great advantage. Well, during the Cultural Revolution, Zhou Enlai always exercised a moderating influence; he acted as a cushion and shielded many people from violent blows. But for many years he found himself in a very difficult position — extremely difficult. And he often said things that he would have preferred not to say, he did things he would have preferred not to do, even though we all forgave him everything. He often acted against his own will, in short. When Liu Shaoqi was expelled from the party and imprisoned, the report of his so-called crimes was read by Zhou Enlai.

Fallaci: By Zhou Enlai?

Deng: Yes, by Zhou Enlai. Naturally, the report had been written by others, but Zhou Enlai read it. He couldn’t have done otherwise; he had to read it.

Fallaci: That’s remarkable — disappointing and remarkable. Because it shows, yet again, that revolutions do not change people and that after a revolution the proverb is still true: “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

Deng: Hmm. I can only tell you that it is possible to prevent these things, or to attempt to prevent them, to establish a system that is truly new. A little while ago, I said the word “feudal.” There, some systems of our recent past were very similar indeed to feudalism. Indeed, they bore all the stigmata of feudalism: the cult of personality, the patriarchal way of running things, the lifelong terms for leaders. China has a history of feudalism that stretches back thousands of years, and, because of this, our revolution suffered greatly for the lack of democratic socialism, of socialist legal systems. Now we are trying to change — to truly reform the system — to finally establish a real socialist democracy and… listen, there’s no other way to avoid episodes like Liu Shaoqi.

Fallaci: Well, if you think about it, Jiang Qing’s story is a feudal story, as well. One of the reasons why no one dared to challenge her is that she was Mao’s wife, wouldn’t you say?

Deng: Eh, yes. One of the reasons, yes.

Fallaci: Was he really so blinded by her — dominated by her?

Deng: Look, when I tell you that Chairman Mao made many mistakes, I’m also alluding to the mistake called Jiang Qing. She was a very, very bad woman. So bad that any bad thing said about her is not bad enough, and if you asked me to give her a score, like we do here in China, I would tell you I can’t, because there is no ranking for Jiang Qing. She is a thousand times a thousand below zero. And yet Chairman Mao allowed her to take power, to form a faction, to use ignorant young people to construct a political base, to use the name of Mao Zedong like a banner for her own personal interests… even later, when they had been separated for years — yes, separated. Didn’t you know that Chairman Mao and his wife, Jiang Qing, lived apart? Well, even after their separation, Chairman Mao never intervened once — never even stopped her from using his name.

Fallaci: And in order to arrest her, to arrest the other three, you had to wait for his death. Mao wasn’t even buried a month. Mr. Deng, who organized this arrest? I mean to say, how much responsibility do you take for it, even if you were deprived of all authority?

Deng: The decision was a collective one, and we knew that we had the support of the people. This support was clearly seen on April 5 in Tiananmen Square, when the people’s exasperation took the form of a protest over the lack of ceremony to commemorate the death of Zhou Enlai. I couldn’t do much of anything at that time, given that I had no freedom, but I exercised my influence in 1974 and 1975, when I was still in the government. Without any pretext, I opposed myself to the Four, doing everything I could to expose them for what they were. But I have to say that, right before he died, Chairman Mao had some harsh things to say about them; it was he who defined them as the “Gang of Four” and he who chose Hua Guofeng, so that Jiang Qing and her accomplices would not become his successors. I think all these things contributed to the decision to arrest her. It was not an easy decision, you know. The Gang of Four was very strong after the death of Chairman Mao; they had even tried to overthrow the new government led by Hua Guofeng.

Fallaci: In that case, I need to ask you a somewhat delicate question, Mr. Deng. And I’d like to apologize; I know that we Westerners are unable to understand some Chinese subtleties. Here it is: At Mao’s funeral, September 18, 1976, why did Hua Guofeng say, “The great Cultural Revolution that Chairman Mao wanted and led, has triumphed over the plots of restoration designed by Liu Shaoqi, Lin Biao, and Deng Xiaoping, and has allowed for the power they usurped to be rightfully restored to the interior of the party and the state structure”?

Deng: [He smiles.] You know, in those days, people did not have a lot of time to tally up the last few years, to reflect accurately. The important thing was raising Mao Zedong’s flag and confronting the Gang of Four. Only after, when we realized that that speech was not appreciated by the people… well, I’d even say that it was not a very well-thought-out speech. Let’s say that it was a misguided speech, and that the words of comrade Hua Guofeng were intended to preserve stability. Remember, Hua Guofeng is one of the leaders who decided to arrest the Gang of Four only a month afterwards. And it goes without saying that, previously, some not-unpleasant things had happened for the Four, in direct contrast with Chairman Mao’s wishes.

Fallaci: For example?

Deng: The decision to build the mausoleum. In the 1950s Mao Zedong had said that, upon their deaths, all Chinese officials should be cremated and only their ashes preserved — no tombs, no mausoleums for them. The idea arose from lessons learned in the Soviet Union after Stalin’s death and was then confirmed in a written document that Chairman Mao signed first. Then the rest of us signed, myself included, and, indeed, Premier Zhou Enlai was cremated. The document still exists.

Fallaci: Are you telling me that the mausoleum will be torn down?

Deng: No, we have no such intention. It’s already there, and it doesn’t seem opportune to demolish it. If we did, many people would be offended, and there would be too much gossip over the matter. Yes, I know that there are some people who say that the mausoleum should be torn down. But, as far as this subject is concerned, I do not agree with those who would change things.

Fallaci: Mr. Deng, I’m sure you understand why I asked you that delicate question not too long ago; because many people think that there are conflicts between you and Premier Hua Guofeng. Are there?

Deng: No. The current line of policy has been taken up through unilateral agreement. Naturally, with some specific questions, agreement is not always easy. But now that collective leadership has been restored, we discuss all important problems in a group, so all this speculation about “power struggle” makes no sense at all, at least as far as I’m concerned. Power doesn’t interest me at all. Soon I’ll resign as vice-premier; in 1985, I plan to serve as a counselor and nothing more. And listen, I am sixty-six years old, and when a man passes fifty his brain no longer works like it once did. And then the elderly tend to be more conservative, so I think it’s best to limit our role to one of counsel.

Fallaci: That seems like a jab at Mao Zedong. I mean, he saw things quite differently.

Deng: [He laughs.] As do several of my peers. Indeed, they don’t want me to resign, to cut things short, and so we reached a compromise. I said, okay, let’s see what happens then, when I’m eighty-one years old. But I said this still thinking that it would be better for me to resign before I reach that age, even if it’s just to set a precedent. I’ve had enough with old men who continue to govern until they die; I’m sick of lifelong leaders. Nowhere is it written that old men must rule — that leaders should lead for life — and yet this tendency continues to dominate our system. And it is one of our weaknesses, because it impedes young people from moving up — it prevents the country from renewing its leadership. And China needs younger leaders. Yes, I believe the moment has come when the old put themselves out of the picture — when they spontaneously withdraw.

Fallaci: Of course, it’s difficult to imagine China today without you, seeing as how you are the brains behind this change, Mr. Deng. Even if you are only the vice-premier… speaking of which, will you relieve my curiosity on one point: how is it that a man such as yourself has always remained second-in-command, has always been the vice-somebody?

Deng: [He laughs even more.] Eh, eh! As you see, being in second place doesn’t prevent me from acting. But, coming back to the previous argument, I’ll tell you that I won’t be the only one to resign; many of my colleagues who are my age will, as well: Vice-Prime Minister Chen Yun, [2] for example, and Li Xiannian; Xu Xiangqian, for example, and others. And Hua Guofeng will no longer be premier and party chair at the same time. The Central Committee has decided to recommend comrade Zhao Ziyang.

Fallaci: So the question of new leadership also concerns Hua Guofeng.

Deng: Yes, even if he is not yet sixty — I believe that he’s fifty-nine — because not even the post he’ll retain, as chairman of the party, is a lifelong post. No, Hua Guofeng cannot stay chairman of the party for as long as he lives; it is not permitted under the new system. Hua Guofeng can remain for another two terms — at most, three — and then no more. We’re still deciding over the question of terms and the renewal of mandates.

Fallaci: New things are truly happening in China! And, speaking of new things, let’s talk a little about the opening to the capitalist West. This is largely an economic opening, necessary to realize the project of the Four Modernizations. Since this opening will introduce foreign capital into China, it’s reasonable to assume that this will allow for the spread of private property. But isn’t this just the dawn of a new capitalism, in miniature?

Deng: Let’s say that the principles that we are following as we rebuild this country are essentially the same that were formulated at the time of Chairman Mao: to concentrate on our strengths and to consider international assistance as a subsidiary factor and nothing more. In whatever measure we open ourselves to the world — in whatever way we use foreign capital or accept the assistance of private investments — this assistance will only constitute a small part of the Chinese economy. In other words, foreign capital — and even the fact that foreigners will build factories in China — will not influence, in any way, our system, which is a socialist system based upon public ownership of the means of production. Despite this, we are aware that the decadent influence of capital will inevitably develop in China. Well, I don’t think that’s such a terrible thing. I don’t think that it’s correct to be afraid of this.

Fallaci: Do you mean to say that capitalism isn’t so bad after all?

Deng: It depends on the way you look at it. In any case, it is better than feudalism. We cannot say that all of the things that have been developed in capitalist countries are of a capitalist nature. Technology, for example; science; the ways of managing the economy, which is another science in itself, do not bear a classist stigma. And we intend to learn these things from you in order to aid us in our construction of a socialist society.

Fallaci: And yet, at the end of the 1950s, I seem to recall, when you realized that the Great Leap Forward had been a failure, you recognized that man needs an incentive to produce; I would even argue that man needs an incentive to exist. Doesn’t that mean questioning the ideas of Communism itself?

Deng: According to Marx, socialism, which is the first stage of Communism, covers a very long period. And, during this period, we will try to fulfill the principle “From each according to his ability, to each according to his work.” In other words, we will blend the interests of the individual with the interests of the country. There is no other way to mobilize interest in production among the masses, let’s admit it. And since the capitalist West will be helping us to overcome the backwardness we find ourselves in — the poverty that afflicts us — it doesn’t seem opportune to get caught up in the subtleties. However things go, the positive effects will be greater than the negative effects.

Fallaci: “It doesn’t matter if the cat is black or gray, as long as it eats the mice,” you once said. Would you apply the same pragmatism, even the same tolerance, to political life? I ask you, thinking of an answer you gave during your visit to America: “In China we must eliminate dictatorship and broaden democracy.” What democracy were you referring to? The kind based upon free elections and a multi-party system?

Deng: I never said anything like that! That’s a misunderstanding. But I can tell you that, after having removed the Gang of Four, we strongly emphasized the necessity of promoting socialist democracy. Without losing, you understand, the dictatorship of the proletariat. Democracy and dictatorship of the proletariat are two parts of the same antithesis, and proletarian democracy is far superior to its capitalist counterpart. We are emphasizing the Four Principles that we must adhere to: the principle of socialism, the principle of dictatorship of the proletariat, the principle of Marxism and Leninism elaborated in Mao Zedong Thought, and the principle of leaders supported by the Communist Party of China. So, you see, that even the principle of dictatorship of the proletariat has remained untouched and untouchable.

Fallaci: Is this why, in Tiananmen Square, directly across from the portrait of Mao which guards the entrance to the Forbidden City, the portraits of Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Stalin are still hanging?

Deng: Well, before the Cultural Revolution those portraits were only displayed during important occasions. This was the practice. But during the Cultural Revolution it was decided that they should always be on display, and that is why they are still there. Regardless, we intend to return to the old practice.

Fallaci: Important occasions or not, do you really need to keep the portrait of Stalin?

Deng: We think that Stalin’s contribution to the revolution is much more important than the mistakes he made. To use the Chinese way, the score for Stalin would be thirty percent to seventy percent: thirty for his errors and seventy for his merits. Furthermore, Chairman Mao agreed with me on the question of Stalin’s score, and, after the twentieth Congress of the CPSU, members of the Communist Party of China expressed a very clear judgment of Stalin. We said that we would always continue to consider his writings as classic works of the international Communist movement. You know, Stalin made mistakes even where the Chinese revolution was concerned; for example, after World War II he didn’t want us to sever ties with the Kuomintang or to begin the war of liberation. But even this does not cloud our judgment of him.

Fallaci: And Khrushchev?

Deng: Khrushchev? What good has Khrushchev ever done?

Fallaci: He denounced Stalin.

Deng: And you see that as a good thing?

Fallaci: Not good — great. For God’s sake, Stalin killed more people than the Cultural Revolution ever did.

Deng: I’m not at all sure of that. Not at all. And, anyway, the two things cannot be compared.

Fallaci: In short, anyway, you prefer Stalin to Khrushchev.

Deng: I just told you that the Chinese people would never do to Chairman Mao what Khrushchev did to Stalin!

Fallaci: What if I told you that in the West they call you the Chinese Khrushchev?

Deng: [He laughs.] Listen, they can call me anything they like in the West, but I know Khrushchev well; I dealt with him personally for ten years, and I can assure you that comparing me to Khrushchev is insulting.

Khrushchev only ever brought pain to the Chinese people. Stalin, on the other hand, did some good for us. After the founding of the People’s Republic, he helped us to build up an industrial complex that is still the foundation of the Chinese economy. He didn’t help us for free — fine, we had to pay him — but he helped us. And, when Khrushchev came to power, everything changed. Khrushchev broke all the agreements between China and the Soviet Union, all the contracts that had been signed under Stalin — hundreds of contracts. Oh, this conversation is impossible. Our backgrounds are too different. Let’s say this: you keep your point of view, I’ll keep mine, and we won’t say anything more about Khrushchev.

Fallaci: Fine, in that case we’ll talk about Eurocommunism and Berlinguer. Mr. Deng, I know that in the past you have been very skeptical about Eurocommunism and Italian Communists. You once said, for example, that any participation by Italian Communists in government would only favor the Soviet Union. Do you still believe that this is the case, after Berlinguer’s visit to China?

Deng: We’ve changed our minds about Italian Communists, and we’ve done so in keeping with Mao Zedong Thought, which states: “In every country the Communist party must combine the principles of Marxism and Leninism with the practical conditions in which they find themselves; there is no other way to find the correct path.” In other words, we don’t think that any Communist party should copy the revolutionary experience of another, even if the other in question experienced the Chinese Revolution or the October Revolution. To answer your question more precisely, I will tell you this: comrade Berlinguer asked me the same thing during his visit. And I told him that it was up to the Italian Communist Party to judge based on their own experiences.

Fallaci: I interviewed Berlinguer a little more than a month ago, and I told him that, in my opinion, Italian Communists and all European Communists more generally had not yet been able to cut the umbilical cord to Moscow. Would you agree?

Deng: Look, the reasons we reestablished relations with the Italian Communist Party is that the ICP has its own, independent thought. But this does not mean that we approve of all of the opinions held by Italian Communists. We don’t even claim that they approve of ours, please understand, but… well, let’s say that in the past the Italian Communist Party had a misinformed view of the Communist Party of China, and vice versa.

Fallaci: That doesn’t seem like such a big deal. And I think I can deduce that the mutual disagreement about the ICP’s relations with the Soviet Union have remained unresolved. In fact, there was no joint address, as many thought there would be. In your view, what is preventing the Italian Communists from detaching themselves definitively from the Soviet Union?

Deng: It is partly due to historical reasons and partly… look, it’s not proper for me to hazard guesses or judgments about other people; I can only comment on specific arguments. For example, if you ask me about Afghanistan, I’ll tell you it’s very comforting that Italian Communists condemned the invasion of Afghanistan, and it is completely deplorable that French Communists attempted to justify it. But, you know, European Communist parties are very different from one another. In fact, we have reestablished relations with the Italian Communists, and the same is not at all true for the French Communists. And I see no interest, on their part, in rebuilding a relationship.

Fallaci: What about Santiago Carrillo? Or Alvaro Cunhal?

Deng: Spanish Communists have proposed the reestablishment of relations, but, for the moment, we have not gotten beyond initial contacts. We are waiting to see if they develop into something or not. We have no direct relationship with the Portuguese Communists — none.

Fallaci: Well, you certainly can’t say that the international Communist movement is alive with internationalism.

Deng: You know, it’s a good thing that no Communist party feels itself to be patriarchally at the center of the movement — that there’s no center, no boss. At the outset, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union filled that role, but it is no longer the party led by Lenin. It is no accident that we regard the Soviet Union as an imperialist country and… yes, imperialist — socialist-imperialist. And since the country led by that party has become an imperialist country, it’s questionable if that party can still be considered a Communist party.

Fallaci: Yes, I wasn’t really alluding to that so much as the fact that today, in the world, the only armed conflicts are between Communist countries. For Christ’s sake! — leaving the Arabs to one side, on the other side there is no one country that hates another country with the same irreducible fervor that Communist countries seem to feel for each other. The Soviet Union against China, and vice versa; China against Vietnam, and vice versa; Vietnam against Cambodia, and vice versa… I said the same thing to Berlinguer.

Deng: Do you want to talk about the Vietnamese? Look, from a globally strategic point of view, the Vietnamese are merely following in the Soviet Union’s footsteps. As I always say, they’ve become the Cuba of the East. Isn’t it proof enough that they’ve occupied Laos and Cambodia? What else do you need to see before you ask, “What the hell kind of country is this?” We Chinese are completely unable to understand why they’ve opposed themselves to us. During their struggle for independence, we helped them greatly. We never abandoned them — never. Nor did we interfere with their internal affairs. Do you even know the kind of help we gave them over the years? The aid we sent is, comprehensively, about $20 billion. And we never asked anything in return. I’ll say this: $20 billion is a lot of money for a poor country like China.

Fallaci: But then you killed each other in a conflict that amounted to a small war.

Deng: Yes, it’s true that we launched a defensive counterattack against them. But, judging by the results, I don’t think that it was very effective. We were too contained; we saw that many countries were against this action, and as a result we were too contained. But the episode proved how determined we are to chastise the tiger. And we reserve the right to chastise the tiger again.

Fallaci: It’s one of the traumas of our time, Mr. Deng, because we all weep for Vietnam; we all fought against the war in Vietnam. And today some of us are asking, were we making a mistake; were we wrong?

Deng: No! No, no, we were not making a mistake; we were not wrong. We Chinese do not regret taking their side. It was right to help them, and we will do so every time that a people fights against a foreign invasion. But today in Vietnam the situation is reversed, and we need to confront that situation.

Fallaci: Yes, but even the Chinese are wrong sometimes, Mr. Deng. How can you possibly take the side of Pol Pot?

Deng: Listen, we look truth in the face — right in the face. Who liberated Cambodia? Who got rid of the Americans and the American-supported regime of Lon Nol? Was it, perhaps, democratic Cambodia — the Cambodian Communist Party, led by Pol Pot? At the time, Prince Sihanouk had no power; he had been deposed by his own people. We continued to support him regardless, and we accommodated his exile government in Beijing. But Sihanouk was not fighting in Cambodia; the Cambodian Communist Party was. They won, almost with no outside help. And do you know why they had no help? Because almost all the aid sent by China was confiscated in Vietnam. China shares no borders with Cambodia, so, in order to help them, we had to send our aid through Vietnam, and they took everything. Nothing ever reached Cambodia — nothing.

Fallaci: But Pol Pot…

Deng: Yes, I know what you want to say. It’s true that Pol Pot and his government made very serious mistakes. We are not ignorant of this. We were not ignorant of it at the time, and, looking back, I can admit that we may have been wrong not to talk to him about it. We’ve said as much to Pol Pot. The fact is that our policy has always been not to comment on the affairs of other parties or of other countries. China is a big country, and we do not want it to seem that we are imposing ourselves. Anyhow, today the reality we have to face has changed: who is fighting the Vietnamese? Sihanouk still has no power; groups like Son Sann are too weak; and the only ones who are able to conduct an effective resistance against the Vietnamese are the Communists who follow Pol Pot. And the Cambodian people are following them.

Fallaci: I don’t believe it, Mr. Deng. How is it possible that the Cambodians are following the same people who massacred them, dismembered them, destroyed them with blood and terror? You are talking about mistakes, Mr. Deng. But genocide is not a mistake, and genocide is what Pol Pot has done. A million people have been eliminated by Pol Pot.

Deng: The figure you name is not at all certain. You don’t believe that the Cambodian people are following Pol Pot, and I don’t believe that Pol Pot has killed a million people. One million out of four or five million? That’s nonsense — crazy. Yes, he killed many people, but let’s not exaggerate. He also had the bad policy of removing people from the cities, but let’s not exaggerate. And I tell you that he has the support of the people, and his power grows more every day. And I tell you that opposing Pol Pot — trying to overthrow him — only helps the Vietnamese. Eh! There are people in this world who live outside of reality, who won’t give someone who has made an error the chance to mend his ways.

Fallaci: Then I’m afraid I’m one of those people who live outside of reality, Mr. Deng. In order to convince us that he truly wanted to mend his ways, Pol Pot would have to resuscitate all the people he slaughtered. And, from outside reality, I will allow myself to ask you another difficult question: I understand your realism, but how are you able to have relations with certain people? Because Pol Pot is by no means the only one. When Generalissimo Franco died, the first flowers to reach his coffin were sent by the Chinese and bore the signature of Zhou Enlai.

Deng: Look, the flowers we sent to Franco’s funeral — they were meant for the Spanish people and intended to improve our relations with the Spanish government. The opinions that we have about individuals should not influence our actions, and, as far as Franco is concerned, I assure you that our opinion of him has not changed. Nor has our opinion of the emperor of Japan, and yet we have good relations with Japan. The fact is that we cannot project the problems of the past onto the realities of the present.

Fallaci: Pinochet is not the past; he is the present. Argentinean dictators are present, not past. And yet you have relations with them, with Pinochet.

Deng: The case of Argentina is different: Argentina is under a military government, and we deal with Argentina as a country; our policies serve the interests of China with that country. As far as Pinochet is concerned, I know that many of our progressive friends will not understand our behavior toward him, but, speaking candidly, I can tell you that our presence in Chile has done some good. And I’ll explain what I mean. Allende was a friend to China, and his memory is very dear to us. He was a friend, even if he let himself be too heavily influenced by the Soviet Union. On this count, Zhou Enlai gave him a very sincere piece of advice: don’t follow the Soviets in everything they say; do not adopt a far-left politics, or otherwise you will end up isolated. And, well, after Allende was killed and the democratic forces in that country found themselves in the extreme difficulty that we’ve all heard about, we thought long and hard about the appropriateness of retaining diplomatic representation in Chile, or breaking all ties. But we chose to stay. You know, when judging certain situations it’s important to keep an open mind and to examine the far-reaching criteria of each situation. It’s also necessary to consider global interests; in short, to be very cautious, very prudent. And, even if the choices you are referring to were made by Chairman Mao and Zhou Enlai, and not by me, I maintain that they were correct. Listen carefully: you are a journalist, a writer, and you can say whatever you like about international affairs. You can choose freely. But when one is leading a country… it’s another story entirely.

Fallaci: This is a convincing answer, Mr. Deng. And at this point I’d like to undertake the last subject I came to interview you about: world war — or, rather, what the Chinese call “the inevitability of world war.”

Deng: War is inevitable because superpowers exists and because imperialism exists. And we are not the only ones who think this way; in every part of the world today, many people are convinced that war will break out in the 1980s. The next ten years will be very, very dangerous. They’re terrifying. We should never forget this, because this is the only way we will prevent war from breaking out immediately; this is the only way we can defer it. Not by chatting about peace and detente. Westerners have been talking about peace and detente since the end of the Second World War. So has the Soviet Union. But where is this peace, where is this detente? Year to year, if not day to day, the hot spots are growing; the factors that will lead to World War Three are increasing; and still they talk about detente and peace.

Fallaci: The fact is that most people don’t understand this — don’t want to understand this. Or they don’t believe it, or don’t want to believe it. Especially in Europe.

Deng: They delude themselves that war can be prevented. And so they close their eyes; they cover their ears. This is one of the factors that brings about war: this blindness, this subservience, this compliance. Before the Second World War, all of this became famous under one word: appeasement. Chamberlain and Daladier used this word to explain their passive attitude toward Hitler as he ravaged Eastern Europe. Today, certain European countries — and not only European countries — behave exactly as Chamberlain and Daladier behaved in the late 1930s. But what did Chamberlain and Daladier get out of it? What was their appeasement good for? World War Two broke out precisely because they underestimated the danger, because certain European leaders deluded themselves that they could avoid war by reacting passively and making concessions to Hitler. This new appeasement only serves to weaken the West — and Europe. The Soviets know this well, and so they encourage it. And every day they become more arrogant.

Fallaci: Do you mean to say that Schmidt and Giscard d’Estaing are playing a game with the Soviet Union?

Deng: I mean to say that certain people are not aware of the danger. I mean to say that the methods adopted by certain people are not wise. I mean to say that certain people are rolling the dice, tempting fate, and that this is not wise. We Chinese do not behave in this manner. When we face a problem like Vietnam, we do so in the interests of everyone, according to the rules of global strategy.

Fallaci: Mr. Deng — what, in your opinion, are the hot spots today that could trigger war?

Deng: I would indicate the Middle East and then Indochina. But dangerous zones are everywhere at this point, and it is not easy to determine where the fuse will be lit. It is easy, on the other hand, to determine who will light the fuse. You see, the Chinese have said for years that only two countries are capable of launching World War Three: the United States and the Soviet Union. However, after World War Two — or, rather, after the Korean War and the Vietnam War — American power has been steadily declining, and the United States have continued to withdraw. Today, they are on the defensive, and let’s admit it: the United States are afraid of the Soviet Union. As if this weren’t enough, they are operating under a political system that does not allow them to make immediate decisions. The Soviet Union, on the other hand, is on the offensive and only has to convene a few members of the Politburo in order to arrive at a decision. This is how it happened with Afghanistan; a few members of the Politburo met and decided to invade. Anyway, look: the focal point of Soviet strategy is Europe — is still Europe. And this reality will not change.

Fallaci: So war could break out in Europe? Is that what you’re saying?

Deng: No, not necessarily in Europe — for Europe. I’m saying that World War Three will break out for Europe, because Europe has the strong economy, Europe has political influence, Europe has military might, and all of this is needed for world domination. Even if they occupy China — even if they occupy the rest of the planet — the Soviets will be unable to establish the global hegemony they desire if they don’t have Europe. But, naturally, when I assert that the focal point of Soviet strategy is Europe, I include the Middle East, the northern coast of Africa, and the Mediterranean, essentially.

Fallaci: You didn’t list the Persian Gulf among the dangerous areas.

Deng: But that too, as well as the invasion of Afghanistan, or the march of the Soviets toward the Indian Ocean — it’s all part of their strategy to surround Europe in a pincer movement! Of course, the invasion of Afghanistan is the first step toward reaching the Indian Ocean so that they can gain complete control of the Middle East! And when this plan is completed, Europe will find itself in a critical moment, because what can Europe do, once the Soviets have taken the oil wells of the Middle East? When former Prime Minister Callaghan came to China, I discussed these facts at length with him. I told him that Europe’s critical moment would be reached when the Soviets gained control of the oil wells in the Middle East, and I asked him a direct question: “What will you do when the Soviet march toward the Indian Ocean reaches the Persian Gulf and the Middle East? Because at that point you will have only two choices, Mr. Prime Minister: either you fall to your knees before the Soviet Union and, at best, become a kind of Finland, which would be the most honorable solution, or you could fight.” And Callaghan said, “There would only be one choice.” He didn’t tell me which choice, but I understood him, and I replied, “Then you should make that choice immediately, Mr. Prime Minister. You shouldn’t wait.” Listen carefully: choosing now means stopping the front in Afghanistan and Cambodia and… do you see now what I was saying about Cambodia? If it were possible to stop the Soviet Union in Afghanistan and in Cambodia, World War Three would be deferred.

Fallaci: And then? If World War Three is inevitable, deferral seems almost pointless.

Deng: Then… we’ll see. In a few years, things might even improve. The important thing is to postpone the war — to gain a few years.

Fallaci: And Iran? There are those who say that Afghanistan is a sort of rehearsal for the eventual invasion of Iran.

Deng: I am sure that the Soviet Union will not stop in Afghanistan if we do not stop them. And it’s next target will be either Iran or Pakistan. And, even if it’s not possible to know which of these two countries they will choose first, I think it’s important to concentrate our attention on Iran.

Fallaci: But don’t you think that the drama of the American hostages, the chaos in which Iran is drowning, the madness of Khomeini and his followers — in short, what has happened in that country over the last ten months — is an advantage for the Soviets?

Deng: Listen, I don’t understand what is happening down there very well. I can tell you only that Iran is not just a hot spot; it’s boiling. Let’s not forget that the Soviet Union has a very strong influence in Iran. Eh! — very strong. And this should show you why we have every intention of maintaining the best possible relations with Iran. Whatever happens in Iran, you will see that a Chinese embassy in Tehran will be very useful.

Fallaci: It wasn’t very useful to the Americans.

Deng: The Americans are completely incapable of doing anything in Iran. But the heart of the matter, as I see it, is not Iran; it is war — the inevitability of war. I am not talking about Iran; I am asserting that war will break out, sooner or later. And whoever thinks differently is making a tragic mistake, because they are failing to enact effective measures. But really! — the Soviet Union talks about the SALT agreements incessantly, and yet it never stops arming itself. Its collection of atomic bombs and nuclear weapons is incredible, and its armories are filling up with conventional weapons. These weapons are not food; they are not shoes; they are not clothes; they are not things that will spoil if not consumed immediately. Sooner or later, they will be used.

Fallaci: Will you allow me an observation on this point, Mr. Deng? The Chinese always say that they are not afraid of the Soviet Union, that you are ready to face them. But how can you believe that you can compete with the tremendous efficiency of the Soviet military machine?

Deng: [He laughs.] Eh! China is poor and our military is backwards, I agree. But we have our traditions, you know. And for quite some time, using inadequate and miserable equipment, we have cultivated the art of defeating well-armed enemies. Our territory is extremely vast, and in this vast territory the people have learned the necessary resistance for a long war — to bend the strength of others through their weaknesses. Whoever wants to invade China should remember this truth, and I believe that the Soviets remember it well. Many people continue to predict that the Soviet Union’s next target will be China, and some friends even pass us information to prove to us that the Soviets are amassing troops along the Chinese borders and border regions. But we simply say that this has never been a secret, and that invading China is a very big step for them. Even if they were able to occupy Beijing and all the lands to the north of the Yellow Sea, for us the war would be just beginning. No, there’s no need to mythologize Soviet military superiority when you talk about China. The Afghan guerrillas are very active in Afghanistan, you know. And in China we have a lot of space — I repeat, a lot of people.

Fallaci: I think I understand the tradition you’re alluding to, Mr. Deng — the one that consists in beckoning your enemy in and saying sweetly, “Come in, my dears, come in. Make yourselves comfortable. Then you’ll see what happens. Who will ever see you again?”

Deng: [He laughs loudly.] Look, I don’t know about a lot of things. I don’t know much about the economy. But I know about war. I know how war is fought.

Fallaci: The fact is that probably no one will have time to fight, Mr. Deng, because war with China means world war; world war means nuclear war; and nuclear war means the end of the world.

Deng: I agree with the first part of your statement; if the USSR invades, it will not be a local war. I do not agree with the second part of your statement, however; it’s not certain that World War Three will be a nuclear war. In my opinion, this is because both sides have nuclear weapons, and there is a strong possibility that World War Three will be fought with conventional warfare.

Fallaci: Thank you, Mr. Deng. I’ve finished, Mr. Deng.

Deng: Thank you, and please make sure everyone understands what I’ve told you. Explain to them that it is necessary to carry out an objective evaluation of Chairman Mao — to first consider his merits, and then his mistakes. Explain to them that we will continue to follow Mao Zedong Thought but that we will be clear about where he was wrong. And explain to them that these mistakes were our mistakes, too — my mistakes, too!

Fallaci: I will, Mr. Deng. And if you’ll allow me one last question: What score would you give yourself?

Deng: Hmm… listen, I have made mistakes — yes, sometimes serious ones. But I never made them with bad intentions; I always made them with good intentions. My conscience is clear about my own life. Hmm… listen, I think I could give myself fifty percent. Yes, fifty percent would be all right.

Fallaci also prefaces with a humorous anecdote from the first day, excluded from the final transcript, resulting from her offering birthday greetings:

Deng: My birthday? Is it my birthday tomorrow?

Fallaci: Yes, I read it in your biography.

Deng: Humph! If you say so… I don’t know. I never know when my birthday is, and, even if it is, it’s hardly something to be congratulated about. It means I’m turning sixty-six. And sixty-six means decay.

Fallaci: My father is sixty-six, Mr. Deng, and if I tell my father that this means decay, I think he’ll clock me.

Deng: As well he should! You certainly shouldn’t be saying such things to your father.

[1] “Answers to the Italian Journalist Oriana Fallaci.” CPC Encyclopedia. [web] 

[2] Among other things, Chen Yun (b. 1905-1995) was known for coining the term “birdcage economy” in relation to the policy of Reform and Opening Up: “The cage is the plan, and it may be large or small. But within the cage the bird is free to fly as he wishes.” — R. D.