Deng Xiaoping (1904-1997) was a key player on the 20th Century Chinese political stage. He is considered the architect of China’s economic recovery following the crisis of the Great Leap Forward, instigated by Mao Zedong (1893-1976). Unfortunately his policies clashed with the political ideology of Mao, and so Deng was purged from the Communist Party twice during the Cultural Revolution of the late 1960s.
Deng favoured more reformist economic policies, leaning towards capitalism, which ran contrary to Mao’s ideas. While he never held official posts as head of state or Chairman, such was his influence and standing that he was the de facto leader of the nation from 1978 following Mao’s death in 1976 and after politically outsmarting Mao’s chosen successor, Hua Guofeng (1921-2008).
During his time in power, Deng moved China towards a socialist market economy – that is, effectively a socialist economy with capitalist characteristics. Deng was responsible for the opening up of China to foreign trade and investment and encouraging limited private enterprise which many see as the steps that have made China the economic superpower of today and have improved the lives of hundreds of millions of Chinese citizens.
His political career has not been entirely spotless. He may have played a significant role in the political decisions surrounding the military intervention during the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, an event which few dare to discuss openly in China even today. Such is the nature of Chinese politics that his actual role in the decision making process that led to the massacre is not known. However, he effectively retired from the political scene following the event.
Deng is remembered primarily for his economic reforms and how they brought China back from the brink of economic collapse. A set of four coins struck in 2004, two silver and two gold, commemorates the 100 year anniversary of his birth in 1904.