The Philosopher And The Pragmatist

ONLY THOSE WHO EXPERIENCED MAO ZEDONG'S China can appreciate the transformations wrought by Deng Xiaoping. The bustling cities, the vast construction booms, the incredible traffic jams, the uncommunist dilemma of a growth rate threatening to spiral into inflation--all of these were inconceivable in the drab China of agricultural communes, a stagnant economy, deserted streets, and a population wearing standard jackets and professing ideological fervor. Deng's revolution changed all that. He abolished the agricultural communes and decentralized economic decision making. He fostered provincial autonomy. To be sure, it remains to be seen whether the vast gaps between China's coastal regions and the more backward interior can be bridged before there is political unrest. And economic progress has been accompanied by rigid insistence on one-party rule. But the Chinese population is dramatically better off materially, and less constrained politically, than 25 years ago.

I first met Mao in 1972 during President Nixon's historic trip, which took place 25 years ago last week, and I saw him four more times over the course of the next three years. From 1974 to 1989, I met with Deng at least once a year. I watched as, together, they transformed China, Deng undoing but also building on Mao's legacy. Mao destroyed traditional China and cleared the way for its ultimate modernization. But he faced the revolutionary's dilemma: that the destruction of existing patterns of obligations requires an increasing resort to force, a tendency further encouraged in Mao's case by the straitjacket of ideology. Deng had the courage to base modernization on the initiative and resilience of individual Chinese. But he faced the reformer's dilemma: that it is impossible to compartmentalize reform. And in seeking to protect his economic and social achievements, Deng felt obliged to return at least part way to Maoism in the political field.

As one of the leaders of the Long March, Deng had been a witness and, in the end, a victim of Mao's ideological zeal. By the time I encountered him in 1974, he had had enough of political turmoil. A recurrent theme of his conversations was the yearning for political stability and the fear that, once lost, it might not be regained for decades. And if stability was lost, he argued, the dream of a better life for the Chinese people and for a strong China would vanish as well. Deng had witnessed China torn asunder by the Cultural Revolution. Returned to power a second time in 1978, he was in no mood for further political experiments; his goal was to improve the lives of the Chinese people.

These were not the priorities when Richard Nixon of the anti-Communist rhetoric and Mao Zedong of the pithy and contemptuous anti-capitalist slogans came together to launch a geopolitical revolution. Nixon was driven by the desire to extricate the United States from Vietnam, to create a counterweight to Soviet expansionism and to draw the sting from militant peace movements by unveiling a grand design for peace. Mao shared Nixon's concern over Soviet expansionism; indeed, he had every reason to believe that China might be its next target. For the Brezhnev doctrine of 1968 had reserved to the Kremlin the right to use force against backsliding Communist countries. And no contemporary leader had challenged Moscow's doctrinal pre-eminence more rigorously than Mao. At the same time, however, Mao was far too subtle to believe that the United States would defend China's right to doctrinal heterodoxy.

With the very survival of his society and his system at stake, Mao had few alternatives to an essentially balance-of-power approach, and he could draw on a rich tradition of Chinese statecraft. But emphasis on geopolitics was unprecedented for an American president, at least since the days of Theodore Roosevelt. That China and the United States would seek rapprochement in the early 1970s was imposed by the international environment; that it occurred with such speed was due to the ability of the leaders of both sides to transcend ideology and cooperate on the basis of mutual interests. The statement in the Shanghai CommuniquE of 1972 opposing hegemony was a far more significant departure from the Wilsonianism dominant in the United States than from Chinese traditions. Even when not spelled out in detail, resistance to hegemony implied a joint decision to counterbalance Soviet power around the world.

Although Prime Minister Zhou Enlai was my principal interlocutor during the early visits, Mao overshadowed all his subordinates by the near-religious awe in which he seemed to be held (or which his subordinates at least thought it wise to affect). Zhou and afterward even Deng invariably conducted their conversations by buttressing their arguments with extensive quotations from Mao, even when it required a stretch to do so. And in his presence, they were extraordinarily deferential in both attitude and expression.

The atmosphere of remoteness and of all-encompassing, at times menacing, dominance was reinforced by the manner in which meetings with Mao took place. Mao lived in the Imperial City as remote and exalted as the emperors he derided. Appointments with him were never scheduled; they simply came about as if events of nature. On each of my five meetings with Mao, the first hint would be a stirring among my Chinese interlocutors and the appearance of Assistant Foreign Minister Wang Hairong, reputed to be Mao's niece. For a few minutes, my clearly agitated Chinese counterparts would act as if nothing unusual were happening. Then, almost immediately, Zhou or Deng would put away his papers and say: ""Chairman Mao is expecting you.''

Whether or not the American delegation was ready did not seem to be an issue worthy of being raised. Accompanied by Zhou (or Deng, in my last two conversations), we would set off for Mao's residence in Chinese cars. No American security personnel were permitted, and the press could only be notified afterward. The Chinese were skillful in controlling the public image to be conveyed by the pictures they released and the adjectives they used to describe the meeting. When Mao was photographed as beaming, the message was that American-Chinese relations were benign. After another meeting, the photo depicted Mao wagging a finger at me, but he was smiling, so that the overall impact was that of a kind, somewhat put-upon teacher.

Mao's residence was approached through a red gate on the wide east-west axis carved from where the ancient city walls stood before the Communist revolution. Inside the Imperial City, the road hugged a lake, on the other side of which was a series of residences for high officials. All had been built in the days of Sino-Soviet friendship and reflected the heavy Stalinist style of the period.

Mao's residence appeared no different, though it stood slightly apart from the others. On my first two visits, a small anteroom was almost completely dominated by a Ping-Pong table. It did not matter because I was always taken directly to Mao's study, a room of modest size with bookshelves lining three walls filled with manuscripts in a state of considerable disarray. Books also covered the tables and occasionally were piled up on the floor. On my first few visits, a simple wooden bed stood in a corner. The all-powerful ruler of the world's most populous nation wished to be perceived as a philosopher-king who had no need to buttress his authority with any traditional symbol of majesty.

Mao would rise from the center of a semicircle of easy chairs, a female attendant standing close by to steady him (and, on my last visit, to hold him up), for by the time I met him, he already had had several strokes. He would fix upon his visitor a smile both penetrating and slightly mocking, as if to warn that there was no point in trying to deceive this specialist in understand- ing and exploiting human weakness and duplicity.

Despite Mao's progressively impaired physical condition, he exuded more concentrated willpower and determination than any other leader I have encountered, with the possible exception of Charles de Gaulle. He could move only with difficulty, and his ability to speak progressively worsened to the point where, during our last conversation, aides had to write down what the sounds he uttered might mean and then show them to him before translating.

Despite these handicaps, Mao conducted conversations in a Socratic style. He would generally begin with a question, quite often in a needling tone. With deceptive casualness, he would then offer a few pithy comments, ranging from the philosophical to the sarcastic and culminating in yet another question. The cumulative effect of his tangential observations was to convey a mood while avoiding any commitment. When Nixon tried to draw Mao into a discussion of specific measures, he replied: ""These should be discussed with the Premier [Zhou Enlai]. I discuss the philosophical questions.''

That actually was true only when Mao wanted to separate himself from an as yet uncertain outcome. Once the Shanghai CommuniquE had established a framework for Sino-American relations, Mao's utterances grew increasingly direct. In November 1975, he picked up on a banality I had uttered to Deng the day before, to the effect that Sino-American relations were in good shape because neither side was demanding anything from the other. That was too pedestrian for Mao: ""If neither side has anything to ask from the other, why would you be coming to Beijing?... And why would we want to receive you and the president?'' A month later, he chose a parable to indicate to President Ford his displeasure with what he considered ineffective American resistance to Soviet and Cuban moves in Angola, in fact cut off by Congress: ""The world is not tranquil, and a storm--the wind and rain--are coming ... At the approach of the storm, the swallows are busy ... but the flapping of their wings cannot obstruct the coming of the storm.''

On international affairs, Mao adopted an insistently nonideological approach. One of his first observations to Nixon was: ""... People like me sound a lot of big cannons. For example, things like "the whole world should unite and defeat imperialism, revisionism, and all reactionaries and establish socialism'.'' He laughed uproariously at the implication that anyone might have taken seriously a slogan which had been scrawled for decades on every public placard in China. With similar glee, Mao volunteered that he preferred dealing with conservative Western leaders because leftists were sentimental, unrealistic and vulnerable to Soviet peace offensives.

At the time of the 1972 Nixon visit, we were still treating Taiwan as the legitimate government of China, and we were also at war with North Vietnam, then ostensibly China's ally. Mao wasted no time unraveling these complexities. Taiwan would not be permitted to stand in the way of Sino-American rapprochement, nor would Indochina. ""The issue [of Taiwan] is not the important one,'' Mao said offhandedly in the first few minutes of his meeting with Nixon, as if he were lubricating a social chat with some self-evident observation. ""The issue of international relations is the important one.'' And Mao quickly put to rest the nightmare of possible Chinese intervention in Vietnam, which had constrained every American administration in Indochina for a decade: ""At present, the question of aggression from the United States or aggression from China is relatively small ... You want to withdraw some of your troops back to your soil; ours do not go abroad.''

Lest we miss Mao's point, Zhou expanded on it in his more elegant manner. Whatever support China gave Vietnam had a historical, not an ideological or strategic, origin. ""The debt we owe them was incurred by our ancestors. We have since liberation no responsibility because we overthrew the old system. Still, we feel a deep and encompassing sympathy for them.'' Sympathy, of course, was not the same as political or military support; it was a delicate way to assure us that China would not get involved.

In November 1973, Mao invited me to a nearly three-hour tour d'horizon of the international situation. Combining queries with allusions and alternating bonhomie with mocking challenge, Mao sketched his conception of global containment of the Soviet Union in broad strokes. He identified the countries that could contribute to this task and analyzed what was needed to strengthen them as if no constraints on the application of the national interest could ever arise. David Bruce, then head of our liaison office in Beijing, who had known de Gaulle, Churchill and Adenauer, described Mao's presentation as the most extraordinary tour de force in his experience.

In Mao's view--subsequently largely borne out by events--the Soviet Union was not a real, only a mock, superpower. It had ""stretched its hands too far,'' and its industrial capacity would not be able to sustain its global ambitions. Hence Moscow was sure to lose the geopolitical struggle, provided only that the countries around the Soviet periphery cooperated in thwarting Moscow's designs and did not let themselves be defeated one by one.

Characteristically, Mao seemed to believe that we had other options which were in fact unsustainable by the American political system or tradition. We might be tempted, he told me, to get rid of communism once and for all by embroiling the two Communist giants with each other and then turning on the victor. In Mao's thinking, our means for doing so were to encourage a Soviet attack on China, followed by American pressure on an exhausted Soviet Union. In Mao's words: ""Let them get bogged down in China ... And then you can poke your finger at the Soviet back. And your slogan will be peace: to bring down the Socialist imperialisms for the sake of peace. ...''

The blueprint for Sino-American relations established by Nixon and Mao remained remarkably consistent through five administrations of both parties: a parallel strategy of preventing ""hegemony''--in other words, of preserving the global balance of power; no challenges by either side to the vital concerns of the other; acceptance by the United States of the principle of one China and disavowal of a two-China or a one-China, one-Taiwan policy; and implicit understanding that China would not press the Taiwan issue to the point of force.

Mao's geopolitical, single-minded and essentially nonideological orientation with respect to foreign policy stood in stark contrast to the dominant role he assigned to ideology at home. When we encountered Mao, he was the unchallenged leader of a revolution that had claimed tens of millions of victims in the name of historical truth; yet he was assailed by premonitions of its fragility. Two contradictory impulses seemed to be undermining the revolutionary Elan: the persistence of traditional Chinese values and the very momentum of the Communist state. Mao sounded the first theme in his reply to a Nixon compliment on having transformed an ancient civilization: ""I have not been able to change it. I have only been able to change a few places in the vicinity of Beijing.''

After a lifetime of titanic struggle to uproot Chinese society, there was not a little pathos in Mao's resigned recognition of the pervasiveness of Chinese culture. Through the millennia, Chinese rulers have governed a population far more numerous than those of any other society, often by assertions of absolute power. But the very vastness of the Chinese population imposed a limit on the government because the ruler could never be sure that he was in fact controlling his teeming, individualistic, entrepreneurial and family-oriented subjects. In the end, a kind of pluralism would assert itself, not as the result of a political philosophy expounding liberty but because the family, not the state, has been the irrepressible purpose of Chinese life. Families would bend, like so much bamboo, to a prevailing wind, but they would not break. Even the most powerful Chinese rulers ran up against this paradoxical mass--at once obedient and independent, submissive and self-reliant, imposing limits less by direct challenges than by hesitance in executing orders they considered unreasonable.

Millions had died to implement Mao's quest for egalitarian virtue. Yet at the end of the aged Chairman's life, he came up against the reality that a centrally planned state was turning the Communist bureaucracy into a feudal class even more pervasive than the one he had destroyed. Bureaucratic prerogatives were now legitimized by the true faith. Rebelling against that nightmare, Mao launched ever more fierce campaigns to save his people from themselves. With each passing decade, the fading Chairman would wreak another purge on the huge, bloated bureaucracies only to create more chaos, necessitating even more bureaucracy to bring it under control.

In the course of these assaults upon his own system, Mao kept circling back to a dilemma as ancient as China itself. Intrinsically universal, modern technology poses a threat to any society's claims to uniqueness. And uniqueness had always been the distinctive claim of Chinese society. To preserve that uniqueness, China had refused to imitate the West in the 19th century, risking colonization and incurring humiliation. A century later, one objective of Mao's Cultural Revolution--from which indeed it derived its name--had been to eradicate precisely those elements of modernization which threatened to engulf China in a universal culture. Destroying his own disciples became Mao's vast enterprise. For a decade, the aging Chairman renounced progress, closing all universities, recalling his ambassadors from abroad and sending all educated people to work in the fields so that they would experience and pass on the new revolutionary reality.

In 1973, a year after my first encounter with Mao, the physically frail but intellectually still vigorous Chairman seemed to have recognized his dilemma. In one of his elliptical references, Mao warned me against Chinese women and offered to let an unlimited number immigrate to the United States to avoid disaster for his own country. At first I thought he was joking, and he actually had to repeat the comment several times before I understood that he was referring to the radicalism of his wife and her coterie. Mao went on to say he was ending the Cultural Revolution. The Chinese would have to go to school abroad, especially since their language was itself an obstacle to modernization. The Chinese people, he added, were ""very obstinate and very conservative.'' Ever the radical, he continued: ""Maybe if the Soviet Union would throw its bombs and kill all Chinese who are over 30, that would solve the problem for us.'' But that was another way of saying that the problem was insoluble. Within a year, Mao was to reverse the maxims advanced in that conversation. In early 1974 Zhou was for all practical purposes retired, and two years later Deng was purged a second time. When I saw Mao for the last time, six months before his death, he was back to the old Chinese statecraft of playing off one set of barbarians against another. To avoid the United States' moving toward Moscow for fear of confrontation with China over Taiwan, he recalled, with whimsical irony, his comment to Nixon that the issue could wait a hundred years: ""A hundred years hence we will want it and fight for it ... And when I go to heaven to see God, I'll tell him that for the present it is better to have Taiwan under the care of the United States.''

IN 1974, WHEN DENG XIAOPING BECAME MY PRINCIPAL IN-terlocutor, we knew very little about him. he had been secretary general of the Communist Party until he was arrested in 1966, charged with being a ""capitalist roader.'' We learned that he had been restored to the Central Committee of the Communist Party through Mao's personal intervention and against the opposition of the radicals in the Politburo. Though Mao's wife, Jiang Qing, had publicly snubbed Deng shortly after his return to Beijing, he was clearly important to Mao. Uncharacteristically, Mao apologized for Deng's humiliation during the Cultural Revolution. The same reports also told us that, in speaking to a delegation of Australian scientists, Deng had struck themes that were to become his trademarks. China was a poor country, he had said, in need of scientific exchanges and of learning from advanced countries such as Australia. Deng advised the Australian visitors to look at the backward side of China in their travels and not only at its achievements.

Deng arrived in New York in April 1974 as part of a Chinese delegation headed by the foreign minister to a special session of the U.N. General Assembly dealing with economic development. When I invited the Chinese delegation to dinner, it became immediately evident who its real leader was and, even more important, that, far from being restored to ease Zhou's burden, as our intelligence reports claimed, Deng's assignment was, in fact, to replace him. Several friendly references to Zhou were ignored; allusions to remarks of the prime minister were answered by similar quotes from Mao's conversations with me.

Having grown accustomed to Mao's philosophical reflections and indirect allusions and to Zhou's smooth professionalism, it took me some time to adjust to Deng's acerbic, no-nonsense style, his occasional sarcastic interjections and his disdain of the philosophical in favor of the eminently practical. Compact and wiry, he entered a room as if propelled by some invisible force, ready for business. A spittoon ever before him--he used it frequently--Deng rarely wasted time on pleasantries. Nor did he feel it necessary to soften his remarks by swaddling them in parables. He did not envelop one with solicitude as Zhou was wont to do, nor did he treat me, as Mao had, as a fellow philosopher from among whose ranks only a select few were worthy of his personal attention. Deng's attitude was that we were both there to do our nations' business and adult enough to handle the rough patches without personalizing them.

As time went on, I developed enormous regard for this doughty little man with the melancholy eyes who had upheld his cause in the face of extraordinary vicissitudes and who would, in time, transform his country far beyond any of his predecessors. Mao had left a vacuum, as he himself indicated in his comment to Nixon. Out of the wreckage of the Cultural Revolution, Deng fashioned a modernization that is likely to turn China into an economic superpower during the 21st century.

Deng frequently insisted that he considered cordial relations with the United States the central element of Chinese foreign policy. To be sure, Deng's definition of friendship was quintessentially Chinese--that is, without a trace of sentimentality; it reflected his assessment of the requirements of Chinese security, and the conviction that China could progress economically only in a relaxed international atmosphere for which good relations with the United States were the essential precondition.

Deng found many small ways to show his commitment to close relations with the United States. During my visit to Beijing in October 1975, Foreign Minister Qiao Guanhua--who had allied himself with Mao's radical wife--made a blisteringly unfriendly toast at the opening banquet, and when I started to reply in kind, the television lights were turned off. The next morning, Deng invited me and the American delegation to an impromptu picnic in the Fragrant Hills near Beijing and went to ostentatious lengths to put the full weight of his person behind friendship with the United States. He did the same during Ford's visit in late November 1975. Deng ended the trip on a positive note by describing, apparently on his own, the Mao-Ford conversation to the media as an ""earnest and significant conversation ... on wide-ranging issues in a friendly atmosphere.'' He added that ""our two countries face problems of common concern and share many common points.''

Even when Deng disagreed with the American views, he took pains to stress the underlying amity. ""Even when we differ in views,'' said Deng as he welcomed me in October 1975 on what turned out to be a tense visit, ""we do so as familiar friends.'' But while less ideological than Mao, Deng was more nationalist. He was passionate about the return of Hong Kong to China. When I briefed him on the summit between Brezhnev and Ford at Vladivostok, he was at pains to stress that Vladivostok had been Chinese until illegally seized by Russia in the last century. And he was a nuance more insistent with respect to Taiwan than Mao was. Chinese restraint toward Taiwan was a voluntary contribution toward good relations with the United States; it was not a right on which Washington could insist. ""We can wait until the time is riper for a solution of that question ... [but] we do not admit that another country has a right to participate in the solution ...''

After Deng returned from his second exile in 1978, the transformation of Chinese society was his principal goal. Deng's reforms started from the conviction that the suffering caused by Mao's upheavals entitled the Chinese people to a dramatic improvement in their well- being. In the pursuit of that goal, practice overrode theory. ""I do not care whether a cat is black or white so long as it catches mice'' was one of his widely quoted aphorisms. On many occasions he said to me, ""Reality is our teacher.'' And in 1987 he elaborated: ""I am neither a conservative nor a reformer. I seek truth from facts.'' He was a reformer, he said in the same conversation, with respect to economic and technological reform but a conservative in opposing political instability.

Shortly after President Carter normalized relations with Beijing, Deng paid a visit to Washington and invited me to call on him. Exile had not mellowed him; he was feisty. He looked forward to implementing major reforms, he said, free of the impediments of the Gang of Four. Relations with the United States would be the centerpiece of Chinese foreign policy. Deng deplored the collapse of the Shah of Iran and the Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia. Because Vietnam had become a Soviet tool, China would ""teach it a lesson.'' Many senior officials of the Carter administration thought Deng was bluffing. But I recalled Deng's remark when I had reminded him of Mao's reference to the ""empty cannons'' of ideological rhetoric. ""My cannons,'' said Deng, ""are always at least half full.'' Shortly after Deng's return to China, the People's Liberation Army invaded Vietnam to drive home that lesson.

I saw Deng the next time in Seattle, the last stop of his American journey. I was there as a sports fan to watch the American national soccer team in its effort to qualify for the World Cup. I sent Deng a note saying that I did not feel right being in the same city without seeing him, and offered a brief courtesy call. He replied that I had called on him in Washington, and courtesy required him to call on me. And to the extraordinary displeasure of his security personnel, he carried out this whim, walking from his hotel to where I was staying, in the process creating a monumental traffic jam.

We next met in April 1979 in Beijing. Hua Kuo-feng was still secretary general of the Communist Party. He and Deng received me separately for long meetings in the Great Hall of the People. The contrast was striking. Both put forward detailed programs for economic reform. But for the only time in my experience with Chinese leaders, philosophical and practical disagreements were made explicit. Hua sought to spur production by traditional Soviet methods, emphasizing heavy industry, improvements in agricultural production based on communes, increased mechanization and use of fertilizers within the framework of a ubiquitous Five Year Plan.

For his part, Deng passionately rejected all these orthodoxies. The people, he said, needed to be given a stake in what they produced. Therefore, consumer goods had to have priority over heavy industry, the ingenuity of Chinese farmers had to be liberated, the Communist Party needed to become less intrusive and government would have to be decentralized. The conversation continued over a meal where five tables seated 10 each. In answer to my question as to the balance between centralization and decentralization, Deng stressed the importance of decentralization in a vast country of huge population and significant regional differences. But this was not the principal challenge, Deng said. Modern technology had to be introduced to China, tens of thousands of Chinese students would be sent abroad (""we have nothing to fear from Western education'') and the abuses of the Cultural Revolution would be ended once and for all. While Deng had not raised his voice, the tables around us had fallen silent. The other Chinese present were sitting at the edge of their seats, not even pretending not to be listening in on the old man as he outlined his vision of their future. ""We have to get it right this time,'' concluded Deng. ""We have made too many mistakes already.'' Soon after, Hua faded into some minor position. Over the course of the next decade, Deng implemented what he had described at the dinner in 1979.

Our annual meetings until Deng retired from his formal positions in 1990 would generally begin with a discussion of the international situation, but reform was the dominant theme. In September 1987, Deng described the changes he was planning to rejuvenate the Standing Committee of the Politburo. Given the resistance he was encountering, that process would probably take 10 years. To set an example, Deng said he intended to give up all but one of his formal positions. ""So you can rest at ease,'' concluded Deng, ""that the process will continue.''

Deng predicted that since the scale of the Chinese effort was so unprecedented, there would be ups and downs; mistakes would undoubtedly be made. Both courage and prudence were needed to deepen and accelerate structural reform. This would be accompanied by structural political reform, which was, however, far more complicated since it involved the vested interests of millions. The ""division of work'' between the Communist Party and the government needed to be revised, and that meant that many party members would have to change jobs as managers took over responsibility from party secretaries. Such massive changes were possible only if the basic authority was maintained, he argued; otherwise the chaos of the Cultural Revolution would surely return.

In 1988, Deng stated that he was now ready to transfer power from the party to the government. The Communist role would be limited to ""guidance on philosophical issues.'' And he indicated that those issues would be few. Ironically, a year later, the reform movement having accelerated beyond the leaders' ability to control it, Deng felt obliged to protect his conception of reform, to return at least partly to the womb of ideology. On this occasion, too, Deng chided me gently for having predicted in print that China would be a great power by the second decade of the 21st century. I underestimated the problems, he said; 2050 was a more realistic estimate. Part of Deng's motive was probably to discourage any temptation to apply the containment policy to China.

My last meeting with Deng was in November 1989, four months after Tiananmen Square, for a discussion followed by lunch. Nothing had changed, he said; he was still the reformer he had always been. He was defending reform, he said, not ideology. ""In this country,'' he said, ""if stability is lost, it will take decades to regain.'' Deng had difficulty understanding, he averred, why the United States had raised no ideological issues when China was rigidly Communist but was interfering in its domestic affairs now that China was rapidly becoming a socialist market economy. He offered a package deal for resolving the human-rights issues then on the table: the release of a dissident who had sought refuge in the American Embassy and new consideration for some who had been imprisoned in the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square upheaval, in exchange for a resumption of a Sino-American political dialogue.

The offer was not taken up immediately by the Bush administration, which was concentrating on an imminent summit with Gorbachev at Malta and was then deflected by the fall of the Berlin wall. By the time the dialogue was resumed, Deng had become more cautious and preferred to move step by step rather than in one fell swoop. At the same time, American human-rights goals had also become more ambitious.

Deng considered the ultimate purpose of his life to be reform. For that, he struggled--and suffered--with courage and dedication. Paradoxically, it was the passion for reform that shaped his attitude toward the events which fall under the heading of Tiananmen Square. To American observers, they seemed a flowering of democracy. But Deng saw the demonstrations through the prism of two decades earlier, when his residence was besieged and his son maimed for life. Believing that the whole program of reform was at stake, he opted, with heavy-handed methods, for economic over political reform.

Unquestionably, Deng improved the life of the Chinese people. And having achieved the reform to which his life was dedicated, he retired to permit successors to implement his legacy. The reform he sought did not aim at pluralistic democracy. Yet Deng was too wise not to understand that the changes he wrought had a momentum of their own. Clearly Deng's revolution is irreversible. Deng's economic reforms and the socialist market economy they have spawned will require predictability and therefore a growing constitutionalism, even if pluralistic democracy is not established. Decentralization will spawn a kind of federalism. Yet alterations in leadership and institutions can affect emphasis, not direction. Americans need to remember how important a role Sino-American cooperation played in Deng's design. And they owe it to Deng's struggles to recall not only what remains to be done but how far Deng brought his ancient people toward a better life by an act of will and devoted service.

This article is adapted from ""Years of Renewal'' by Henry A. Kissinger, to be published by Little, Brown and Co. in 1998.