Ezra Vogel: Deng Xiaoping has the most impact on the history of 20th century in the world
Ezra Vogel (photo: GMW.cn/ Zhang Zhou)
At Harvard, Ezra Vogel is called "Mr China", not only for his fluent Chinese, but also for his study on China. Known in China as "Fu Gaoyi", Ezra Vogel started to learn Chinese and history after becoming a post-doctoral research at Harvard University in 1964. He is considered as the only American scholar who excels in Chinese and Japanese issues. He won the "World China Studies Contribution Award" in the fifth World Forum on China Studies on March 23, 2013.
Aug. 22, 2014 is the 110th anniversary of Deng Xiaoping's birth. Just two days before the memorial day, Professor Ezra Vogel received the interview from Guangming Online in Beijing, depicting the great nature of Deng Xiaoping and his impression of contemporary China.
GMW.cn:Aug. 22 marks the 110th anniversary of Deng Xiaoping’s birth. In your book Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China, if I could say it, you think highly of his achievement in the period of reform and opening-up. You seem so keen on him among all Chinese leaders, I wonder why are you interested in him? What character makes him so unique in your perspective?
Ezra Vogel: When I was retired from teaching in the year 2000, I thought my responsibility is to help westerners understand China. And I thought that the most important basis to understand China was to understand the period of reform and opening. Because I think the basic policies that China pursues now are the products of this opening. A journalist can specialize on what is happening today, but a scholar needs to have more research materials. To write a good quality book on today’s events, you must pass certain amount of time and then have more materials available. So I felt that in order to understand contemporary China, the most important period was the period of reform and opening. And if I can understand that period, then it will be important.
I have considered the possibility writing a biography and making a book about Deng, or just say in Chinese "Deng Xiaoping Zhuan", but I decided not to write that book. I went to write about the nature of Deng and how China changed. So that’s why I called it "Deng and the transformation of China."
And he is a very interesting person. I came to believe that in the 20th century, if one asks a question: "what person in the world had an impact on history that will last for long time", perhaps Deng had more impact than any other single person. Because the transition in China was such a fundamental change and leading a transition was really an extraordinary important thing. And understanding that would be really very useful.
GMW.cn: I realize that "transformation", which was not included in the title of the Chinese version, is also a keyword in this book. May I ask which are the most important ones for the "transforming" China nowadays among Deng's political and economic approaches? Is it possible for any of his successors to have as great impact on Chinese history as he did?
Ezra Vogel: I think that at the time he came to power was a very fundamental change, until that time the Communist Party had been specializing in revolution, and he wanted to make the party for rule in China. Until that time they have very strong social structure, the Communist countryside, and there were really almost no markets in the cities. To open up the markets and to allow people to have contracts down to the household in the countryside for rural areas, the opening to the outside world was far more than in the day of Mao. Also, he began the higher examinations for universities in 1977; And for people who used political criteria to influence who was the universally, but after 1977, he was strictly on the examination ability and that changed the nature university education; and the opening to the outside was so wide and China was fundamentally transformed.
The problem facing Xi Jinping are not such huge -- change framework, is how to improve the present framework, how to decrease corruption, how to increase freedom, how to increase the rules of law, how to deal with new environmental issues, how to deal with a stronger country internationally and yet to maintain good relations with other countries. So they are very different challenges, but they were in the framework that was established. It’s not possible now you have a single framework to make such fundamental changes as it was under the leadership.
GMW.cn: In this book you have referred to the current Chinese leader Xi Jinping when you talked about his father’s tenure in Guangdong. What’s your impression of him so far?
Ezra Vogel: From what I know, when he came to power, there was a general awareness someone many high officials, they needed to be bolder in attacking certain problems than in the previous two decades. So there was a general consensus that he must be very bold, particularly in attacking corruption. He was very strong, so he was able to have a lot of support from taking more basic changes.
And I think he has decided he wanted to follow the path of Deng Xiaoping, continuing reform and opening, to be in the same direction, to be a strong leader, and also to advance the country in the future, and he wants to be a very strong leader. So he has found the way to develop a structure, national Security Council, Economic Council in which he has very great power at the top. So I think he is off to making a very big attack on corruption and I think that he has received much support from the public, because the attack was so vigorous.
GMW.cn: In the first half of this year, Chinese government has focused its effort on corruption crackdown. Both in the book and previous interviews you said corruption is one of the main problems in modern China. Do you think Xi Jinping has made a progress regarding this?
Ezra Vogel: I thought it was the most pressing problem, but there are many other problems now, for example, the increase of legal structures, to have regular procedures, the increase of freedom. Because now the new technology of Internet, many people have access to information, the old way of using the propaganda department to control is much more difficult. So all those things are much harder now, Xi Jinping must develop new ways of managing those issues.
GMW.cn: With the overwhelming acclaims for Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China, you were awarded the outstanding contributor to China Studies. Here may I ask, what is your definition of "China studies"?
Ezra Vogel:"China studies" refers to people who want to understand China. Of course, anybody who lived in China must have some understandings, but the term China studies is for those who devote themselves in their careers to a series of research. I think it is important to know the language, it is important to know something about the history, and then it is important to do specialized work. In order to do really Chinese studies, I think all those are required.
GMW.cn: Speaking of China studies, recently it has become a hot topic in China, for Peking University is about to set up a master’s degree program on it. As the first China studies project in top Chinese universities, its subject property, course content，schooling length have been constant topics of debates in students and professors of PKU and many commentators.
What's your opinion on how to teach it as a subject?
Ezra Vogel: First of all, you must have very dedicated people who know the language, for foreigners they must know the language; And they must know certain amount of history and context, and then they must develop a specialized training. I think one of the biggest problems in China, because there are limits on how much you can say and the limits to access to the Internet. Some things are more difficult, especially to get more foreign scholars who are qualified and who want to live with those limitations. So I think for the time being, it will be very hard for China to attract many first-class scholars around the world, because they were coming here for short time, but in their own countries, they can see the Internet more widely, they can use those book more freely, and they can have more free open public discussion. So this will make it more difficult for China to attract first-class scholars and to become really first-class world center of Chinese studies.
GMW.cn: You have devoted yourself to Asian studies for about 30 years at John King Fairbank Center of Harvard University. The way you tutored your students on China studies at Harvard, is it meant to be different from what an indigenous professor did to his students in a Chinese college?
What are the similarities and differences between them?
Ezra Vogel: I have not spent a great deal of time in Chinese universities, so I don’t know such detail. But from what I hear, when American students are in school, they are encouraged to express their own opinion and explain their opinion, and to have different opinions and have discussions. And the Chinese have greater stress on memorization and on learning new facts and information, not own border of discussion. And I think in our classes, we try to focus on, first of all, how to choose a research topic, then to do a research topic, how do you gather evidence, how do you gather information, and then how do you organize it, and present it clearly. So I think in the best American universities, we have a great deal of training, analysis, and thinking independent opinion, collecting evidence, presenting it clearly in a well-organized way. And I think in China, many scholars write quickly and they publish more quickly than we do, but I think sometimes they do not have the time to do a careful systematic analysis, collecting information and presenting their arguments.
By Liu Shimeng, GMW.cn (Guangming Online)
Sincere thanks to our cameraman Zhang Zhou & Wang Enhui
Outstanding contributor to China Studies
Ezra Fogel was former director of the Fairbank Center for East Asian Studies of Harvard University. Known in Chinese as "Fu Gaoyi", he is called the "Mr. China at Harvard University". His book "Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China" was one of the best sellers in China in 2013.More>>
- "I came to believe that in the 20th century, if one asks a question: "what person in the world had an impact on history that will last for long time", perhaps Deng Xiaoping had more impact than any other single person."
- "And I think Xi Jinping has decided he wanted to follow the path of Deng Xiaoping, continuing reform and opening, to be in the same direction, to be a strong leader, and also to advance the country in the future, and he wants to be a very strong leader."
- "I felt that in order to understand contemporary China, the most important period was the period of reform and opening. I went to write about the nature of Deng and how China changed. So that’s why I called it "Deng and the transformation of China.""
Consultant producer:Zeng Fanhua
Designer: Zhou yueqin
Art Editor: Li Wenfeng
Executive Editor:Liu Shimeng