(3 of 6)
Back in China, Deng, frequently living underground began a long series of political and military assignments for the Communists, that carried him gradually, if not always smoothly, to higher ranks. His earliest misstep, resulting in a brief period out of favor, was to ally himself with a party faction that favored basing the drive to power on rural rather than urban insurrection, then a departure from orthodoxy. The leading advocate of that strategy was none other than Mao, who was working in another province at the time and therefore was spared the humiliation Deng suffered Deng was rehabilitated in time to join the Long March to northern Shaanxi province beginning in October 1934, and continued to support Mao's approach, eventually becoming political commissar of the 129th Division of the Eighth Route Army. A U.S. military observer who met Deng during this period, Marine Corps Major Evans Carlson, remembered him as "short, chunky and physically tough, with a mind as keen as mustard."
As a leader in the war against the Japanese, Deng began to experiment with some of the incentive techniques that are at the core of his second revolution. In 1943 he launched a campaign called the "great production movement," aimed at boosting local harvests. It included a system of "rewarding the hardworking and punishing the lazy" by paying bonuses to model producers. Another feature was "contract work," committing users of public fields and rice paddies to turn over an agreed-upon production quota to the authorities and allowing those farmers to keep anything that exceeded it. According to a recent article in the Chinese journal Modern History Studies, Deng himself joined an army team in tending a wheat field.
In the Communists' postwar struggle with Chiang Kaishek, Deng joined in planning strategy for the Huai-Hai campaign, which drove Nationalist forces south of the Yangtze and helped push them off the mainland to their Taiwan redoubt. A lull in the fighting permitted him to travel briefly to Peking for the ceremony at Tiananmen Square celebrating the founding of the People's Republic on Oct. 1, 1949. Soon afterward, Deng was named political commissar of China's vast Southwest Military Administrative Region and was based in his high school city of Chongqing. For the next three years he directed the region's transformation to a Communist society, including land redistribution and campaigns aimed at checking corruption, bureaucracy and waste.
His success in Chongqing led to a summons to Peking and an almost dizzying ascension in the hierarchy. Already a member of the Central People's Government Council, he became secretary-general of its Central Election Committee and helped draw up plans for the reorganization of the central government. Made a Vice Premier in 1952 and a Politburo member in 1955, Deng began appearing in public with Chairman Mao and Premier Chou. When Mao visited Moscow in late 1957, he drew Soviet Leader Nikita Khrushchev aside and pointed to Deng. "See that little man there?" Mao said. "He's highly intelligent and has a great future ahead of him."