(3 of 6)
In Yan'an, Deng met and married his third wife, Zhuo Lin. While Mao's romantic life was tumultuous, Deng and Zhuo's marriage was beyond scandal and produced a family of three daughters and two sons. But the civil war, which was soon subsumed into the bloody conflict with invading Japanese forces, provided little time for family and certainly no time for home. In fact, Deng was too busy proving his worth to Mao to return to Paifangcun in 1940, when his father was killed and beheaded by unknown attackers. After Japan's defeat in 1945, Deng was instrumental in driving a military wedge down the middle of China, forcing the Nationalists to withdraw and enabling Mao to press on to victory by October 1949.
With the establishment of the People's Republic, Deng began a rapid rise. From 28th in the communist pecking order in 1945, he became General Secretary of the party and one of Mao's 12 Deputy Premiers in 1956. That was the year Khrushchev came to power in Moscow and denounced Stalin at a secret Soviet party congress. Learning of this indictment of a "personality cult," Deng commended it to his own party--a move used to discredit him in the following decade by the Mao-worshipping Red Guards of the Cultural Revolution. In truth, Deng was still loyal to Mao. Indeed, when Mao moved against his intellectual rivals in the Anti-Rightist purge, Deng organized a merciless roundup of as many as half a million of his friend's ideological enemies. Mao appreciated the fervor. During a 1957 visit to Moscow, Mao took Khrushchev aside and pointed out the diminutive Deng: "See that little man there? He's highly intelligent and has a great future ahead of him." Nevertheless, one of the most devastating, man-made catastrophes of the 20th century would fray their comradeship and wound China almost mortally.
At least 30 million, perhaps 40 million, Chinese died as a result of Mao's Great Leap Forward, his campaign to overtake the per capita industrial production of Britain within 15 years. It was Mao's attempt, by sheer force of will, to march a deeply impoverished nation into the front ranks of modernity. The Leap's unscientific agricultural practices and inane technologies turned China into an immense archipelago of unproductive communes racked by famine. No one had clean hands--not the urbane Premier Zhou Enlai, who, though skeptical of collectivization, kept a polite silence; not the gentlemanly President Liu Shaoqi, who withdrew to the island of Hainan to avoid bringing up the subject of famine. Deng himself sycophantically proclaimed high expectations for grain harvests: "We can all have as much as we want." His own home county would be ravaged by hunger.
Mao refused to believe reports of famine, at one point joking that "even if there's a collapse, that'll be all right. The worst that will happen is that the whole world will get a big laugh out of it." By 1961, however, not only were people dying by the millions but the state was on the verge of collapse. By then President Liu decided the time had come to make a leap in another direction--and Deng collaborated with Liu's economic reforms. During a visit to Guangzhou, Deng declared, "It doesn't matter whether the cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice." It was his way of arguing that any method could be tried as long as it meant the people could eat. The words would later be used against him.
Mao continued to ordain idiotic agricultural experiments, but Liu and Deng sidetracked the policies. The strategy--a sort of bureaucratic guerrilla warfare--exasperated the Great Helmsman. Presented with new Deng directives on communes, Mao sputtered, "What emperor decided these?" Finally, even Mao recognized that China was famished and dying. He made a strategic retreat and allowed Liu and Deng to restore order and the food supply. But he never forgave them for showing him up. Increasingly paranoid, he accused Deng of refusing to sit next to him at meetings. In 1962 he attacked Liu and Deng, screaming, "You have put the screws on me for a very long time!... Now, for once, I am going to put a scare into you!" Mao's revenge came in 1966 with the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.