mandag 4. mars 2024

From China's Past: A Young Deng Xiaoping in France

Deng Xiaoping arrived in the French port of Marseille on October 19, 1920, disembarking from the Lebon, a refitted cargo ship that had been enlisted in the service of the French government and the Chinese Labour Corps. The local press reported that the Chinese students, including the future leader of China and symbol of reform and opening, wore Western-style clothes, including a broad-brimmed hat and pointed shoes.

Deng had begun the trip as one of 84 students who set off down the Yangtze River from Sichuan Province. The late Ezra Vogel, in his biography of Deng, described Deng’s journey to France — via Chongqing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Singapore, and Sri Lanka — as “formative.”

Deng was just 16 years old when he set off for Europe, the youngest of the Sichuanese students. He was coming of age at a remarkable moment in China’s development as a nation. His hometown of Guang’an was not a major city, but it was well connected, a relatively easy boat-ride from Chongqing, which was itself less than a week’s travel from Shanghai. Major national events, like the May Fourth Movement, brought the youth of Guang’an into the streets, Deng included. His growing political consciousness took him to Chongqing, where he took part in still more nationalist protests. As Vogel put it, “the birth of Deng Xiaoping’s personal awareness of the broader world coincided precisely with the birth of national awareness among educated youth.”