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An Interview with Deng Xiaoping

The following is an interview given by Deng Xiaoping to the Italian Oriana Fallaci on August 21 and 23, 1980. I have included Deng’s original Chinese language version at the bottom. The English translation credit goes to People’s Daily of China. It gives very good insight to Deng.

Oriana Fallaci: Will Chairman Mao’s portrait above Tiananmen Gate be kept there?

Deng Xiaoping: It will, forever. In the past there were too many portraits of Chairman Mao. They were hung everywhere. That was not proper and it didn’t really show respect for Chairman Mao. It’s true that he made mistakes in a certain period, but he was after all a principal founder of the Chinese Communist Party and the People’s Republic of China. In evaluating his merits and mistakes, we hold that his mistakes were only secondary. What he did for the Chinese people can never be erased. In our hearts we Chinese will always cherish him as a founder of our Party and our state.

Question: We Westerners find a lot of things hard to understand. The Gang of Four are blamed for all the faults. I’m told that when the Chinese talk about the Gang of Four, many of them hold up five fingers.

Answer: We must make a clear distinction between the nature of Chairman Mao’s mistakes and the crimes of Lin Biao and the Gang of Four. For most of his life, Chairman Mao did very good things. Many times he saved the Party and the state from crisis. Without him the Chinese people would, at the very least, have spent much more time groping in the dark. Chairman Mao’s greatest contribution was that he applied the principles of Marxism-Leninism to the concrete practice of the Chinese revolution, pointing the way to victory. It should be said that before the sixties or the late fifties many of his ideas brought us victories, and the fundamental principles he advanced were quite correct. He creatively applied Marxism-Leninism to every aspect of the Chinese revolution, and he had creative views on philosophy, political science, military science, literature and art, and so on. Unfortunately, in the evening of his life, particularly during the “Cultural Revolution”, he made mistakes — and they were not minor ones — which brought many misfortunes upon our Party, our state and our people. As you know, during the Yan’an days our Party summed up Chairman Mao’s thinking in various fields as Mao Zedong Thought, and we made it our guiding ideology. We won great victories for the revolution precisely because we adhered to Mao Zedong Thought. Of course, Mao Zedong Thought was not created by Comrade Mao alone — other revolutionaries of the older generation played a part in forming and developing it — but primarily it embodies Comrade Mao’s thinking. Nevertheless, victory made him less prudent, so that in his later years some unsound features and unsound ideas, chiefly “Left” ones, began to emerge. In quite a number of instances he went counter to his own ideas, counter to the fine and correct propositions he had previously put forward, and counter to the style of work he himself had advocated. At this time he increasingly lost touch with reality. He didn’t maintain a good style of work. He did not consistently practise democratic centralism and the mass line, for instance, and he failed to institutionalize them during his lifetime. This was not the fault of Comrade Mao Zedong alone. Other revolutionaries of the older generation, including me, should also be held responsible. Some abnormalities appeared in the political life of our Party and state — patriarchal ways or styles of work developed, and glorification of the individual was rife; political life in general wasn’t too healthy. Eventually these things led to the “Cultural Revolution”, which was a mistake.

Question: You mentioned that in his last years, Chairman Mao was in poor health. But at the time of Liu Shaoqi’s arrest and his subsequent death in prison Mao’s health wasn’t so bad. And there are other mistakes to be accounted for. Wasn’t the Great Leap Forward a mistake? Wasn’t copying the Soviet model a mistake? And what did Chairman Mao really want with the “Cultural Revolution”?

Answer: Mistakes began to occur in the late fifties — the Great Leap Forward, for instance. But that wasn’t solely Chairman Mao’s fault either. The people around him got carried away too. We acted in direct contravention of objective laws, attempting to boost the economy all at once. As our subjective wishes went against objective laws, losses were inevitable. Still, it is Chairman Mao who should be held primarily responsible for the Great Leap Forward. But it didn’t take him long — just a few months — to recognize his mistake, and he did so before the rest of us and proposed corrections. And in 1962, when because of some other factors those corrections had not been fully carried out, he made a self-criticism. But the lessons were not fully drawn, and as a result the “Cultural Revolution” erupted. So far as Chairman Mao’s own hopes were concerned, he initiated the “Cultural Revolution” in order to avert the restoration of capitalism, but he had made an erroneous assessment of China’s actual situation. In the first place, the targets of the revolution were wrongly defined, which led to the effort to ferret out “capitalist roaders in power in the Party”. Blows were dealt at leading cadres at all levels who had made contributions to the revolution and had practical experience, including Comrade Liu Shaoqi. In the last couple of years before Chairman Mao’s death he said that the “Cultural Revolution” had been wrong on two counts: one was “overthrowing all”, and the other was waging a “full-scale civil war”. These two counts alone show that the “Cultural Revolution” cannot be called correct. Chairman Mao’s mistake was a political mistake, and not a small one. On the other hand, it was taken advantage of by the two counter-revolutionary cliques headed by Lin Biao and the Gang of Four, who schemed to usurp power. Therefore, we should draw a line between Chairman Mao’s mistakes and the crimes of Lin Biao and the Gang of Four.

Question: But we all know that it was Chairman Mao himself who chose Lin Biao as his successor, much in the same way as an emperor chooses his heir.

Answer: This is what I’ve just referred to as an incorrect way of doing things. For a leader to pick his own successor is a feudal practice. It is an illustration of the imperfections in our institutions which I referred to a moment ago.

Question: To what extent will Chairman Mao be involved when you hold your next Party congress?

Answer: We will make an objective assessment of Chairman Mao’s contributions and his mistakes. We will reaffirm that his contributions are primary and his mistakes secondary. We will adopt a realistic approach towards the mistakes he made late in life. We will continue to adhere to Mao Zedong Thought, which represents the correct part of Chairman Mao’s life. Not only did Mao Zedong Thought lead us to victory in the revolution in the past; it is — and will continue to be — a treasured possession of the Chinese Communist Party and of our country. That is why we will forever keep Chairman Mao’s portrait on Tiananmen Gate as a symbol of our country, and we will always remember him as a founder of our Party and state. Moreover, we will adhere to Mao Zedong Thought. We will not do to Chairman Mao what Khrushchev did to Stalin.

Question: Do you mean to say that the name of Chairman Mao will inevitably come up when the Gang of Four is brought to trial as well as when you have your next Party congress?

Answer: His name will be mentioned. Not only at the next Party congress but also on other occasions. But the trial of the Gang of Four will not detract from Chairman Mao’s prestige. Of course, he was responsible for putting them in their positions. Nevertheless, the crimes the Gang of Four themselves committed are more than sufficient to justify whatever sentences may be passed on them.

Question: I have heard that Chairman Mao frequently complained that you didn’t listen to him enough, and that he didn’t like you. Is it true?

Answer: Yes, Chairman Mao did say I didn’t listen to him. But this wasn’t directed only at me. It happened to other leaders as well. It reflects some unhealthy ideas in his twilight years, that is, patriarchal ways which are feudal in nature. He did not readily listen to differing opinions. We can’t say that all his criticisms were wrong. But neither was he ready to listen to many correct opinions put forward not only by me but by other comrades. Democratic centralism was impaired, and so was collective leadership. Otherwise, it would be hard to explain how the “Cultural Revolution” broke out.

Question: There was one personage in China who always went unscathed, and that was Premier Zhou Enlai. How do you explain this fact?

Answer: Premier Zhou was a man who worked hard and uncomplainingly all his life. He worked 12 hours a day, and sometimes 16 hours or more, throughout his life. We got to know each other quite early, that is, when we were in France on a work-study programme during the 1920s. I have always looked upon him as my elder brother. We took the revolutionary road at about the same time. He was much respected by his comrades and all the people. Fortunately he survived during the “Cultural Revolution” when we were knocked down. He was in an extremely difficult position then, and he said and did many things that he would have wished not to. But the people forgave him because, had he not done and said those things, he himself would not have been able to survive and play the neutralizing role he did, which reduced losses. He succeeded in protecting quite a number of people.

Question: I don’t see how terrible things like the “Cultural Revolution” can be avoided or prevented from recurring.

Answer: This issue has to be addressed by tackling the problems in our institutions. Some of those we established in the past were, in fact, tainted by feudalism, as manifested in such things as the personality cult, the patriarchal ways or styles of work, and the life tenure of cadres in leading posts. We are now looking into ways to prevent such things from recurring and are preparing to start with the restructuring of our institutions. Our country has a history of thousands of years of feudalism and is still lacking in socialist democracy and socialist legality. We are now working earnestly to cultivate socialist democracy and socialist legality. Only in this way can we solve the problem.

Question: Are you sure that things will proceed more smoothly from now on? Can you attain the goal you have set yourselves? I hear that the so-called Maoists are still around. By “Maoists” I mean those who backed the “Cultural Revolution”.

Answer: The influence of the Gang of Four should not be underrated, but it should be noted that 97 or 98 per cent of the population hate them intensely for their crimes. This was shown by the mass movement against the Gang of Four which erupted at Tiananmen Square on April 5, 1976, when the Gang were still riding high, Chairman Mao was critically ill and Premier Zhou had passed away. Since the Gang’s overthrow [in 1976], and particularly in the past two years, the will and demands of the people have been given expression in the Third, Fourth and Fifth Plenary Sessions of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party. We are considering ways of resolving our problems by improving our institutions. Many issues have already been raised now. Particular emphasis is being laid on working single-mindedly for the four modernizations, and this is winning the hearts of the people. They want political stability and unity. They are fed up with large-scale movements. Such movements invariably ended up hurting a number — and not a small number — of people. Incessant movements make it practically impossible to concentrate on national construction. Therefore, we can say for sure that given the correctness of our present course, the people will support us and such phenomena as the “Cultural Revolution” will not happen again.

Question: The Gang of Four could only have been arrested after the death of Chairman Mao. Who engineered their arrest? Who initiated the idea?

Answer: It was collective effort. First of all, I think, it had a mass base laid by the April 5th Movement [of 1976]. The term “Gang of Four” was coined by Chairman Mao a couple of years before his death. We waged struggles against the Gang for two years, in 1974 and 1975. By then people clearly saw them for what they were. Although Chairman Mao had designated his successor, the Gang of Four refused to accept this. After Chairman Mao’s death, the Gang took the opportunity to try and get all power into their own hands, and the situation demanded action from us. They were rampant at that time, trying to overthrow the new leadership. Under these circumstances, the great majority of the comrades of the Political Bureau were agreed that measures had to be taken to deal with the Gang. The efforts of one of two individuals would not have sufficed for this purpose.

It should be pointed out that some of the things done after the arrest of the Gang of Four were inconsistent with Chairman Mao’s wishes, for instance, the construction of the Chairman Mao Memorial Hall. He had proposed in the fifties that we should all be cremated when we died and that only our ashes be kept, that no remains should be preserved and no tombs built. Chairman Mao was the first to sign his name, and we all followed suit. Nearly all senior cadres at the central level and across the country signed. We still have that book of signatures. What was done in the matter after the smashing of the Gang of Four was prompted by the desire to achieve a relative stability.

Question: Does this mean that the Chairman Mao Memorial Hall will soon be demolished?

Answer: I am not in favour of changing it. Now that it is there, it would not be appropriate to remove it. It wasn’t appropriate to build it in the first place, but to change it would give rise to all kinds of talk. Many people are now speculating whether we will demolish the Memorial Hall. We have no such idea.

Question: It is said that you are giving up the post of Vice-Premier.

Answer: I will not be the only one to resign. All other comrades of the older generation are giving up their concurrent posts. Chairman Hua Guofeng will no longer serve concurrently as Premier of the State Council. The Central Committee of the Party has recommended Comrade Zhao Ziyang as candidate for that post. If we old comrades remain at our posts, newcomers will be inhibited in their work. We face the problem of gradually reducing the average age of leaders at all levels. We have to take the lead.

There were previously no relevant rules. In fact, however, there was life tenure in leading posts. This does not facilitate the renewal of leadership or the promotion of younger people. It is an institutional defect which was not evident in the sixties because we were then in the prime of life. This issue involves not just individuals but all the relevant institutions. It has an even greater bearing on our general policy and on whether our four modernizations can be achieved. Therefore, we say it would be better for us old comrades to take an enlightened attitude and set an example in this respect.

Question: I have seen other portraits in China. At Tiananmen I’ve seen portraits of Marx, Engels and Lenin and particularly of Stalin. Do you intend to keep them there?

Answer: Before the “Cultural Revolution” they were put up only on important holidays. The practice was changed during the “Cultural Revolution”, when they were displayed permanently. Now we are going back to the former way.

Question: The four modernizations will bring foreign capital into China, and this will inevitably give rise to private investment. Won’t this lead to a miniaturized capitalism?

Answer: In the final analysis, the general principle for our economic development is still that formulated by Chairman Mao, that is, to rely mainly on our own efforts with external assistance subsidiary. No matter to what degree we open up to the outside world and admit foreign capital, its relative magnitude will be small and it can’t affect our system of socialist public ownership of the means of production. Absorbing foreign capital and technology and even allowing foreigners to construct plants in China can only play a complementary role to our effort to develop the productive forces in a socialist society. Of course, this will bring some decadent capitalist influences into China. We are aware of this possibility; it’s nothing to be afraid of.

Question: Does it mean that not all in capitalism is so bad?

Answer: It depends on how you define capitalism. Any capitalism is superior to feudalism. And we cannot say that everything developed in capitalist countries is of a capitalist nature. For instance, technology, science — even advanced production management is also a sort of science — will be useful in any society or country. We intend to acquire advanced technology, science and management skills to serve our socialist production. And these things as such have no class character.

Question: I remember that several years ago, when talking about private plots in rural areas, you acknowledged that man needs some personal interest to produce. Doesn’t this mean to put in discussion communism itself?

Answer: According to Marx, socialism is the first stage of communism and it covers a very long historical period in which we must practise the principle “to each according to his work” and combine the interests of the state, the collective and the individual, for only thus can we arouse people’s enthusiasm for labour and develop socialist production. At the higher stage of communism, when the productive forces will be greatly developed and the principle “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” will be practised, personal interests will be acknowledged still more and more personal needs will be satisfied.

Question: You mentioned that there are others who made contributions to Mao Zedong Thought. Who were they?

Answer: Other revolutionaries of the older generation, for example Premier Zhou Enlai, Comrades Liu Shaoqi and Zhu De — and many others. Many senior cadres are creative and original in their thinking.

Question: Why did you leave your own name out?

Answer: I am quite insignificant. Of course, I too have done some work. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be counted as a revolutionary.

Question: What we did not understand was: If the Gang of Four was, as you said, a minority with all the country against them, how could it happen that they were holding the whole country, including the veteran leaders? Was it because one of the four was the wife of Mao Zedong and the ties between Mao Zedong and her were so profound that no one dared to touch her?

Answer: This was one of the factors. As I’ve said, Chairman Mao made mistakes, one of which was using the Gang, letting them come to power. Also, the Gang had their own factional set-up and they built a clique of some size — particularly they made use of ignorant young people as a front, so they had a fair-sized base.

Question: Was Mao Zedong blinded by her so that he wouldn’t see what she was doing? And was she an adventuress like the Empress Dowager Yehonala?

Answer: Jiang Qing did evil things by flaunting the banner of Chairman Mao. But Chairman Mao and Jiang Qing lived separately for years.

Question: We didn’t know that.

Answer: Jiang Qing did what she did by flaunting the banner of Chairman Mao, but he failed to intervene effectively. For this he should be held responsible. Jiang Qing is rotten through and through. Whatever sentence is passed on the Gang of Four won’t be excessive. They brought harm to millions upon millions of people.

Question: How would you assess Jiang Qing? What score would you give her?

Answer: Below zero. A thousand points below zero.

Question: How would you assess yourself?

Answer: I would be quite content if I myself could be rated fifty-fifty in merits and demerits. But one thing I can say for myself: I have had a clear conscience all my life. Please mark my words: I have made quite a few mistakes, and I have my own share of responsibility for some of the mistakes made by Comrade Mao Zedong. But it can be said that I made my mistake with good intentions. There is nobody who doesn’t make mistakes. We should not lay all past mistakes on Chairman Mao. So we must be very objective in assessing him. His contributions were primary, his mistakes secondary. We will inherit the many good things in Chairman Mao’s thinking while at the same time explaining clearly the mistakes he made.

(Excerpts concerning domestic issues taken from the Chinese transcript of a two-part interview.)


  1. N.M.Cheung
    August 1st, 2015 at 05:11 | #1

    It’s timely and refreshing to reread this interview, as it very much pertains to China today. It clarified my doubts about preserving Mao’s body, about feudalism/patriarchy on the question of personality cult, and the Mao’s place in history.

  2. August 4th, 2015 at 15:59 | #2

    Another part that is very relevant in today’s Taiwan and HK.

    “Particular emphasis is being laid on working single-mindedly for the four modernizations, and this is winning the hearts of the people. They want political stability and unity. They are fed up with large-scale movements. Such movements invariably ended up hurting a number — and not a small number — of people. Incessant movements make it practically impossible to concentrate on national construction. Therefore, we can say for sure that given the correctness of our present course, the people will support us and such phenomena as the “Cultural Revolution” will not happen again.”

    “Also, the Gang had their own factional set-up and they built a clique of some size — particularly they made use of ignorant young people as a front, so they had a fair-sized base.”

  3. danielxu
    August 4th, 2015 at 17:42 | #3

    Thank you for the article. The interview was profound and insightful. Not political platitude but honest and fair assessment from Deng. He saw the pitfall of Glasnost and that way rescued China from another turmoil. He could retire then and got Nobel peace prize… like Gorbachev and Obama…haha.

  4. July 2nd, 2021 at 04:55 | #4

    Interesting blog, it reminds me of Oriana Fallaci, the woman who dares to ask political leaders “brutal questions” in her interviews. I tried to write a blog about her , hope you also like it: https://stenote.blogspot.com/2021/01/an-interview-with-oriana.html

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