Deng Xioping at Lincoln Memorial

During his visit to Washington D.C in 1979, Chinese Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping is photographed in front of the Gettysburg Address engraved on the walls of the Lincoln Memorial (31st January 1979). Two days before on 29th, he met President Carter, and signed historic accords which led to the United States granting full diplomatic recognition to the People’s Republic of China later that year. During his visit, the diminutive Chinese leader charmed the Americans; from laying wreaths at the Lincoln Memorial to kissing children to posing with the Harlem Globetrotters, he did everything the Americans expected of a visiting dignitary.

However, the appearances can be deceiving. At home, despite having a lowly title of ‘vice premier’, Deng was a de facto ruler of China. Deaths in 1976 of Mao Tse-Dong and Zhou Enlai led to Deng being re-instituted as vice Premier and his authority eclipsed that of Premier Hua Guofeng. In 1989, he would be solely responsible for the Tiananmen Massacres. Even well into his retirement, he was a shadow influence his successors’ policies and he remained so until his death in 1997. In this new aspect, his diminutive standing in front of the immortal words of Gettysburg Address seemed both symbolic and ironic.

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