That year in Paris, just turned 18 and not yet up to his full height of 5 feet 2 inches, he grew a bowl-cut mop of dark hair that made him look like a balloon-headed doll.
Yet he could get things done, particularly the mechanical jobs like running the mimeograph that other young Chinese intellectuals full of talk of revolution back home had no time for. People began to notice little Kan Tse-kao.
In the 57 years since 1922 he refined a reputation as someone who could fix anything. He had a passion for work, a wuick wit, an inexhaustible memory and the cockiness such talents creat in many small me. As if in warning, Mao Tse-tung pointed him out to Nikita Khrushchev at a gathering in the mid-1950s: "See that little man over there? He is highly intelligent."
His devotion to Mao as a very young rural organizer in 1933 cost him his job in a brief anti-Mao purge. He would be fired two more times from much more important jobs, and watch helplessly as his brother committed suicide and his daughter was crippled, when his pride and abilities challenged Mao's own in the last decade of the old chairman's life.
But like the popular Chinese toy with a lead bottom, he bounced back in 1977 when China found itself politically and economically broken and in need of a man to organize everything from a revolution to a bid of seven no-trump. That remarkable talent for planning has brought him to the point where he will arrive in Washington for his White House visit Monday as the leader, in fact if not in name, of nearly one quarter of humanity.
In Paris in the early 1920s he had changed his life and his name -- to Teng Hsiao-ping. No one has revealed why he chose the name, whose last two characters mean "amall" and "level." At 74, he is setting the policies and style his nation will follow into the 21st century and trying his best to ease the rest of the world, particularly the United States, out of China's way.
But like a wily Louisiana politician (which in the Chinese context is almost exactly what Teng is), he cloaks his power in aphorisms and good-old-boy asides. "Mr. Zhou [a middle-level Peking official] knows more about foreign affairs," Teng said to Cyrus Vance in 1975. "I am just a country bumpkin!"
Despite health notices in Peking cautioning against public spitting, Teng blithely and loudly interrupts official audiences to use his spittoon. Joan Kennedy once had to stare silent warnings at her children to keep straight faces when Teng let fire at a meeting with the Kennedys. "It took a munute for him to get it up and another minute to get it out," Caroline Kennedy said later.
An hour with Teng is a blur of facial expressions, waving fingers and cigarettes and quick, direct answers delivered in the whining accents of Southwest China. His eyebrows seem raised in a look of perpetual surprise, and his chin quivers a bit, particularly if he has not had his afternoon nap. He preys voraciously on the vanities of the American press. When a reporter's name and newspaper are translated for him, he stares knowingly at the individual and nods, as if to say he knows that byline well.
"My university had no graduates," he said once. "Its name was society. I graduate the day I meet God, and who knows what grade he will give me?" Such metaphysical jokes mask the long hours he spends devouring briefing papers and making public appearances. His only pastime, besides work, is reputed to be contract bridge. No one has spoken publicly of this secret passion since he was pilloried 12 years ago for allegedly spending thousands of dollars to ferry bridge partners out on inspection trips.
"This trip of mine to the United States is what I have been looking forward to for at least several years," he said this month. "My purpose is... to learn everything that is advanced in that country." Yet he seems already to have developed the techniques of an American politician -- establishing eye contact and promising better times.
Peking's new emphasis on brains over politics, facts over ideology, cash bonuses over inspirational speeches, are all vintage Teng -- a man who has devoted his life to making things work. He was purged twice by Mao for this overwhelming pragmatism, but now Mao is dead and results are all that count.
If there is a danger for Teng, other than the aging process that will eventually wear down his still trim frame, it is his old habit of starting things he cannot quite control. Unlike his political patron, the late Premier Chou Enlai, he has lacked the patience to modulate his off-the-cuff remarks or slow his favorite reforms when political troubles threatened.
In the midst of the great economic and social changes he has already begun in China, some things seem to have overtaken even Teng's own considerable vision. The wall posters vehemently attacking Mao and some vital cornerstones of the Communist system have led Teng to caution restraint. "We do not permit decadent... rock and roll dancing which always means swaying of the hips," he told a French visitor 15 months ago. Now some Peking youth gyrate to the tunes of "Saturday Night Fever."
He has promised massive income boosts to farmers who may soon be ruined by drought, and has authorized massive contracts for purchase of Western hotels, jetliners missiles and oil wells, with very little cash in the bank. But he is China's legendary fixer and organizer, who through his life has discovered that if one thing doesn't work, something else usually will. When his enemies surrounded him in the past, he just confessed his sins and ducked, and he still seems to have a lot of bounce left.
According to Japanese sources who got a look at Teng's visa during his recent triumphant tour of Tokyo, the man who is now China's senior vice premier, vice party chairman and army chief of staff was born in August 1904. According to one unofficial account, his father was a landlord in a village of China's southwestern province of Szechwan called Hsieh-hsing, about 60 miles from Chungking, China's capital in World War II. Teng was reported the second of four children born to one of his father's four wives. One biographer said this left Teng with a deep affection for his mother and an obsession with family ties that resulted in a later fondness for showing off his grandchildren in public.
The last of the Chinese dynasties, the Ching, fell when Teng was 7. Szechwan, as China's richest, most populous and one of its most isolated provinces, had displayed a tendency for revolutionary intrigue throughout history, and Teng was soon caught up in the youth movements of his day.
After graduation from high school, he enrolled in a special course set up by Western-minded reformers and set off for France in 1920.
But study, other than what he could pick up from his private reading, did not appeal to Teng. Most accounts say he began to work full-time in a rubber shoe factory, while spending his other waking hours in young Socialist organizations.
In Shanghai, while still in his teens, Teng had come under the influence of the man who would guide the course of the rest of his life -- Chou En-lai. Only six years older than Teng, Chou came to head the French branch of the Chinese Communist Party. Hefound the young, mop-haired Szechwanese eager to put out the party magazine called Youth, later changed to Red Light. Teng was good at all little details of paper, stencils and binding, and his friends began to call him "doctor of mimeography."
He left Paris in 1926, stopped in Moscow and spent two years in Shanghai. He then went to the country, followed Mao's example by organizing peasants, and succeeded in a scheme conceived by Chou to infiltrate and convert the army of a Kwangsi warlord.
Teng became political commissar of the small Red Army in Pai-se. It fought a few successful skirmishes against Nationalist-Allied forces and then moved north, where he entered the party's internal ideological struggles. Teng supported Mao in counseling the strengthening of rural forces before trying another calamitous city campaign. For this he briefly lost his party posts. But the Nationalist attacks soon forced the party to forget its squabbles and organize its famous Long March to the Northwest.
The march, which confirmed Mao as leader of the party for the next five decades, also raised Teng to a position as political commissar of the 129th division, one of the three major components of the Communist Army. The division commander was Liu Po-cheng, now a withered shell of a man who remains one of Teng's key supporters in the ruling Politburo, even though he appears not to have left his hospital bed in years.
Teng gained a reputation as a clever and humane political officer. Once he saw Communist troops firing on a Nationalist column, into which some local villagers had been drafted. "Stop, stop," he shouted in tears. "Some of those are good people! Stop firing!"
It was during this time, while serving in Northern China, that Teng met his current wife, Cho Lin, now 62. (Taiwan sources say an earlier Teng marriage to a woman named Chin Wei-yin ended in divorce.) When she met Teng, Cho Lin was in her early 20s, one of a number of university students from Peking who had flocked to Yenan because of a growing interest in socialism and a desire to fight the Japanese invasion.
She shared a similar family background with Teng. Her father was also a provincial landlord. She attended her father's funeral in 1950, but described him then as a "landlord and capitalist... whose crime was unpardonable."
In public, she has usually appeared only as a politician's wife -- a quiet, small, friendly woman not expected to upstage her dynamic husband during their visit to Washington. But Cho has worked during the last two years in the party's military affairs commission, and attended the National People's Congress, China's parliament, as an army delegate. Hong Kong sources say she was assigned a key position recently as monitor of individual letters and complaints coming into central party offices.
As the was against Japan ended in 1945 and the civil war of Communists against Nationalists intensified, Teng became a war hero by organizing a series of battles that led to humiliating Nationalist defeats in the mountains of Anhwei.
After the war Teng worked in Szechwan as one of the top three regional leaders, until in 1952 Chou Enlai remembered the talented mimeographer from Paris and called him to Peking.
"Within the space of a few short years," according to biographers Donald W. Klein and Anne B. Clark, "he emerged as one of the towering political figures in China." Serving as vice premier, minister of finance, and then secretary general of the Communist Party Central Committee, by 1956 he was listed as one of the party's top six leaders.
The Great Leap
But within his successes grew seeds of trouble. He went to Moscow in early 1956, and heard Khrushchev's famous denunciation of Stalin. Later that year Teng echoed Khrushchev's critique of personality cults at China's own party congress, in words that his enemies would interpret a decade later as a direct attack on Mao. "Love for the leader is an expression of love for the interests of the party, the class and the people, and not the deification of an individual," Teng said. "No individuals are free from flaws and mistakes in their activities."
Mao soon stumbled into an enormous blunder: the attempt to reform the economy overnight through the Great Leap Forward. Teng stood by Mao, and escaped the purge of important critics of the Great Leap. But he encouraged breaking up the unsuccessful communes and letting peasants return to raising some crops for their families, rather than collectively.
"Private farming is all right as long as it raises production,c Teng said, in a statement that would become his trademark, the bane of his enemies and the joy of his friends. "In the same way, ti doesn't matter whether a cat is black or white as long as it catches mice."
Mao fumed privately at what had been done to his scheme for collectivizing the countryside. He prepared for revenge at the way many party leaders ignored him in the aftermath of the Great Leap disaster. In 1966, as Mao launched his Cultural Revolution, he said of Teng: "He is deaf, but at meetings he would sit far away from me. He has not reported to me about his work since 1959."
Apocryphal stories from this period reflect the fun even the Chinese like to make of the diminutive stature of their veteran leader. At one Politburo meeting, Mao supposedly asked all opposed to one of his proposals to stand up. Teng got to his feet. Mao looked in his direction, then said, "Since I see no one standing, the motion is carried unanimously."
Teng and dozens of other top party leaders who have returned to power in the last few years were astonished in 1966 at the sudden, violent attacks on them by Red Guard youth inspired by Mao. They still wielded considerable influence in the government, but Mao had the support of military leader Lin Piao, and thus they could do no more than make self-confessions, check into hospitals and try to wait Mao out.
In 1971, when Lin himself turned against Mao and lost his life in an alleged coup attempt, armed support for Mao's purges ended. Teng and his riends were soon back in power.
During the Cultural Revolution of the '60s, Teng was apparently allowed to remain at his home in the central Peking compound for party leaders called Chungnanhai. But he was powerless to protect members of his family from serve persecution. Of his two younger brothers, both government officials, the older, Teng Kun, survived the Cultural Revolution and now works in Wuhan. But the Younger, Teng Shu-ping, reportedly committed suicide when constant criticism became too much.
Teng was forced to summon his children in early 1967 and tell them they should not try to see him any more. The gesture did not save his son, Ten Nan, or one of his daughters, Teng Pu-fong, from being kidnaped by party radicals in 1968, however, an official Peking news agency reported recently. The report said Teng's daughter was badly beaten, then denied medical treatment, and will "remain a cripple for the rest of her life."
Brown Sauce and Bridge
The Red Guard critiques of Teng, exaggerated as they might have been, reflected a man who had grown so confident of his abilities and influence that he sometimes neglected to cultivate a humble life style. The Red Guards said Teng had demanded first-class accommodations for himself and his entourage whenever he was on an inspection trip in the early 1960s. When there wasn't enough roasted dog meat on the table during a visit to Kweichow, he allegedly pounded the table and yelled: "Am I not paying?"
Ironically, during the lean days of the revolution, Teng gained a reputation as an expert cook who could turn the most meager fare into a culinary delight. His specialty, according to a veteran of those days, was dog meat with brown sauce. Party veterans scoff, however, at stories that Teng was sent down to work as a cook and waiter in a Hopei cadre school during the late 1960s.
The accounts of Teng's passion for bridge seem to fit a man who has delighted all his life in solving strategic puzzles. The Red Guard tabloid charged in 1967 that he used state funds to build a palatial higher cadres club in Peking, where he played bridge not only every Weanesday and Saturday night, and Sunday afternoon and evening, but also during office hours. When documents were brought to the club, Teng would interrupt the game briefly to affix his "stinking signature," the tabloid said.
While on inspection trips, Teng would have official aircraft return to Peking to fetch his favorite playing partners, party officials like Wan Li and Yang Shang-Kun, who fell in the Cultural Revolution, but have returned to key leadership posts in the provinces.
Teng probably saved himself with an abject self-confession in late 1966: "The daily solutions I adopted were overly simple and sometimes even inappropriate," he said. "I developed subjectivism and bureaucratism and unavoidably I made frequent mistakes in my thinking and work and frequently departed from the orbit of Mao Tse-tung's thought."
'Keep Up the Campaign'
On his return to public life, in April 1973, Teng seemed less cocky, perhaps remembering the impression his brusque self-confidence had created in the past. At his first reception he hung back, unsmiling, until a few old colleagues approached him to vigorously shake his hand. Mao's reputed niece, Wang Hai-jung, pointed him out to foreign journalists.
Chou was dying, and Teng seemed by far the most experienced and capable of his proteges. With Mao's apparent acquiescence, Teng quickly rose to near the top of the leadership. With Mao's vital army support gone, Teng apparently saw no one who still thought devotion to Mao's ideas -- rather than better working conditions and higher salaries -- should motivate the people.
"They talk only about politics while downplaying economics and talk only about revolution while downplaying production," Teng said of his critics in 1975.
Chou died in January 1976. Mao, less and less accessible to any but his most fervent followers, was persuaded to have Teng fired again. But the man picked to succeed Chou as premier, the little-know public security minister Hua Kuo-feng, appeared to be an admirer of Teng, and Teng's friends remained firmly in control of the party, army and bureaucracy. An effort by Mao's wife, Chiang Ching, to purge the rest of the pragmatic veterans got nowhere. When Mao died in September, the army and party leadership soon had Chiang Ching and the rest of the Gang of Four detained, and the way was cleared for Teng's return.
Power gradually began to flow in Teng's direction. The veteran organizer, perhaps mindful of the trouble haste had caused him in the past, moved very gradually to ease out holdovers from the Cultural Revolution and install his own people. Hua and an elderly general remained ahead of Teng in the party hierarchy. Teng did not come back into public life officially until July 1977. Once, after Mao's death, he was spotted by a crowd outside a Peking restaurant, and the people openly applauded. He grinned and applauded back, in the Communist style. "Keep up the campaign against Teng Hsiao-ping!" he shouted, with a big smile. The crowd laughed, certain now that he was in control and that the party would agiain try to raise living standards.
In 1974, Teng made his first trip to New York for a U.N. speech. He entertained President Ford in 1975, and shortly after his return to power in 1977, hosted Secretary of State Cyrus Vance. The rapid development of Sino-American relations now rests in his hands, and he seems to take special delight in the attention focused on him in the American media.
As a blunt debater, Teng occasionally annoyed Henry Kissinger, who preferred the more subtle conversational talents of Chou. But for decades Teng has enjoyed jousting with Americans who share his love for give-and-take, and has often showed off.
Teng needs American technology to save his economy and the threat of American military strength to fend off the Soviets. He has become more accessible to visiting American jouralists than most other leaders of his stature in the world, and his carefully calculated assurances on the security of Taiwan, the development of Chinese democracy, and the perfidy of the Soviets have found their way into the American press.He has even experimented with a full-fledged American-style press conference in Peking, and his arrival in Washington will show Americans first hand how Teng Hsiao-ping organizes an event.
As he said to the U.S. reporters at his 1977 meeting with Vance, "You are all politicians" -- perhaps remembering his days back at the mimeograph in Paris.