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Deng Xiaoping's Long War: The Military Conflict between China and Vietnam, 1979-1991.

Deng Xiaoping's Long War: The Military Conflict between China and Vietnam, 1979-1991. By Xiaoming Zhang. (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2015. Pp. xvi, 277. $34.95.)

Although the author of this book asserts that "Deng is best remembered for the reforms that he introduced and directed during the last twenty years of his life," he focuses on one of Deng's egregious actions: the launching of a bloody war against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (33). This first socialist war commenced at dawn on 17 February 1979, when two hundred thousand Chinese troops crossed the Vietnamese border. Over three hundred thousand more followed, and the Chinese penetrated more than twenty miles. On 16 March they pulled out, but the border conflict continued for eleven more years, until March 1990, "with both sides committing a large number of forces" (142). It was the largest and longest fighting in the history of the People's Republic of China (PRC), and as Xiaoming Zhang estimates, it cost over twenty-four thousand Chinese and Vietnamese lives: twelve thousand Chinese and an "at least equal" and "likely greater" number of Vietnamese killed in action (211).

This excellent book is based on a great variety of sources, including the most valuable archives of the PRC's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the PRC's Ministry of Railroads as well as Chinese provincial depositories, which are still unavailable for the majority of scholars. In addition, Zhang also relies on documentary collections printed in the PRC as well as memoirs of Chinese high-ranking generals. This solid documentary base strongly supports his major theses.

The author convincingly demonstrates that the conflict was inevitable. Not only did it have historical roots extending from the traditional distrust between the two nations, but it also had international dimensions. On the one hand, Deng feared the encirclement of the PRC by the Soviet Union with the aid of Vietnam that by this time had leaned to the Soviet side, begun persecuting Chinese emigrants living in Vietnam, and even occupied Cambodia, a Chinese ally. On the other hand, Deng seemed to believe that his punitive expedition would help him win the sympathy of the United States to get their support for China's economic modernization.

There was actually an additional dimension to the war. It was important for Deng personally since it undermined the authority of his old mentor, Marshal Ye Jianying. Since November 1978, it had been Marshal Ye rather than Deng, as Zhang incorrectly believes, who served as the higher authority in the PRC. Therefore, Deng should have listened to Ye, who opposed the war, but he brusquely ignored him, making the old marshal lose face. Thus, the war helped Deng establish his own total control over the party and the state.

This critical remark in no way undermines Zhang's great contribution to the understanding of Deng Xiaoping and his foreign policy. His book will remain for years a masterpiece that sheds light on the forgotten history of Deng's shameful war.

Alexander V. Pantsov

Capital University

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Author:Pantsov, Alexander V.
Publication:The Historian
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 22, 2017
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