TWO months after Jiang Zemin became general secretary in June, 1989, Deng Xiaoping took the step he had been dissuaded from taking in 1987: in a letter to the politburo he asked to resign as chairman of the party's military commission. In his letter of resignation Deng said that he was still in good health. There is no reason to doubt that he was. Suddenly, however, he began to look a great deal older. It seems that in physical terms he had chosen the right moment to do only what he felt inclined to do. How did he spend his time? He certainly continued to see a good deal of his children, now all middle-aged, and of their children. He continued to play bridge seemingly with his old partners, including Wan Li and Yang Shangkun. Very occasionally, he received a foreign visitor - Henry Kissinger in the autumn of 1989, and Kim Il Sung of North Korea in 1992. Deng continued to take a close interest in international affairs. The collapse of communist rule in East Germany, Czechoslovakia and Romania in the winter of 1989-90 reinforced his view that China was up against an organised campaign by the West to overturn socialism everywhere. It is natural for a Marxist who sees the whole of history in terms of conflict to be a conspiracy theorist and there can be no doubt that Deng believed that the capitalist countries of the West had worked out a strategy to produce ''peaceful evolution'' from socialism to capitalism in the whole communist world. In the Soviet politics of 1990 and 1991, Deng undoubtedly preferred the conservative communists - the conspirators of August 1991 - to Gorbachev, but Gorbachev to Yeltsin. But east and west he favoured caution in public Chinese attitudes. ''We should observe developments soberly, maintain our positions, meet any challenge calmly, hide our capacities, bide our time, remain free of ambitions and never claim leadership [of the socialist world].'' Deng had his way; and policies consistent with his view by degrees brought China advantage. Western economic sanctions faded away; Western ministers began to visit China again; and at the end of 1992 Yang Shangkun received a smiling Yeltsin in Beijing. Patience and discretion had paid off, and China had succeeded - with some help from events, notably the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, which made it necessary for the West to seek its support at the United Nations - in resuming its place at the top international table. Deng was also able to get his way over economic reform. Family farming remained the norm in agriculture; the scope of mandatory planning was not enlarged; and existing incentives for foreign investors stayed in place. Yet Deng wanted to go further, and by degrees there developed a dispute between him and the more conservative members of the new leadership, with his old comrade Chen Yun behind them, over the role of planning in socialism and development. For Chen - and for Li Peng and Yao Yilin, his disciple in the politburo standing committee - a substantial measure of mandatory planning was essential, both as a badge of socialism and as a means of promoting growth. Deng, on the other hand, began to seeplanning as non-essential to either. He spoke a good deal about reform to leaders with executive posts between the beginning of 1990 and the end of 1991. And he has himself said that he spoke out on the subject eight times. It is also clear that he encountered a good deal of indifference, and even outright opposition. The national press did not even refer to an article reflecting his views which appeared in a Shanghai newspaper in the spring of 1991. Frustrated, Deng decided to make sure of an impact by using methods rather like those Mao Zedong had used in the winter of 1965-66 when he wanted to turn the tables on Liu Shaoqi, Peng Zhen and Deng himself. At the beginning of 1992, he set out on a long tour of central, southern and eastern China, including places where anything he said was likely to be picked up very quickly in Hong Kong. Travelling with his daughter Deng Nan and, for some of the time several senior military men, he visited Wuhan, the special economic zones of Shenzhen and Zhuhai and Shanghai. HE made speeches in each of these places, and it was not long before summaries or quotations began to appear in the Hong Kong press and in Hong Kong radio and television programmes. These were picked up by millions in south China who watched Hong Kong television and were soon very widely known about. In this situation, Deng's associates were bound to react. There is a story that Chen Yun told Deng to his face that his views were non-or anti-socialist. But the timing of reactions in Beijing shows that there could have been very little debate there about what to do. Deng spoke on two general topics, economic development and politics. On development, he argued that the line of ''one centre, two basic points'' was correct and must not be changed that it was vital to be bold and imaginative in implementing this line, and that conditions were particularly favourable for a renewed drive for economic growth. He broke new ideological ground in a passage which would have startled even the most ardent reformers of Hu Yaobang's day. ''The fundamental difference between socialism and capitalism doesn't lie in the question of whether the planning mechanism or the market mechanism plays a larger role. [The] planned economy does not equal socialism, because planning also exists in capitalism; neither does [the] market economy equal capitalism, because the market also exists in socialism. Both planning and market are just economic means. ''The nature of socialism is to emancipate and develop the productive forces, to eliminate exploitation and polarisation, and finally to achieve the goal of common affluence. This should be explained to everybody.'' Deng also criticised the critics of economic reform: ''At present, some rightist things are affecting us, and so are some 'leftist' things. However, the 'leftist' things are deep-rooted. Some theorists and politicians like to use serious charges to intimidate people. This is not rightist but 'leftist' . . . 'Leftist' things have done terrible harm to our party in the past . . . Socialism may be ruined by rightism, and may also be ruined by 'leftism'. ''China must guard against rightism but should mainly guard against 'leftism'. Rightist things do exist. The turmoil was a rightist thing. 'Leftist' things also exist. The opinion which equates reform and opening to ushering in and developing capitalism and which holds that the danger of peaceful evolution mainly comes from the economic field, precisely represents 'leftism'. '' There was no mistaking his message: the reaction against liberalisation had gone too far, to the point where development and popular morale were both threatened and a counter-reaction was needed. On politics, Deng spoke, as he had many times in the past, of the need to uphold social order, to stick to the four cardinal principles, to promote younger people to the ''leading group'' in the party and to apply Marxism creatively (''seeking truth fromfacts is the quintessence of Marxism''). He ended by proclaiming his belief that ''more people in the world'' would come to favour Marxism because it was ''a branch of science''. What he did not do, any more than he had done before, was to answer the question which his interpretation of the nature of Marxism must have suggested to millions: what if the quest of truth from facts suggests that the assumptions of Marxism itself are open to question? The circulation of Deng's remarks followed by their publication in the People's Daily in the early summer, produced a turn in the political tide, and it has since continued to flow in his desired direction. There has been no more talk to reflect the line on planning which Chen Yun took at a meeting of his central advisory commission in early March. The defeat of Chen Yun and the rest was signalled in public when the People's Daily reported in June, 1992, that all regions of the country had supported Deng's call for bolder reform and within the party when a set of measures to give effect to this call was outlined in a new central committee circular. Quite soon, four of the most zealous campaigners against bourgeois liberalisation, spiritual pollution and total Westernisation, including the editor of the People's Daily and the director of the party's propaganda department were moved to less importantjobs. Deng's triumph was sealed at the 14th Party Congress in October, 1992. In his political report, Jiang Zemin described Deng as ''the general architect of reform and opening up and of the modernisation drive in relation to socialism in China'', defined the task of the congress as being ''to use comrade Deng Xiaoping's theory of building socialism with Chinese characteristics as a guide . . . [to] quicken the pace of reform, opening up and modernisation''. Deng was able to savour his triumph when, carefully watched by Deng Nan, he walked slowly down an aisle of the congress hall on the final day of the meeting. He made no speech and did not stay for long. But the applause showed that the delegates like him better as an architect than they had ever liked Mao as a helmsman. It showed, too, that they were going to miss him. They knew that many others had helped Deng to plan China's modernisation drive and to work out its underpinning theory. But they also knew that he had been the prime mover over both and that he had no obvious successor as a political strategist or theorist. Richard Evans 1993 Extract from Deng Xiaoping and the Making of Modern China published by Hamish Hamilton. Main photograph of Deng Xiaoping courtesy of China Tourism Photo Library.