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Four decades ago, the Chinese Communist Party, under its new paramount leader Deng Xiaoping, decided to subordinate ideology to wealth creation, spawning a new aphorism, “To get rich is glorious.” The party’s central committee, disavowing Mao Zedong’s thought as dogma, embraced a principle that became Deng’s oft-quoted dictum, “Seek truth from facts.”

Mao’s death earlier in 1976 had triggered a vicious and protracted power struggle. When the diminutive Deng — once described by Mao as a “needle inside a ball of cotton” — finally emerged victorious at the age of 74, he hardly looked like an agent of reform.

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