I came across this interesting quote by Deng Xiaoping:

Hide your capacities and bide your time

however I didn't find much about this quote on the Internet explaining the exact context and meaning and the origin of phrase.

When and where did he say it, and what exactly did he mean by it?

  • If you can't find where he said it, is there any evidence that he said it at all? Google suggests it is a Chinese idiom, so if he said it, he may merely have been alluding to the idiom. Also found here
    – MCW
    Oct 3, 2019 at 16:47

2 Answers 2


Deng was paraphrasing a well-known Chinese proverb. Context change in the Chinese foreign policy, and avoidance of conflict with the great powers (mostly the US, USSR collapsed soon after) . Before Deng Xiaoping , Chinese policy was to criticize the USA and the USSR on ideological grounds, and sometimes confront them directly (Korea, Vietnam, Sino-Soviet border skirmishes ...) . Deng, however, changed much of this. According to him, China should above everything strive to strengthen its economy and technological base, avoid conflicts unless Chinese direct interests are in danger (Taiwan above everything else) and stay mostly neutral and "invisible" in disputes not directly concerning it.

As a consequence of this, although a permanent member of the UN Security Council, China rarely used its veto power. It would usually not block resolutions and decisions pushed by the US and its allies. Instead, at most, China would abstain from voting and mildly express displeasure, calling for all sides to respect international law or issuing a similar blanket statement . Examples would be the US "humanitarian interventions" in Iraq, Yugoslavia, Libya, Afghanistan, Syria etc ...

This strategy worked pretty well - China had a few decades of uninterrupted growth, and was almost forgotten as a potential opponent by the West. Only in the last few years has the US realized that in many areas China did catch up and actually overtook them. Chinese foreign policy still remains relatively non-intrusive, but their true strength is now much harder to hide, so it is possible they will abandon Deng's tenets in near future.

  • 1
    Did he ever also quote the proverb in the context of his own career?
    – C Monsour
    Oct 3, 2019 at 18:48
  • @CMonsour I doubt. He probably used similar strategy, but I doubt Chinese communist "apparatchik" would talk openly about his ambitions.
    – rs.29
    Oct 4, 2019 at 20:33

This is a Chinese idiom.

In Chinese it is 韜光養晦、有所作為, meaning, "keep a low profile ( or hide our capacity ) and bide your time.", which means if more according to here

"If one wants success at the strategy, hide your intention, wait until the opponents' will ( to power ) be reduced, show the opponent their profit from you, take a servile attitude to them so that they be arrogant, then gain the confidence from them. "

And as I presented below, Den took the "adopt a low profile and never take the lead" foreign policy.

enter image description here

According to this page, Deng's foreign policy was, together with OP's word,

Chinese foreign policy under Deng Xiaoping was shaped by the Deng dictum “hide you ambitions and disguise your claws” which was taken to mean that China should devote its energy to developing economically and not concern itself so much with international affairs. Even so Deng also improved relations with Russia, Japan and South Korea and presided over the handover of Hong Kong. He was the one that ordered the incursion into Vietnam in 1979 with disastrous results.

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