Zhou Enlai

Zhou Enlai

Zhou Enlai (Chou En-lai), the son of wealthy parents, was born in Jiangsu, China, in 1898. He was educated in a missionary college in Tianjin before studying at a university in Japan. He moved to France in 1920 where he helped to form the overseas branch of the Chinese Communist Party. He also lived in Britain and Germany before returning to China in 1924.

As members of the Communist Party Mao Zedong, Zhu De and Zhou Enlai adapted the ideas of Lenin who had successfully achieved a revolution in Russia in 1917. They argued that in Asia it was important to concentrate on the countryside rather than the towns, in order to create a revolutionary elite.

Zhou Enlai also worked closely with the Kuomintang and was appointed deputy director of the political department of the Whampoa Military Academy. With the help of advisers from the Soviet Union the Kuomintang gradually increased its power in China. Its leader, Sun Yat-sen died on 12th March 1925. Chiang Kai-Shek emerged as the most important figure in the organization. He now carried out a purge that eliminated the communists from the organization. Those communists who survived managed to established the Jiangxi Soviet.

The nationalists now imposed a blockade and Mao Zedong decided to evacuate the area and establish a new stronghold in the north-west of China. In October 1934 Mao, Zhou Enlai, Lin Biao, Zhu De, and some 100,000 men and their dependents headed west through mountainous areas.

The marchers experienced terrible hardships. The most notable passages included the crossing of the suspension bridge over a deep gorge at Luting (May, 1935), travelling over the Tahsueh Shan mountains (August, 1935) and the swampland of Sikang (September, 1935).

The marchers covered about fifty miles a day and reached Shensi on 20th October 1935. It is estimated that only around 30,000 survived the 8,000-mile Long March.

When the Japanese Army invaded the heartland of China in 1937, Chiang Kai-Shek was forced to move his capital from Nanking to Chungking. He lost control of the coastal regions and most of the major cities to Japan. In an effort to beat the Japanese he agreed to collaborate with Mao Zedong and his communist army.

During the Second World War the communist guerrilla forces were well led by Zhu De and Lin Biao. As soon as the Japanese surrendered, Communist forces began a war against the Nationalists led by Chaing Kai-Shek. The communists gradually gained control of the country and on 1st October, 1949, Mao Zedong announced the establishment of People's Republic of China.

Zhou Enlai became prime minister and foreign minister. In 1954 he headed the Chinese delegation to the Geneva Conference. The following year he advocated Third World unity at the Bandung Conference.

As a result of the failure on the Great Leap Forward, Mao retired from the post of chairman of the People's Republic of China. His place as head of state was taken by Liu Shaoqi. Mao remained important in determining overall policy. In the early 1960s Mao became highly critical of the foreign policy of the Soviet Union. He was for example appalled by the way Nikita Khrushchev backed down over the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Mao Zedong became openly involved in politics in 1966 when with Lin Biao he initiated the Cultural Revolution. On 3rd September, 1966, Lin Biao made a speech where he urged pupils in schools and colleges to criticize those party officials who had been influenced by the ideas of Nikita Khrushchev.

Mao was concerned by those party leaders such as Liu Shaoqi, who favoured the introduction of piecework, greater wage differentials and measures that sought to undermine collective farms and factories. In an attempt to dislodge those in power who favoured the Soviet model of communism, Mao galvanized students and young workers as his Red Guards to attack revisionists in the party. Mao told them the revolution was in danger and that they must do all they could to stop the emergence of a privileged class in China. He argued this is what had happened in the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin and Nikita Khrushchev.

Zhou Enlai at first gave his support to the campaign but became concerned when fighting broke out between the Red Guards and the revisionists. In order to achieve peace at the end of 1966 he called for an end to these attacks on party officials. Mao remained in control of the Cultural Revolution and with the support of the army was able to oust the revisionists.

Although he continued to be attacked by the Red Guards Zhou Enlai survived in power and was the main architect of the Détente policy with the United States and met Richard Nixon in China in February 1972. Zhou Enlai died in Beijing on 8th January 1976.

© , September 1997 - April 2014

Primary Sources

(1) Zhou Enlai, Mao Zedong (1978)

During the Great Revolution, Chairman Mao was already aware that the peasants were the largest ally and that the people's revolution could not triumph without them. And sure enough, the revolution suffered defeat because his views weren't listened to. Later, when we got to the countryside. Chairman Mao saw that in order to carry out the revolution it is necessary not only to rely on the peasants, but also to win over the middle and petty bourgeoisie. As Chiang Kai-shek's counter-revolutionary treachery became further exposed, only the comprador-bureaucrat and feudal landlord classes supported him. But a group of people inside the Communist Party made "Left" deviationist mistakes and were very narrow in their outlook, holding that the middle and petty bourgeoisie were unreliable. They didn't listen to Chairman Mao, and the result was that the revolution suffered another setback and we had to march 25,000 li. Then Chairman Mao proposed that we unite with Chiang Kai-shek and other members of the upper strata to resist Japanese aggression. But some people said that if we wanted unity, there shouldn't be any struggle. Chairman Mao replied that Chiang and the others were our domestic enemy; we were uniting with them in order to fight the national enemy. But they were not reliable partners or allies, and we must guard against them; otherwise, they might turn on us. We took measures to avert Right deviations and to prevent unqualified compromises. During the present War of Liberation, "Left" deviationist mistakes were made in agrarian reform in the countryside. In order to eliminate the landlord class, landlords were given poor land or no land at all so that they could not eke out a living; or too many people were classified as feudal rich peasants or landlords. Moreover, on the question of executions, it was stipulated that no one should be executed except for those who had committed serious crimes, refused to mend their ways' and were bitterly hated by the people. But, sometimes, when the people were filled with wrath, these distinctions were not made, and the leadership did not attempt to persuade the masses, so too many people were put to death. This had an adverse effect on our united front with the peasantry, and particularly with the middle peasants. This mistake was also corrected by Chairman Mao.

(2) Zhou Enlai, Mao Zedong (1978)

Reactionaries, including Chiang Kai-shek, often claim that they are for freedom of thought. As everybody knows, that

is nonsense, for what freedom is there under Chiang Kai-shek's rule? The people are suffering oppression and exploitation. Only the small handful of reactionary landlords and bureaucrat-capitalists are free - free to exploit, oppress and slaughter the people. In the bourgeois-democratic countries, only the bourgeoisie have freedom of thought, which is denied to the workers and peasants. In our new-democratic country, the people will enjoy full freedom of thought. Aside from reactionary ideology, all other kinds will be allowed to exist. Not only progressive, socialist or communist but also religious ideas may exist. The propagation of reactionary ideas is not allowed, but apart from that, there is freedom of speech, the press, assembly and association. The Communist Party holds that historical materialism is correct and that Mao Zedong Thought is correct. These ideas, of course, should be propagated. But it does not mean that other ideologies are not allowed to exist. We educate people in our ideology, but they are free to choose whether to listen or not, whether to accept or not. This is the only approach that is truly educational and appropriate to leadership - an approach of working together with other people, a co-operative approach.

(3) Jack Anderson, Confessions of a Muckraker (1979)

In his mid-forties, Chou En-lai had a handsome face, which lingers in my memory for its black eyes and incandescent intelligence. He was slight of build but indefatigable; he affected simplicity but was an elegant man, graceful of movement, accomplished in English and French as well as Chinese dialects, buttressing his arguments with historical and literary allusions that evinced a formidable education. And one caught Hashes of a ruthless rationalism that would sacrifice the lives of millions to the triumph of an idea. Walter Robertson, the State Department's Far Eastern expert, described the Chou En-lai of those years as "one of the most charming, intelligent and attractive men of any race" he had ever known. "But he'll cut your throat."

Even his formulations of official propaganda were artfully plausible, but it was his side excursions that kept me coming back to trespass upon his time. He would expound on the true sources of power behind the fagades of constitutions and ballot boxes; on the requirements for a just society in that half of the world where a man counted for no more than an ox, and a woman less; on the ingredients of peace in a world whose balance was fundamentally altered by the reemergence of Asia; on the tragedy for America as well as for China if we continued to ally ourselves to a Kuomintang

which could not win but which could indefinitely prolong China's agony and the world's instability.