Zhou Enlai (Simplified Chinese: 周恩来; Traditional Chinese: 周恩來; Hanyu Pinyin: Zhōu Ēnlái; Wade-Giles: Chou En-lai) (March 5, 1898 – January 8, 1976), a prominent Chinese Communist leader, was Premier of the People’s Republic of China from 1949 until his death.
Early years and education
Born in Huai’an, Jiangsu Province, the adopted eldest son of a well-to-do Tianjin family, Zhou was educated at Nankai High School and then in Japan at Meiji University (1915-1918). On his return to Nankai he was briefly arrested for his radical associations. After his release in 1920 he studied in France, England and Germany. In Berlin and Goettingen he met Zhu De and had an illegal child with a German girl. Later, his son died in the war. Zhou had joined the Communist Party of China (CPC) in 1921 and Zhou returned to China in 1924 to work with Sun Yat-sen.
On August 8, 1925, he married Deng Yingchao (鄧穎超), a student activist, in Tianjin. She later became a prominent member of the CPC. The couple remained childless, but adopted many orphaned children of “revolutionary martyrs”; one of the more famous was future Premier Li Peng.
Zhou first came to national prominence during the May Fourth Movement of 1919 when he led a raid on a local government office during the student protests against the humiliating Versailles Treaty. In 1920 Zhou moved to France where he was active among radical Chinese students. In 1921 he became a member of the French Communist Party and spent the next two years traveling in Europe.
Upon his return to China, he served as the chairman of the political department at the Whampoa Military Academy in Guangzhou when it was founded in 1924.
Zhou Enlai in National Revolutionary Army uniform2 In Whampoa Military Academy as Director of the political department.1924_
After the Northern Expedition began, he worked as a labour agitator. In 1926 he organized a general strike in Shanghai, opening the city to the Kuomintang. When the Kuomintang broke with the Communists, Zhou managed to escape the white terror. It has been said that he had been captured and released on the orders of Chiang Kai-Shek, to repay a debt from an occasion when Zhou had saved Chiang from violent leftists in Guangzhou. Zhou eventually made his way to the Jiangxi base area and gradually began to shift his loyalty away from the more orthodox, urban-focused branch of the CPC to Mao’s new brand of rural revolution, and became one of the prominent members of the CPC. This transition was completed early in the Long March, when in January 1935 Zhou threw his total support to Mao in his power struggle with the 28 Bolsheviks Faction.
In the Yan’an years Zhou was active in promoting a united anti-Japanese front. As a result he played a major role in the Xi’an Incident, helped to secure Chiang Kai-shek’s release, and negotiated the Second CPC-KMT United Front, and coining the famous phrase “Chinese should not fight Chinese but a common enemy: the invader”. Zhou spent the Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945) as CPC ambassador to Chiang’s wartime government in Chongqing and took part in the failed negotiations following World War II.
Zhou Enlai in Moscow 1939
In 1949, with the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, Zhou became Premier and Foreign Minister. Asked about the impact of the French Revolution of 1789 he replied, “It is too soon to say.” In June 1953, he made the five declarations for peace. He headed the communist Chinese delegation to the Geneva Conference and to the Bandung Conference (1955). He also survived a murder attempt by KuoMinTang (KMT) agents when he went to Bandung. The KMT agents had planted a bomb, an American-made MK7, on a charter plane (Princess Kashmir) on which Zhou was scheduled to travel. But Zhou Enlai later changed his schedule and flew with another plane. The plot killed sixteen innocent plane passengers. In 1958, Zhou passed the post of Foreign Minister to Chen Yi but remained Premier.
Zhou’s first major domestic focus after becoming premier was China’s economy, at an ill stage after decades of war. He aimed at increased agricultural production, from the even re-distribution of land. Industrial progress was also on his to-do list. He additionally initiated the first environmental reforms in China.
In 1958, Mao Zedong began the Great Leap Forward, aimed at increasing China’s production levels in industry and agriculture with unrealistic targets. As a popular and practical administrator, Zhou maintained his position through the Leap. The Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) was a great blow to Zhou. At its late stages in 1975, he pushed for the “four modernizations” to undo the damage caused from the campaigns.
Known as an able diplomat, Zhou was largely responsible for the re-establishment of contacts with the West in the early 1970s.
Zhou shakes hands with President Richard Nixon upon Nixon’s arrival to China in February 1972.
He welcomed US President Richard Nixon to China in February 1972, and signed the Shanghai Communiqué.
Discovering he had cancer, he began to pass many of his responsibilities onto Deng Xiaoping. During the late stages of the Cultural Revolution, Zhou was the target of the Gang of Four’s political campaigns.
Zhou is widely seen by many to have had a moderating influence on some of the worst excesses of Mao’s regime, although he did not wield the power necessary to bring about major changes to policy. It has been suggested that he used his powers to protect some of China’s oldest religious and royalist sites from the rampages of Mao’s Red Guards. There is no doubt however that he was fundamentally a believer in the Communist ideal on which modern China was founded.
Death and Reactions
Zhou was hospitalized in 1974 for bladder cancer, but continued to conduct work from the hospital, with Deng Xiaoping as the First Deputy Premier, handling most important State Council matters. Zhou died on the morning of January 8, 1976, merely months before Mao. Zhou’s death brought messages of condolences from many Non-aligned states that he affected during his tenure as an effective diplomat and negotiator on the world stage, and many states saw Zhou’s death as a terrible loss.
Zhou, shown here with Henry Kissinger and Mao Zedong
Inside China, the infamous Gang of Four (Jiang Qing and Co.) had seen Zhou’s death as an effective step forward in their political manuevering, as the last major challenge was now gone in their plot to seize absolute power. At Zhou’s funeral, Deng Xiaoping delivered the official eulogy, but was forced out of politics thereafter. Because Zhou was very popular with the people, many rose in spontaneous expressions of mourning across China, which the Gang considered to be dangerous. During the Qingming Festival in April 1976, the clamp-down on mourning for the “Beloved Premier” caused riots, largely because the Gang of Four believed people might manipulate the situation into expressing hatred towards them. The incident was popularly known as the Tiananmen Incident (天安門事件). Anti-Gang of Four poetry was found on some wreaths that were laid, and all wreaths were subsequently taken down at the Monument of People’s Heroes. These actions, however, only further enraged the people.
Since his death, there is a memorial hall dedicated to him and his beloved wife in Tianjin (天津周恩來鄧穎超紀念館), and the issue of national stamps commemorating the 1 year anniversary of his death in 1977, and again in 1998 commemorating his 100th birthday.
zhou_enlai Memorial HallShare