Birthday: March 5, 1898
Died At Age: 77
Sun Sign: Pisces
Also Known As: Zhou Xiangyu
Born Country: China
Born in: Huai'an, China
Famous as: First Prime Minister of the People’s Republic of China
Spouse/Ex-: Deng Yingchao
father: Zhou Yigan, Zhou Yineng
mother: Chen, Wan Dong'er
children: Li Peng, Sun Weishi, Sun Yang, Wang Shu
Died on: January 8, 1976
place of death: Beijing, China
Cause of Death: Cancer
Founder/Co-Founder: Communist Party of China
education: Nankai University, Northeast Yucai School, Meiji University, Hosei University, Tianjin Nankai High School
awards: First Class Red Star Medal
Who was Zhou Enlai?
Zhou Enlai, also known as Zhou Xiangyu, was a leading figure of the Chinese Communist Party. He became the first Premier of the People’s Republic of China and served as the nation’s head of government from 1949 till his death in 1976. Well-known for his charm and subtlety, he was described as “pragmatic, affable and persuasive.” Also known to be a skilled and able diplomat, he was also the foreign minister from 1949 to 1958. He advocated peaceful coexistence with the west after the Korean War. He took part in the 1954 Geneva Conference and the 1955 Bandung Conference, and helped in orchestrating US President Richard Nixon’s visit to his country in 1972. He was responsible for the historic meeting between Mao Zedong and Nixon. He also worked in making policies regarding China’s disputes with Taiwan, US, the Soviet Union, India and Vietnam. Enlai survived the purges of other officials during the Cultural Revolution. He managed to retain his position in the Chinese Communist Party leadership as well as in the office of the prime minister till his death. He was popular among the Chinese public, and the public mourning after his death led to riots in Tiananmen Square in April 1976.
Childhood & Early Life
Zhou Enlai was born to a gentry family on 5th March 1898, in Huai’an, Jiangsu, in the Qing Empire. He was the eldest son of Zhou Yineng and his wife. His mother was the daughter of a prominent Jiangsu official.
His family’s fortune declined during his early youth. In 1910, one of his uncles took him to Fengtian, in northeastern China, where he received his elementary education. After his graduation, he went to Japan for further studies.
China was in complete turmoil during this period. He went to Tianjin during the May Fourth Movement, which was the wake of student demonstrations in Beijing. He became involved in student publications and agitations, which eventually led to his arrest in 1920.
After he was released from jail, he left for France under a work-and-study program. He eventually made a lifelong commitment to the cause of the communists.
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Early Political Activities
Zhou traveled to Britain and was accepted as a student at Edinburgh University. As the University didn’t start until October, he returned to France, and along with Liu Tsingyang and Zhang Shenfu, began working on setting up a Communist cell.
Zhou was entrusted with political and organizational work. He eventually joined the Communist Party of China, though there is dispute regarding when exactly he joined.
There were around 2000 Chinese students in France, and a few hundred in England, Belgium and Germany. For the next few years, he was the the chief recruiter, organizer and coordinator of the party. The party members were also taught the skills of revolution in Moscow.
In 1924, he returned to China and joined the political department of the Whampoa Military Academy. He eventually became the deputy director of the department. During this time, he was also made the secretary of the Communist Party of Guangdong-Guangxi, and also served as a CCP representative with the rank of major-general.
When nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek’s troops were on the outskirts of Shanghai in 1927, Zhou organized the workers’ seizure of the city for the nationalists. However, Chiang eventually purged his former communist allies, and Zhou somehow survived and escaped to Wuhan, the new center of communist power. During the party’s fifth national congress the same year, Zhou was elected to CCP Central Committee and to its Politburo.
When the left-nationalists split with the communists, Zhou played an important role in communist insurrection, which became known as the Nanchang Uprising. When nationalists recaptured the city of Nanchang, Zhou first retreated to eastern Guangdong province, after which he escaped to Shanghai via Hong Kong.
Career with the CCP
In 1928, after attending the Sixth National Congress, he returned to China in order to help rebuild the battered CCP organization. However, attempts of the communists to seize major cities repeatedly failed.
He eventually left for the Jiangxi province where Zhu De and Mao Zedong were developing rural bases for the communists. He also succeeded Mao as the political commissar of the Red Army.
Meanwhile, Chiang Kai-shek’s campaigns finally forced the communists to retreat from Jiangxi and other Soviet areas in south-central China. Eventually in October 1934, the Long March began to a new base in northern China. Mao then gained controlled over the party, which was supported faithfully by Zhou.
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The Long March finally ended in October 1935, at Yan’an in northern Shaanxi province. The base of the communists was secure there, and Zhou became the party’s chief negotiator. He was also set the task of forming a tactical alliance with the nationalists.
When the nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek was arrested in Xi’an, Zhou went there immediately and persuaded the commanders not to kill Chiang. He also helped to obtain his release.
Zhou also helped in negotiating the formation of the United Front after the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War in July 1937, and from then till 1943, he was also the chief representative of the CCP to the nationalist government.
He accompanied Mao Zedong for peace talks with Chiang Kai-shek. He played an important role by cultivating a positive image of the communists among the liberal politicians and intellectuals who were quite upset with the nationalists.
When the People’s Republic of China was established in 1949, Zhou assumed the role of the prime minister as well as minister of foreign affairs. He remained the prime minister till his death in 1976.
His first diplomatic success occurred when he successfully persuaded India to accept China’s occupation of Tibet in 1950 and 1951. Zhou also visited Moscow during these years, though he failed to resolve the differences that had risen between China and the Soviet Union.
When the American envoy Henry Kissinger made a visit to him in Beijing, Zhou gained a reputation as a diplomat as well as a negotiator in the American press. He is also credited for arranging the historic meeting between former US President Richard Nixon and Mao Zedong.
Zhou maintained his leading position in the CCP till his death. He was elected one of the party’s four vice chairmen in 1956. After the Cultural Revolution, although Lin Biao remained the only vice chairman of the party, Zhou managed to remain the third-ranking member of the standing committee of the Politburo.
He helped to put restraints on the extremists during the Cultural Revolution, and was also a stabilizing factor during this period of chaos.
Though he was a firm believer in the Communist ideal, he had a moderating influence on some of the worst policies of Mao. He is remembered for using his influence to protect many of China’s oldest religious and royalist sites from the rampages of Mao’s Red Guards. He also shielded many military and government leaders during Mao’s purges.
Family & Personal Life
Zhou Enlai was married to Deng Yingchao, who was also a member of the Communist Party.
He passed away on 8 January 1976, at the age of 77, due to cancer. Mao issued no statements regarding his death nor offered any condolences to Zhou’s widow. He also forbade his staff from wearing mourning armbands. This was due to Enlai’s moderate policies during the Cultural Revolution. However, he did send a wreath to his funeral.