Peng was exiled from his family home in Hunan province at the age of nine and joined the army at sixteen. By the age of twenty-eight he was a brigade-commander in the Kuomintang Army and had begun a flirtation with radical politics. Peng was forced to flee Chiang Kai-shek’s purge in 1927 and joined the Communist Party of China, partaking in the Long March.
During WWII Peng served as deputy commander-in-chief of the Communist forces and coordinated the ill-fated Hundred Regiments Campaign. Peng went on to serve with distinction behind Japanese lines in North China, and during the late stages of the Chinese Civil War he led the 1st Field Army in its conquest of Gansu, Ningxia, and Qinghai Provinces.
He was commander of Chinese forces during the Korean War. Although he was defense minister of the People's Republic of China, a member of the Politburo of the Communist Party of China and a marshal of the People's Liberation Army. He was disgraced in 1959 because he criticized Mao Zedong's Great Leap Forward. He was rehabilitated in 1978 after his death.