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Zhou Enlai

Zhōu Enlái, 周恩來 (1898 - January 8, 1976) was a prominent Chinese Communist leader and Premier of the People's Republic of China from 1949 until his death.

Early years and education

Born in Huai'an (淮安), Jiangsu Province, the adopted eldest son of a well-to-do Tianjin family, he was educated in Nankai and Japan (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. He had joined the Communist Party of China (CPC) in 1921 and Zhou returned to China in 1924 to work with Sun Yat-sen.

In 1925, he married Deng Yingchao, 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 ones was future Premier Li Peng.

Political career

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 1926 (Whampoa's Comintern sponsors saw this posting as a way to balance Chiang Kai-shek's right-wing nationalism).

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 was able to escape the white terror and 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 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 Yenan years Zhou was active in promoting a united anti-Japanese front. As a result he played a major role in the Xian Incident, helped to secure Chiang Kai-shek's release, and negotiated the Second CPC-KMT United Front. 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 WWII.

In 1949, with the establishment of the People's Republic of China, Zhou became Premier and Foreign Minister. In June 1953, he made the five declarations for peace. He headed the communist Chinese delegation to the Geneva Conference (1954) and to the Bandung Conference (1955). In 1958 he passed the post of Foreign Minister to Chen Yi but remained Premier. A popular and practical administrator, Zhou maintained his position through the Great Leap Forward (1958) and the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) and pushed for the "four modernizations" to undo the damage caused. He was largely responsible for the re-establishment of contacts with the West in the early 1970s, he welcomed Richard Nixon to China in February 1972, and signed the Shanghai Communique. Discovering he had cancer he began to pass many of his responsibilities onto Deng Xiaoping. He was hospitalized in 1974 and died on January 8, 1976 mere months before Mao. In April 1976, the clamp-down on mourning for Zhou caused riots. This event is usually called the Tiananmen incident.

Further reading

See also: History of the People's Republic of China

Preceded By:
Premier of the PRC
Succeeded By:
Hua Guofeng