This January 8th marked the 40th anniversary since former premier Zhou Enlai passed away. Zhou is perhaps best remembered as one of Mao’s most trusted lieutenants. While at first glance he may appear to be have been one of Mao’s many yes-men, he is beloved by many today for being able to do some good while avoiding being purged himself during the worst excesses of the Chairman’s reign.
To commemorate his memory, Sina brings us a photo essay depicting the Premier in the eyes of the people whom he met during his long and historic life.
Zhang Shenfu (first from right), was the one who first introduced Zhou to the Communist Party. He recalls meeting a young Zhou Enlai, energetically involved in revolutionary activities while studying abroad in Paris. Zhou would go on to join the ranks of the infant CCP in the spring of 1921, months before the Party’s official establishment. Here the two are pictured together with Liu Shaoqi in Berlin.
Zhou Enlai’s wife, Deng Yingchao, remembers that when the two wanted to wed there was no place where they could formally register, nor were there any witnesses. The young couple chose instead to have a simple wedding without a formal ceremony. The two first met in 1919 while participating in the May Fourth Movement, and eventually formally married in Guangzhou in 1925.
American journalist Theodore H. White remembers meeting Zhou at his residence in Chongqing, a dirty hovel in a poverty stricken area. When it was wet and rainy, the alleys would fill with muddy water, and the reception room in Zhou’s home would be covered with the mud tracked in by his guests.
Zhang Xueliang, the “Young Marshall,” the son of a warlord and later general for first the Nationalists and then the Communists, spoke of Zhou admiringly. “Zhou was an amazing individual who was always in control and always spoke with reason. He could handle any problem he was faced with, and he was well known and I admired him,” Zhang once said. In this picture from 1945, Zhou presides over a military meeting while working with the Nationalist government.
In 1949, Nationalist general Zhang Zhizhong recalled Zhou as a hardworking individual. When he urged his friend to arrange to have an assistant, Zhou replied that the work was simply his duty, and that he need not worry about it. In 1945 Zhou participated in talks with U.S. Secretary of War Patrick J. Hurley, Zhang and Mao Zedong in Chongqing.
Former American Ambassador to China John Leighton Stuart once called Zhou an astute and resourceful individual, possessing infinite charisma.
In the wake of the collapse of three party talks, American general and special envoy George Marshall lamented that the Nationalists under Chiang Kaishek did not treat Zhou with the respect that a man of his caliber deserved.
Harkening back to a time when relations between the Nationalist and the Communists were more agreeable, Chiang once thanked Zhou for helping to save his life after he and his entourage were taken captive by the “Little Marshall” in a bid to coerce Chiang into forming the Second United Front with the Communists. In 1946, Zhou represented the Communist Party during a national consultative conference.
Sun Yatsen’s wife, Soong Ching-ling, recalled that Zhou was a very humble man. “Whatever the peasants ate, he ate too. His clothes were often worn thin and covered in patches. He would often eat his meals with his driver, and would dine together with the wait staff during flights,” she said. In this photo from 1950, Zhou is depicted alongside Liu Shaoqi and Soong Qingling in her Beijing residence.
The tenth Panchen Lama, pictured here with Zhou, was quoted as crediting his making through the Cultural Revolution to Zhou’s kindness and concern for his life.
Former Secretary-General of the United Nations Dag Hammarskjöld once said that compared to Zhou, he was a mere simpleton. This photo from 1954 shows Zhou in Geneva while attending an international conference.
Actress Shu Xiuwen saw Zhou and his wife as parental figures, helping to teach her the values of “revolutionary principles.”
Upon hearing of Zhou Enlai’s death in 1976, North Korean leader Kim Il Sung wept openly, reportedly to the point that he was unable to have an eye operation scheduled later the same day. Here the two are seen in a photo taken in Pyongyang during a 1958 state visit.
Hearing that Mao was going to choose Lin Biao as his successor in 1966, Marshal Chen Yi confided in Zhou that as Premier and Mao’s right-hand man, it should be he, not Lin who gets promoted. During the chaos of the Cultural Revolution, Zhou vigorously voiced support for Chen, going so far as to dare anyone who wanted to go after Chen that they would have to go through him first.
Deng Xiaoping said this of Zhou during the Cultural Revolution: “Zhou was placed in a difficult situation during the Cultural Revolution where he was forced to act and speak against his own will. Regardless, he deserves the forgiveness of the people. Because it was not truly him who did those things, nor was it truly him who spoke, and had he not, he would have forfeited the life of a great man. In working from behind the scenes, Zhou was able to save a great many people during the turmoil.” Above, Zhou is pictured with Li Xiannian and Deng Xiaoping while watching a game in 1961.
In speaking of Deng, Edgar Snow talked of meeting a man at Yan’an who possessed a “magnetic appeal” and a certain charisma that melded well with the people he worked with. When meeting him again in 1971, Snow met an aging Zhou “whose hair had turned slightly white, and was wearing a simple summer shirt.” The above is a 1964 photo of Snow and Zhou.
KMT Presidential Representative Li Zongren said this when remembering failed peace talks: “At the peace talks between the Nationalists and the Communist, Zhou was exceptional in that he always looked at the larger picture and could be relied upon to encourage both parties to openly talk. From the perspective of leadership, the Communist victory could be attributed in part to the work of outstanding men like Zhou.” In 1965, Zhou welcomed Li and his wife by meeting them upon their return to China.
Here’s what The Great Helmsman himself had to say about his right-hand man: “When it comes to international affairs, Zhou is much more adept at handling complex matters. But when it comes to politics, Zhou is not nearly as strong. In any case, he is a great man.”
Jiang Qing, de facto leader of the Gang of Four and Mao’s wife, wasn’t on the best of terms with the Premier: “I have not read the Four Books and the Five Classics, but amongst us only Zhou would have been the only to study them.” As part of the factional struggles that gripped China, Lin Biao would lose favor and come under fierce attack from the Gang of Four in a campaign of criticism that sought to discredit Lin through proxy by likening him to Confucius. Although all-but untouchable, hinting that Zhou may have read the classics was likely an attempt at criticizing him obliquely.
Secretary of State Henry Kissinger described Zhou as “scholarly, patient, intelligent, adroit and agile. When discussing international affairs, he easily and quickly got to the heart of the matter, and it seemed that there was no affair he was not prepared to discuss.” In 1971, the American ping pong team visited China as part of a show of goodwill, and American representative Graham Steenhoven met with Zhou Enlai for talks.
Former American President Richard Nixon described Zhou as calm and always speaking directly and succinctly. He was firm and strong, yet polite and charming. Zhou is seen here alongside Nixon and Kissinger in this photo from 1972.
Japanese Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka visited China in 1972. He recalls Zhou as a man “with a body like a willow tree in the breeze, but possessing of a heart hardened like a cliff against the breaking tide.”
Zhou Enlai was diagnosed with bladder cancer in 1972. However, at the time, surgery for high-ranking officials needed to be approved first by Mao Zedong. Perhaps because of his increasing paranoia that others were conspiring against him, Mao ordered the information to be withheld from Zhou.
With his health worsening and pressure increasing from other politicians who knew of his condition, Zhou was finally operated on in 1974, however by that time the cancer had metastasized and spread. Zhou finally succumbed to illness on January 8, 1976 at the age of 77.
To learn more about the life of this famous figure in Chinese history, have a listen to the ongoing podcast series that Laszlo Montgomery is doing on the life of Zhou Enlai over at The China History Podcast.
By Stanley Yu
[Images via Sina]