The life of the prominent Chinese military and political figure, Zhu De, is still surrounded by numerous legends. One thing is definite: he truly was an extraordinary, courageous and talented person. Zhu De was one of the founders of the People’s Liberation Army of China and an active fighter against Japanese aggression, who became one of modern China’s founding fathers. However, there were not only ups in his life, but also downs.
One of Mao Zedong’s associates, he was not afraid to make a stand against the “big jump” policy and was repressed. But his achievements were so great that he nevertheless kept a high official position.
According to official historiography, Zhu De, whose name is translated from Chinese as “red virtue,” was born in 1886 in the village of Maanchang, the Yilong county, the Sichuan province, to a family of peasants.
He recalled later that, besides him, there had been 12 children in the family, and the parents had to drown some of them, since they were not able to feed them. According to another version, voiced, notably, by Soviet military intelligence officer Pyotr Vlasov, who was an agent of the Communist International under the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and served in the Yan’an “special district” under the alias Vladimirov, the future military leader was born to a landowner’s family.
It is known that the boy was raised by his uncle, who sent him to a village school where he learned the basics of sciences and passed state exams.
In 1905, he was sent to study in Shunqing, and then at the physical training school in Chengdu. Then the young man returned to his native district to teach physical education. However, his progressive views were disliked by local officials and he was forced to leave. It took Zhu De 70 days to get to Yunnan-fu (now Kunming), the capital of the Yunnan province, on foot. There he joined the army as a company clerk, and in a few months was admitted to the local military school. This was the beginning of his military career.
The school became the turning point in his life. There he became a devotee of Sun Yat-sen’s ideas and joined a revolutionary organization. In 1911, he graduated from the school as one of the best students and was appointed platoon commander in the Yunnan army.
In 1911, the Sinhai revolution took place in China that overthrew the Manchurian dynasty Qing and declared a republic. Zhu De, who was a company commander at the time, participated actively in the revolution. His unit took by storm the residence of the local governor-general, and then helped revolutionaries in the neighboring province of Sichuan.
Next year he joined the Guomindang party and was sent to fight bandits on the border with Vietnam. Later, as a regiment and then brigade commander, Zhu De did a lot to end the feud between regional groups of militarists. In 1916-1920, his brigade actually controlled the situation in several counties of the provinces Yunnan and Sichuan, but eventually it lost and was disbanded.
The future marshal left for Shanghai and then went to Europe to study the basics of Marxism and Leninism and became student of the philosophy department at the Gottingen University. Simultaneously, he worked on improving his knowledge of the military science, read books on military theory and history of World War I, met German generals and officers. In Germany, he met Zhou Enlai and joined the Communist Party of China. Because of his active political engagement, Zhu De was jailed twice, was expelled from Germany and came to the Soviet Union. Here he studied at the Communist University of Oriental Workers. In 1926, he went to Vladivostok and then to Shanghai…
Upon instruction from the Communist Party’s Central Committee, Zhu De undertook “Bolshevization” of the Guomindang troops and was quite successful. After the counter-revolutionary coup in 1927, he became one of the organizers of the guerrilla war against Jiang Jieshi. His successful actions allowed him to seize several towns and gather up to ten thousand people to his detachment.
In May 1928, Zhu De headed the newly founded 4th corps of the Red Army of China, the commissary of which was the future “great helmsman.” Two years later, he was appointed commander-in-chief and elected candidate to the Communist Party’s Central Committee at the 3rd plenum.
In September 1931, the Chinese Soviet Republic was declared and a transitional central government led by Mao Zedong was set up a couple of months later. Zhu De headed the republic’s revolutionary military council and directly addressed reorganization of the Workers and Peasants’ Army.
Under his leadership, the Communist troops fought off four punitive campaigns by Guomindang, and in 1934, he developed a plan to break through the enemy encirclement. As a result, the Communist Party’s troops covered 9,600 km and relocated to the northwest of the country, the so-called “special area” with the center in Yan’an. This breakthrough came down in China’s history as the Long March.
A turn in the relations between the adversaries was brought about by the Xian incident: in December 1936, Goumindang generals Zhang Xueliang and Yang Hucheng, who advocated the end of the civil war and creation of a single front with the Communists to fight off the Japanese aggression (Japan had invaded China five years before, occupying Manchuria), arrested their commander-in-chief Jiang Jieshi near the town of Xian. Thanks to mediation from Zhou Enlai and a telegram from Stalin, the Communist Party of China and Guomindang reconciled and signed an agreement on setting up a single front.
On July 7, 1937, a large-scale war between Japan and China broke out, starting with a conflict at the Lugouqiao bridge near Beijing. According to official statistics, the war killed over 20mn Chinese, both soldiers and civilians.
During World War II, Zhu De fully revealed his talent as a military leader. Under his leadership, the troops struck serious blows against the Japanese aggressors. Notably, in September 1937, during a battle near the Pingxing mountain pass, the Chinese forces destroyed a Japanese brigade. For eight years, Zhu De led all military moves. After the Soviet Union declared war on Japan on August 11, 1945, the commander-in-chief ordered a general onslaught on northern and northeastern areas of China that were occupied by the Japanese. Three days later, he refused to follow the order by Jiang Jieshi about ceasing independent action. After that, his troops began counteracting the Guomindang army.
Speaking of the commander’s political views, it should be pointed out that at first he tried not to interfere with the party’s internal life that was controlled by Mao Zedong. But at the beginning of the 1940s, Zhu De became one of his leading associates. In 1945, he was elected member of the Political Bureau and secretary of the Communist Party’s Central Committee. When the peace between the Communists and Guomindang was broken and Jiang Jieshi’s troops unleashed a civil war in June 1946, he was again selected to lead the Communist army.
Once again, Zhu De showed himself to be a brilliant leader. He developed a new strategic course of “deploying in the north, defending in the south.” It was under his leadership that the famous crossing of the Yangtze river took place and such big centers as Nanking, Shanghai, Wuchang and Guangzhou were liberated.
After the People’s Republic of China was declared on October 1, 1949, Zhu De was again appointed commander-in-chief of the People’s Liberation Army of China and was loaded with honors. He became deputy chairman of the People’s Revolutionary Military Council and, later, deputy president of China. In 1995, he was promoted to marshal and was awarded with the country’s highest orders.
In 1959, Zhu De was elected chairman of the Standing Committee of the All- Chinese Assembly of People’s Representatives. In this position, counteracting the failed “big jump” policy, he advocated a realistic policy in the economy, sharply criticizing subjectivism and the command approach. In the years of the “cultural revolution,” he was not afraid to publicly speak in favor of repressed political and military figures. For this, he was punished: Mao Zedong’s wife sent Red Guards after him, and the 83-year-old marshal was sent to exile to the town of Zunghua, the Guandong province, where he lived under constant supervision till July 1970.
In five years after his return to the Chinese capital, Zhu De was again elected chairman of the Standing Committee of the All-Chinese Assembly of People’s Representatives. He remained active in this position till the last days of his life. The marshal died on July 6, 1976, at the age of 90.
Today’s China cherishes the memories of Zhu De. The Memory House in the Tiananmen Square has a special room devoted to the outstanding military leader. In his native area, there is a house museum that tells visitors about the glorious life and military career of the country’s first marshal.