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|1st Premier of the People's Republic of China|
1 October 1949 – 8 January 1976
Mao Zedong (until 1959)
Liu Shaoqi (until 1968)
vacant and abolished
|Leader||Mao Zedong (Chairman of the Communist Party of China)|
|Succeeded by||Hua Guofeng|
|Vice Chairman of the Communist Party of China|
28 September 1956 – 1 August 1966
30 August 1973 – 8 January 1976
|2nd Chairman of the National Committee Of the CPPCC|
December 1954 – 8 January 1976
|Honorary Chairman||Mao Zedong|
|Preceded by||Mao Zedong|
|1st Foreign Minister of the People's Republic of China|
|Succeeded by||Chen Yi|
(1898-03-05)5 March 1898
Huai'an, Jiangsu, Qing China
8 January 1976(1976-01-08) (aged 77)
Beijing, People's Republic of China
|Political party||Communist Party of China|
|Spouse(s)||Deng Yingchao (m. 1925–76)|
|Children||Sun Weishi, Wang Shu (both adopted)|
|Alma mater||Nankai University|
|"Zhou Enlai" in Simplified (top) and Traditional (bottom) Chinese characters|
Zhou Enlai (Chinese: 周恩来; Wade–Giles: Chou En-lai; 5 March 1898 – 8 January 1976) was the first Premier of the People's Republic of China, serving from October 1949 until his death in January 1976. Zhou served under Chairman Mao Zedong and was instrumental in the Communist Party's rise to power, and later in consolidating its control, forming foreign policy, and developing the Chinese economy.
A skilled and able diplomat, Zhou served as the Chinese foreign minister from 1949 to 1958. Advocating peaceful coexistence with the West after the stalemated Korean War, he participated in the 1954 Geneva Conference and the 1955 Bandung Conference, and helped orchestrate Richard Nixon's 1972 visit to China. He helped devise policies regarding the bitter disputes with the U.S., Taiwan, the Soviet Union (after 1960), India and Vietnam.
Zhou survived the purges of other top officials during the Cultural Revolution. While Mao dedicated most of his later years to political struggle and ideological work, Zhou was the main driving force behind the affairs of state during much of the Cultural Revolution. His attempts at mitigating the Red Guards' damage and his efforts to protect others from their wrath made him immensely popular in the Cultural Revolution's later stages.
As Mao Zedong's health began to decline in 1971 and 1972, Zhou struggled against the Gang of Four internally over leadership of China. Zhou's health was also failing, however, and he died eight months before Mao on 8 January 1976. The massive public outpouring of grief in Beijing turned to anger towards the Gang of Four, leading to the Tiananmen Incident. Although succeeded by Hua Guofeng, it was Deng Xiaoping, Zhou's ally, who was able to outmaneuver the Gang of Four politically and eventually take Mao's place as paramount leader by 1978.
When the Korean War broke out on 25 June 1950, Zhou was in the process of demobilizing half of the PLA's 5.6 million soldiers, under the direction of the Central Committee. Zhou and Mao discussed the possibility of American intervention with Kim Il-sung in May, and urged Kim to be cautious if he was to invade and conquer South Korea, but Kim refused to take these warnings seriously. On 28 June 1950, after the United States pushed through a UN resolution condemning North Korean aggression and sent the Seventh Fleet to "neutralize" the Taiwan Strait, Zhou criticized both the UN and US initiatives as "armed aggression on Chinese territory."
Although Kim's early success led him to predict that he would win the war by the end of August, Zhou, as well as Mao, and other Chinese leaders were more pessimistic. Zhou did not share Kim's confidence that the war would end quickly, and became increasingly apprehensive that the United States would intervene. To counter the possibility of an American invasion into North Korea or China, Zhou secured a Soviet commitment to have the USSR support Chinese forces with air cover, and deployed 260,000 Chinese soldiers along the North Korean border, under the command of Gao Gang, but they were strictly ordered not to move into North Korea or engage UN or USA forces unless they engaged themselves. Zhou commanded Chai Chengwen to conduct a topographical survey of Korea, and directed Lei Yingfu, Zhou's military advisor in North Korea, to analyze the military situation there. Lei concluded that MacArthur would most likely attempt a landing at Incheon.
On 15 September 1950 MacArthur landed at Incheon, met little resistance, and captured Sŏul on 25 September. Bombing raids destroyed most North Korean tanks and much of its artillery. North Korean troops, instead of withdrawing north, rapidly disintegrated. On 30 September, Zhou warned the United States that "the Chinese people will not tolerate foreign aggression, nor will they supinely tolerate seeing their neighbors being savagely invaded by imperialists."
On 1 October, on the first anniversary of the PRC, South Korean troops crossed the Thirty-Eighth Parallel into North Korea. Stalin refused to become directly involved in the war, and Kim sent a frantic appeal to Mao to reinforce his army. On 2 October, the Chinese leadership continued an emergency meeting at Zhongnanhai to discuss whether China should send military aid, and these talks continued until 6 October. At the meeting, Zhou was one of the few firm supporters of Mao's position that China should send military aid, regardless of the strength of American forces. With the endorsement of Peng Dehuai, the meeting concluded with a resolution to send military forces to Korea.
In order to enlist Stalin's support, Zhou traveled to Stalin's summer resort on the Black Sea on 10 October. Stalin initially agreed to send military equipment and ammunition, but warned Zhou that the USSR's air force would need two or three months to prepare any operations and no ground troops were to be sent. In a subsequent meeting, Stalin told Zhou that he would only provide China with equipment on a credit basis, and that the Soviet air force would only operate over Chinese airspace after an undisclosed period of time. Stalin did not agree to send either military equipment or air support until March 1951.
Immediately on his return to Beijing on 18 October 1950, Zhou met with Mao Zedong, Peng Dehuai, and Gao Gang, and the group ordered the 200,000 Chinese troops along the border to enter North Korea, which they did on 25 October. After consulting with Stalin, on 13 November, Mao appointed Zhou the overall commander of the People's Volunteer Army, a special unit of the People's Liberation Army, China's armed forces that would intervene in the Korean War and coordinator of the war effort, with Peng as field commander of the PVA. Orders given by Zhou to the PVA were delivered in the name of the Central Military Commission.
By June 1951, the war had reached a stalemate around the Thirty-eighth Parallel, and the two sides agreed to negotiate an armistice. Zhou directed the truce talks, which began on 10 July. Zhou chose Li Kenong and Qiao Guanhua to head the Chinese negotiating team. The negotiations proceeded for two years before reaching a ceasefire agreement in July 1953, formally signed at Panmunjom.
The Korean War was Zhou's last military assignment. In 1952, Peng Dehuai succeeded Zhou in managing the Central Military Commission (which Zhou had headed since 1947). In 1956, after the eighth Party Congress, Zhou formally relinquished his post in the Military Commission and focused on his work in the Standing Committee, the State Council, and on foreign affairs.
After Stalin died on 5 March 1953, Zhou left for Moscow and attended Stalin's funeral four days later. Mao, curiously, decided not to travel to Moscow, possibly because no senior Soviet politician had yet travelled to Beijing, or because Stalin had rejected an offer to meet with Mao in 1948 (nevertheless, a huge memorial service in honor of Stalin was held in Beijing's Tiananmen Square with Mao and hundreds of thousands more in attendance). While in Moscow, Zhou was notably received with considerable respect by Soviet officials, being permitted to stand with the USSR's new leaders—Vyacheslav Molotov, Nikita Khrushchev, Georgi Malenkov, and Lavrentiy Beria—instead of with the other "foreign" dignitaries who attended. With these four leaders, Zhou walked directly behind the gun carriage bearing Stalin's coffin. Zhou's diplomatic efforts on his travel to Moscow were rewarded shortly after when, in 1954, Khrushchev himself visited Beijing to take part in the fifth anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic.
Throughout the 1950s, Zhou worked to tighten economic and political relations between China and other Communist states, coordinating China's foreign policy with Soviet policies promoting solidarity among political allies. In 1952, Zhou signed an economic and cultural agreement with the Mongolian People's Republic, giving de facto recognition of the independence of what had been known as "Outer Mongolia" in Qing times. Zhou also worked to conclude an agreement with Kim Il-sung in order to help the postwar reconstruction of North Korea's economy. Pursuing the goals of peaceful diplomacy with China's neighbors, Zhou held amicable talks with Burma's prime minister, U Nu, and promoted China's efforts to send supplies to Ho Chi Minh's Vietnamese rebels known as the Vietminh.