China : An Astute Statesman
Zhou Enlai 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 Mao Zedong and was instrumental in consolidating the control of the Communist Party’s rise to power, 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, 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 India and Vietnam.
Zhou survived the purges of other top officials during the Cultural Revolution. With Mao dedicating 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 and the Gang of Four struggled 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.