Zhu De (1886-1976)

Zhu De ca. 1930s, unknown author.

General, politician and revolutionary

Many people in the West are unaware of him, but forty-four years after his death, Zhu is still remembered in China. Zhu is remembered in China as a valiant revolutionary fighter and the creator of the People’s Liberation Army. There are memorials honoring him in numerous cities and villages. This Chinese folk hero’s narrative is a rare one. It’s the story of a bright guy with tenacity who transformed China forever.

Zhu De was born in the northern Chinese province of Sichuan on December 1, 1886. For the first several years of his childhood, Zhu grew up on his father’s farm. Farm life, however, was not for him, and despite being the son of a poor farmer, Zhu graduated from the Yunan military college in 1911. Zhu participated in the Xinhai revolution (1911), which toppled China’s last imperial dynasty, the Qing.

After successfully overthrowing the Qing, Zhu experienced several personal setbacks and developed an opium addiction. This addiction did not stop Zhu from working hard; he rose through the ranks of the army and ultimately befriended Mao Zedong (1893-1976).

During the Chinese Civil War, he and Mao Zedong formed the backbone of the Chinese communist movement (1927-1949). During this conflict, Mao and Zhu fought alongside one other against both the Nationalists and the Japanese.

Because the Communists were vastly outnumbered, Zhu was forced to act strategically. In 1934, Zhu made one of the most significant contributions to the fight. This year, Zhu, Mao, and the Chinese Red Army were besieged and trapped in Jianxi Province. Despite the circumstances, Zhu, Mao, and the Chinese Red Army managed to flee to Shaanxi province in northern China.

The escape went down in the History books as the “Long March”, and this strategic move meant that Chiang Kai-Shek (1887-1976) and the Nationalists did not crush the Communist movement. Afterwards Zhu was tasked with the tactical aspects of the conflict. As a result, he devised several highly effective guerilla techniques. These methods made a significant contribution to the battle that ultimately to the Communist movement’s civil war victory in 1949.


Depicted people right to left: Mao Zedong, Zhu De, Zhou Enlai and Bo Gu in Yan’an c. 1937 by unknown author.

Zhu held numerous important posts following the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. China modernized under his stewardship. Zhu worked tirelessly to modernize China. Despite his efforts, severe hunger resulted from the large-scale collectivization of farmland. Official Chinese statistics put the death toll at 15 million, although historians put the total closer to 18 million to 30 million. Zhu helped design the policy that led to this, and as a result, he bears the blood of innocent people.

Despite his excellent record in the service of the revolution, Zhu became a target of the Red Guard during the violent Cultural Revolution in 1966. Zhu was removed from his positions and banished from Beijing.

At the conclusion of the Cultural Revolution, he was rehabilitated as a revolutionary hero by his influential allies in Beijing. His resurrected stature as a revolutionary hero may still be recognized today in a chamber particularly devoted to him in Beijing’s Memorial Hall.


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