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.
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. 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 Zhe Du 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 Qing dynasty and that was afterwards declared a republic. Zhu De, who was a company commander at the time, participated actively in the revolution. The following year, he joined the Guomindang Party and was sent to fight bandits on the border with Vietnam. It was there that he developed a tactic that he later successfully used for Communist guerrilla fighting, including during World War II.
As a regiment and then brigade commander, Zhu De did much to end the feud between regional groups of militarists. In 1916-1920, his brigade was disbanded. The future marshal left for Shanghai and then for Europe, where he became a student of the philosophy department of the Gottingen University. 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 listened to lectures at the Communist University of Oriental Workers and at military courses. In 1926, he returned to his home country.
Upon instruction from the Communist Party’s Central Committee, Zhu De undertook the “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 gather up to 10,000 people into his detachment and to merge with Mao Zedong’s detachment, which was far smaller at that time.
In May 1928, Zhu De headed the newly founded 4th corps of the Red Army of China. Two years later, he was appointed commander-in-chief and elected candidate to the Communist Party’s Central Committee.
In September 1931, the Chinese Soviet Republic was declared and a transitional central government led by Mao Zedong was set up. Zhu De headed the republic’s revolutionary military council and directly addressed the reorganization of the Workers and Peasants’ Army.
Under his leadership, the 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.
In December 1936, the Communist Party of China and Guomindang made peace and signed an agreement on setting up a single front to fight against Japanese aggression (Japan had invaded China five years earlier, occupying Manchuria).
On July 7, 1937, a large-scale war between Japan and China broke out, starting with a conflict at the Lugouqiao Bridge near Beijing. Many Chinese historians believe that it was this war and not Germany’s attack on Poland that led to World War II. Professor Hu Dekong, head of the Chinese World War II Research Society, says China was one of the four powers that had a decisive role in the war. It was in China that the war lasted the longest. Hu Dekong says that Western historians today either do not say anything about China being one of the main battlefields in World War II or describe it superficially.
According to official statistics, the war killed over 20 million Chinese, both soldiers and civilians. Because of the strong resistance, Japan was forced to bring significant troops to China that otherwise could have been sent against the Americans…
In the years before World War II and during it, military cooperation between China and the Soviet Union was established and reinforced. According to official statistics, in 1937-1941 alone, a total of 3,665 Soviet volunteers fought against Japanese occupants. Most of them were pilots and aircraft technicians; 211 were killed.
Volunteer Soviet pilots did not just help the Chinese Army to defend Nanking, Nanchang and Wuchang, but also bombed Japanese military bases in China.
In August 1937, the Soviet Union and China signed a non-aggression treaty that significantly reinforced China’s stand in the war that broke out. Immediately after the signing, the Soviet Party offered material and military assistance to its new ally. Arms supplies from the Soviet Union began already in October 1937.
In July 1938 and June 1939, agreements on new loans, for $50 million and $150 million, were signed in Moscow. China received weapons, ammunition, petrol and medications. In 1938-1940, the road from Almaty to Lanzhou via Sinzyan actually became a “road of life” for China because its coastline was fully blocked.
In June 1938 – July 1944, the Soviet Union sent about 500 military advisors and 200 technical experts to China. In September 1941, Chinese commanders managed to disrupt Japan’s new attack on Changsha by carrying out a plan suggested by their chief military advisor.
The Soviet Union actively supported China with weapons as well. In the first half of the anti-Japanese war, the USSR supplied China with 1,285 airplanes, 1,850 vehicles, 1,600 cannons of different calibers, 2 million missiles, 82 tanks, 14,000 hand-held, heavy and anti-aircraft machineguns, 110,000 rifles and 150 million rounds of ammunition. Top-class aircraft were sent to support the Chinese in their fight for liberation – I-15 and I-16 fighters, SB high-speed bombers, TB-3 heavy bombers and DB-3 long-range bombers. Apart from this, the Soviet Union agreed to open for China the Sary-Altaisk-Lanzhou road and a flight corridor between Almaty and Lanzhou to deliver combat airplanes, tanks, weapons, ammunition, communication devices, fuel and other military equipment.
The cargo ports of the Far East and Black Sea shipping companies allocated dozens of cargo vessels for these purposes. Over 5,500 railway cars were used on the Soviet territory, and the Sinzyan road was serviced by about 5,200 ZIS-5 trucks. A flight corridor serviced by TB-3 transport aircraft was set up to deliver urgent cargos. Overall, tens of thousands of Soviet people were involved in sending the cargo – packaging, loading and shipping. They worked paying no attention to time or weather conditions…
During World War II, Zhu De fully revealed his talent as a military leader. He was appointed commander of the 8th Army, into which the Workers and Peasants’ Revolutionary Army had been transformed. For eight years, Zhu De led all military maneuvers. He favored the tactics of combined operations, that combined actions by regular troops and guerrillas, and this choice was justified.
As a result, many areas in 19 provinces of northern, central and southern China were liberated, and over 115,000 big and small battles with the enemy took place.
After the Soviet Union declared war on Japan on August 11, 1945, the he ordered a general onslaught on the northern and northeastern areas of China that were occupied by the Japanese. Three days later, he refused to follow an order by Jiang Jieshi on ceasing independent action. After that, his troops began counteracting the Guomindang army that was trying to destroy the Communists’ forces.
When it became known that the Soviet Union had joined the war against Japan, Mao Zedong sent a telegram to Stalin that read, “The 100-million population and the armed forces of the liberated areas of China will do their best to coordinate their efforts with the Red Army and the armies of other ally states in order to destroy the abhorrent Japanese invaders.”
Ne Rongzhen, a prominent military leader of the Communist Party of China, said, “… The successful outcome of the Chinese people’s anti-Japanese war is inseparable from the Soviet Union’s assistance… Volunteer Soviet pilots helped China to fight against Japan. How many heroic sons of the Soviet Union shed their blood in the heavenly expanses of China! Throughout the eight years of China’s resistance war, the mighty Soviet troops firmly and constantly defended the Far Eastern borders of the Soviet Union, immobilizing the Kwantung army of a million Japanese bandits. This significantly reduced the burden of China’s resistance. In 1945, after the Soviet Union defeated the German bandits, winning a decisive victory in the anti-Nazi world war, it immediately declared war on Japan in order to speed up China’s liberation and fully defeat the Japanese Kwantung Army, forcing the Japanese bandits to surrender.”
On August 14, 1945, the Soviet Union and China signed an agreement on friendship and alliance. At the beginning of the 1940s, Zhu De became one of the leading associates of Mao Zedong. In 1945, he was elected member of the Political Bureau and secretary of the Communist Party’s Central Committee. When 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.” A large part of troops was sent to Manchuria. Zhu De planned, prepared and led almost all the decisive battles of the war: the Liaoshen, Huaihai and Pingjin campaigns. 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 1955, he was promoted to marshal and was awarded with the country’s three 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: the 83-year-old marshal was sent to exile to the town of Zunghua, the Guandong province, where he lived under constant supervision until July 1970.
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 until his death.
Marshal Zhu De died July 6, 1976 at the age of 90...