The definitive biography of Zhou Enlai, the first premier and preeminent diplomat of the People’s Republic of China, who protected his country against the excesses of his boss—Chairman Mao.
Zhou Enlai spent twenty-seven years as premier of the People’s Republic of China and ten as its foreign minister. He was the architect of the country’s administrative apparatus and its relationship to the world, as well as its legendary spymaster. Richard Nixon proclaimed him “the greatest statesman of our era.” Yet Zhou has always been overshadowed by Chairman Mao. Chen Jian brings Zhou into the light, offering a nuanced portrait of his complex life as a revolutionary, a master diplomat, and a man with his own vision and aspirations who did much to make China, as well as the larger world, what it is today.
Born to a declining mandarin family in 1898, Zhou received a classical education and as a teenager spent time in Japan. As a young man, driven by the desire for China’s development, Zhou embraced the communist revolution as a vehicle of China’s salvation. He helped Mao govern through a series of transformations, including the disastrous Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution. Yet, as Chen shows, Zhou was never a committed Maoist. His extraordinary political and bureaucratic skill, combined with his centrist approaches, enabled him to mitigate the enormous damage caused by Mao’s radicalism.
When Zhou died in 1976, the PRC that we know of was not yet visible on the horizon; he never saw glistening twenty-first-century Shanghai or the broader emergence of Chinese capitalism. But it was Zhou’s work that shaped the nation whose influence and power are today felt in every corner of the globe.
Chen Jian’s Zhou Enlai compellingly documents the whims, illusions, and eccentricities of Mao Zedong. I know of no better account of the arbitrary nature—but also the consequent waste—of authoritarian rule.
A must-read. Chen Jian’s book illuminates Zhou Enlai’s life from the earliest years to his final days with nuance, empathy, and scholarly depth. Along the way, he also tells the breathtaking story of Zhou’s China. This is a rare work of history shot through with the lived experience, and even occasional pensiveness, of an eminent authority on twentieth-century China.
At last, Zhou Enlai has the full-dress biography he deserves, one that uses rich documentary evidence to make an objective assessment of his enduring influence on twentieth-century China as well as the world. This is a profoundly important work of history.
Communist China resembles a labyrinth. This brilliant study of Zhou Enlai’s life has given us a key and a map to understand it. A masterpiece and a must-read for anyone who cares about China and its impact on the world.
- 800 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Belknap Press
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