(1886–1976) Chinese Communist military leader
Zhu De was the founder of the Red Army (later, People’s Liberation Army) and its de facto leader in the resistance against Japan and in the Chinese civil war against the Nationalists during the 1930s and 1940s. He played an important role in the development of a theory of guerrilla warfare. In the People’s Republic of China after 1949 he served as vice chair and later chair of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress.
Zhu De was born the son of a wealthy landlord in Sichuan (Szechwan) Province. He received a classical Chinese education and obtained a degree in 1904. After studies in Chengdu (Chengtu) and practice as a sports teacher, he visited the military academy in Kunming from 1908 to 1911. Influenced by revolutionaries, he joined the army of General Cai E (Tsai Ao) shortly before the 1911 revolution and participated in the overthrow of the Qing (Chi’ng) government in Yunnan province. In 1916 he reached the rank of general, commanded a brigade of the Yunnan army, and took up the habit of opium smoking.
In 1919 Zhu changed his life radically. Probably he was influenced by the May Fourth Movement, when Chinese students demonstrated against the Treaty of Versailles. Zhu then managed to get rid of his opium addiction in a French hospital in Shanghai. In addition, he started to study socialist theory and traveled to Europe in 1922. After a short stay in France he went to
Germany and studied at Göttingen University in 1924– 25. In Germany he also met Zhou Enlai (Chou En-lai) and joined the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Soon the German authorities became suspicious about his political activities. He was arrested twice and expelled in 1925.
Zhu went to Moscow and after some studies returned to China. After Chiang Kai-shek ended the alliance with the Communists in April 1927, Zhu took part in the Nanchang Uprising. After its failure he joined Mao Zedong and his partisans in the Jinggang Mountains in Jiangxi (Kiangsi) province. In the following years the Communist guerrillas were able to hold and even expand their areas until they were forced on the Long March in 1934.
During the Long March Zhu separated from Mao’s troops and joined the western wing of the Red Army under Zhang Guotao (Chang Kuo-tao). Zhu arrived with his remaining soldiers at Mao’s newly established base of operations in Sha’anxi (Shensi) province in late 1936, where he again became supreme commander of the Communist forces. After the United Front of the Communists with the Kuomintang against Japanese aggression was concluded in August 1937, Zhu formally became a commander in the Nationalist army. In reality, the Red Army led a very independent war of resistance against the Japanese occupation until August 1945. Zhu made good use of his experience in guerrilla warfare, and it is likely that Mao’s writings on the theory of guerrilla war were partially developed by Zhu. Changing to a more conventional style of warfare after the Japanese surrender—equipped mostly with Japanese matériel—Zhu’s army was victorious in the following civil war against the Kuomintang armies.
In addition to his military position, Zhu also served on the CCP’s central committee in 1930 and as a member of the Politburo in 1934. In 1945 he was made vice chair of the CCP. Zhu stepped down as commander in chief in 1954 and became vice chairman of the state council. He became chair of the standing committee of the National People’s Congress in 1959. Like so many prominent leaders of the CCP, Zhu was denounced by Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution in 1966. He had to step down and was only restored to his positions in 1971. Zhu De died in 1976.
Further reading: Klein, Donald W., and Anne B. Clark. Biographic Dictionary of Chinese Communism, 1921–1965. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1971; Lynch, Michael. China: From Empire to People’s Republic, 1900–
- London: Hodder Murray, 1996; Shum, Kui-Kwong. Zhu-De. Brisbane, Australia: University of Queensland Press, 1982.