Exhaustively researched biography of the revered Chinese premier who helped guide China through its infancy onto the world stage.
Zhou Enlai is probably best known for arranging the famous visits of President Nixon and Secretary of State Kissinger to China in 1972. But the fingerprints of this skilled diplomat and statesman remain all over the growing giant that is modern China. The author, who as a young bureaucrat wrote the Chinese Communist Party’s official Zhou Enlai biography before emigrating to the United States with his smuggled notes, traces Zhou from his days as a struggling student revolutionary to his many years of loyal service as Mao Zedong’s unassuming, faithful assistant. None of this ultimately mattered, however: Jealous of the worldwide attention thrust on Zhou following the Nixon visit, the vindictive, scheming Mao spent Zhou’s final years trying desperately to discredit and destroy him. Unlike many other loyal supporters on whom Mao eventually turned, Zhou proved adept at dodging the attacks launched by the chairman and his vengeful wife Jiang Qing—attacks that persisted right up until Zhou finally succumbed to cancer in 1976. Eight months later, Mao also died. Zhou’s choice for successor as Chinese premier, Deng Xiaoping, immediately launched the modernization of China’s military and economy that Zhou had long sought. Mao and the murderous Cultural Revolution he had launched were finally cast in disgrace. Gao parlays his unique access to secret documents into a detailed, riveting account of the backroom intrigue that constituted life under Mao for China’s leaders.
Indeed, the wealth of detail and characters, coupled with a generally colorless translation, often makes this story feel more like a history textbook than a revealing portrait. Nevertheless, students of both China and modern history will not be disappointed by this evenhanded, unblinking biography.