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Home > Back Issues (Journal) > Journal V26 N2 (Apr - Jun 2000) > Personality Profile: Zhu De [Chu Teh]

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Personality Profile:

Zhu De [Chu Teh]

Commander and founder of Chinese Red Army and Field Marshal of the people's Liberation Army

"What kind of war to fight depends on what kinds of arms we have ..."

Marshal Zhu De

Zhu De is regarded as a founder member of the Red Army (the forerunner of the people's Liberation Army [PLA]), and the military tactician who engineered the revolution from which emerged the people's Republic of China. He was one of Mao Zedong's closest comrade-in-arms during the revolution and civil war in China. He commanded the Chinese Red Army against Jiang Jieshi's [Chiang Kaishek] Nationalist Army in 1930-1933 and in the Long March; against the Japanese in Sino-Japanese War, and again against the Nationalist Army in the Civil War of 1945-1949. Together with Mao Zedong, they made a formidable team during the Communist struggle to power. While Mao formulated political doctrines and Zhu De provided the military leadership to transform the doctrines into action. They laboured to reorganise the Red Army into a force fit to resist attacks by the Kuomintang, warlords and Japanese troops.

Zhu De was born in 1886 in Yilong county, a hilly and isolated section north of Sichuan Province. Hailing from a large farming family of humble origins, Zhu De was one of thirteen children. He was raised by his elder uncle, a landlord. After his elementary and secondary education which was funded by his clan, Zhu De went to Chengdu to study physical education before joining the army.

Zhu De was one of the few privileged Red Army leaders to receive professional military education. Zhu De entered the Yunnan Military Academy in Kunming in 1908 and went on to teach in the academy after his graduation. He participated in military campaigns with armies of the Yunnan warlords. He commanded units along the China-Laos border and the China-Vietnam border during early Republican years. During this time, Zhu De developed a strong opium habit but managed to recover from the addiction in 1922 at a Shanghai hospital.

Zhu De began to read Marxism and Leninism in Shanghai. The turning point came in late 1922, during his mid-30s, when he went to Europe. He first went to Germany to study at the Gottingen University (1922-25) before joining the Communist party with Zhou Enlai and others as his sponsors. He was arrested twice for his revolutionary activities and was eventually exiled. In July 1925, he travelled to the Soviet Union to study military affairs before returning to China in 1926.

After taking part in several abortive Communist uprisings in Huzhou, Shunqing, and Nanchang in 1927, where Zhu De played the role of a "highly-placed 'mole' in the local Nationalist forces", he moved into the Fujian Province and reorganised his units into the "Nine Revolutionary Army". Influenced by his early military training, Zhu De emphasised conventional fighting methods. Other Chinese Communist leaders such as Mao Zedong, however, preferred guerrilla units and tactics. By 1928, Zhu De joined forces with Mao at Jinggangshan where the Fourth Army of the Chinese Workers and Peasants' Red Army was formed with Zhu De as commander. Zhu De adopted the "lure the enemy in deep" principle, concentrating on a superior force to destroy the enemy one by one. Using a combination of regular mobile and partisan guerrilla operations, Zhu De and Mao achieved significant victories against the Nationalist encirclement campaign in 1931.

Mao and Zhu De forged a close political relationship during this period. Both men opposed the Li Lisan line of attempting to take large cities during 1930. Zhu also sided with Mao during the Futian Incident where there was a revolt against Mao in the same year. This was a critical juncture because it coincided with the imminent launch of Chiang Kaishek's five annihilation campaigns against the Communist stronghold. Under great pressure, the Red Army was forced to abandon the Jiangxi Soviet in late 1934. Zhu De assumed the post of Commander-in-Chief of the famed Long March, which relocated the Communists in Yan'an a year later.

When the Sino-Japanese War broke out in 1937, the Nationalist and Communist formed the second United Front against the Japanese. Zhu De was named deputy commander of the Second War Zone and commander of the Eighth Route Army, the re-designation of the Red Army. He led the main force of the Eighth Route Army in the North China front to conduct independent guerrilla warfare in coordination with the military operations of the Nationalist troops. In March 1938, he directed the combined forces of the Nationalist and Red Army and defeated the Japanese in Shanxi province. After the victory against Japan, the Red Army was once again embroiled in civil war. During this time, the Communist military units were re-designated the people's Liberation Army. Zhu De continued as a Commander-in-Chief. By 1947, the war was turning decisively in favour of the Communists. Victory came within months. Zhu De was accorded a place of honour in Tiananmen when Mao pronounced the establishment of the people's Republic of China on 1 October 1949.

After founding the people's Republic of China, Zhu De served in various positions such as the Vice-Chairman of the party's Politburo, member of the Military Affairs Committee, Defence Minister and many political appointments. During this time, he led delegations to many parts of the world including, Moscow, Hungary, Poland and Czechoslovakia. In October 1950, at the direction of Zhu De, the PLA (styled as the 'Chinese People's Volunteers [CPV]') entered the Korean War with the primary motive of maintaining North Korea as a buffer against a possible attack by "American imperialism". The objective was met but at a high cost: between half a million and a million battle deaths. He was awarded the rank of field marshal in 1955. In 1959, he relinquished all other military posts, retaining his title of marshal in the PLA.

On 6 July 1976, Zhu De died at the age of 90, six months after Zhou Enlai's death and two months before Mao Zedong's death. Zhu De is remembered to this day as a brilliant military tactician. Together with Zhou Enlai and Mao Zedong, Zhu De is recognised as among the most influential founding members of the people's Republic of China.


Klein, Donald W and Clark, Anne B (ed), Biographic Dictionary of Chinese Communism, 1921-1965, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 197, vol. 1, pp. 245-254.

Shambaugh, David and Yang, Richard H (ed), China's Military in Transition, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1997, p. 195.

Smedley ,Agnes, The Great Road; The Life And Times Of Chu Teh, New York, Monthly Review Press, 1956.

Shum Kui-kwong, Zhu De (Chu Teh), St Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1982.

William W. Whitson, Chen-hsia Huang, The Chinese High Command; A History Of Communist Military
Politics,1927-71, New York, Praeger,1973.

Last updated: 03-Jul-2006






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