Zhou Enlai

This is an example of blogging at its very best. Anonymoused for your convenience. Thanks to Danwei for the tip.

The Discussion: 26 Comments

Thanks for that, Richard. Have I mentioned my fascination with Zhou Enlai lately?

January 10, 2008 @ 3:04 pm | Comment

Good post.
Poet & great Intellectuals all of them were.

January 10, 2008 @ 4:08 pm | Comment

Nicely written post as you say but….

Zhou looks good standing next to Mao in much the same way that Mussolini looks good standing next to Hitler or that Goering was a nicer guy than Goebbels. Zhou failed throughout his life to make one single sacrifice or to truly stand up to Mao (something that Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping managed to do, Liu paying with his life, Deng nearly with his own and his son’s). So what if Zhou stopped the mob burning down the Forbidden City? If he hadn’t been so craven he could have helped stop the Cultural Revolution. The whole “he wasn’t so bad” thing smacks of “I was only the guard at the gate” defence. the whole idea that he is somehow redeemed by nominating deng i also disagree with. once he was dying it was all too little too late.

As for the “urbane worldly diplomat” thing isn’t this what foreign ministers are supposed to be? I think it reflects more on negative stereotypes and poor expections of so-called mysterious and insular Asians than his actual abilities.

I don’t have a great deal of time for any of the first generation leaders, but at least liu shaoqi and deng xiaoping appeared to have principles beyond covering their own arse.

January 10, 2008 @ 9:02 pm | Comment

Zhou would have denounced his own mother if Mao had ordered him to, so desperate was he to protect his own skin. It’s about time he is shown to be the Mao sycophant he was.

January 11, 2008 @ 1:09 am | Comment

Sitting in front of a computer and making some comment about the dead is always an easy and safe job.

January 11, 2008 @ 5:41 am | Comment

Um…yeah. That’s why I’m a historian. Nice work, you know, beats ditch digging. It’ll never make you rich, but you do get your summers off.

January 11, 2008 @ 6:35 am | Comment

Everytime I wanted to know more about the Great Guys, I knew I would only get more confused. The books, each claims itself as objective and telling the truth, meanwhile contradicting to each other, if not itself. Disappointed, I decided to leave Mao, Zhou, and everyone else of that group to where they belong–the past, and never touch them again.

However, based on the unreliable sources I could get hold of, my impression of Zhou is he was a man of masks, he did it with the same “graciousness” playing an ass-kisser to Mao, just he could impress Kissinger and rest of his western fans with his confidence, spiritual strenghth etc. To the majority of Chinese people, he was and still is “our good prmire”, despite the fact that millions of people were starving to death during his tenure–something almost impossible and must make every polititian jealous. He was a great show man who played everything to everyman, and his appearance was so great that few really cares about the deeds he delievered.

Another point, comparingwith the peasant CPC high rankers, he was possibly the only one westerners may feel comfortable with. That’s role Mao wantted him to play–his PR manager.

January 11, 2008 @ 9:51 am | Comment


“As for the “urbane worldly diplomat” thing isn’t this what foreign ministers are supposed to be?”

You are right, actually he was also the foreign minister of China at the time. Is he the only premier who is aso the foreign minister?

January 11, 2008 @ 9:58 am | Comment


Poet & great Intellectuals all of them were.”

I really like your wit. Exactly, that’s what they try to feed me with through my excruciating 16 years of schooling which finally is drawing to an end , thank God.

January 11, 2008 @ 10:07 am | Comment

IMO (and from all available evidence), Zhou Enlai was a complicated person whose motivations and character don’t easily reduce to black and white.

I do think he genuinely wanted to create a strong, modern, stable China, and this was what drove him. One could do some cheap psychologizing and speculate that he was driven to create what he didn’t have as a child – his upbringing was chaotic and much affected by the larger social chaos around him.

He made a lot of compromises along the way to stay in power, and the question becomes, where did the balance lie? Did he accomplish more good by compromising and staying in power or would standing up to Mao and risking his position have been the better path?

Mixed up in all of this are ideals of the “loyal minister,” Mao as a symbol of legitimacy for the new regime, and a very complicated relationship between the two of them – Mao didn’t trust Zhou, even resented him, but needed him to keep everything running.

It’s a fascinating story, and a tragic one in many ways.

January 11, 2008 @ 1:47 pm | Comment


my sentiments exactly


“He made a lot of compromises along the way to stay in power, and the question becomes, where did the balance lie? Did he accomplish more good by compromising and staying in power or would standing up to Mao and risking his position have been the better path?”

that is an excellent point and the nub of the question. but surely the ideal of the “loyal minister” in the confucian tradition is one who is willing to risk his life by talking truth to power. the whole point of the mandate of heaven is that ministers and the people at large not only can overthrow corrupt and evil leaders but have a moral duty to do so. the only part of traditional chinese culture zhou could be said to be adhering to, imho, would be an overly literal reading of the daoist belief that a great leader does nothing.

January 11, 2008 @ 4:41 pm | Comment

“The only part of traditional chinese culture zhou could be said to be adhering to, imho, would be an overly literal reading of the daoist belief that a great leader does nothing.”

Um, I think not. ZEL was no more a Daoist than Henry Kissinger’s a Humanitarian, Noble Price laureate or not.

Here’s My Simplistic understanding of basic Daoism:

Daoists leaders leave their people free in order that they can realize their individual nature and destiny. The Daoists social organization is a small state containing isolated and independent villages of free individuals. Competitions with other villages or states for land or trade are non existence, therefore the need for war is nil.

“The Dao is ever inactive, and yet there is nothing it does not do.” “The way of Heaven is not to contend and yet to be able to conquer.” Throughout Chinese history, Daoism inspired gentle, spiritually and mystically inclined individuals. Some of China’s greatest painters and poets were Daoists. Bruce Lee’s “Be water my friend,” is Daoism.

Wu wei (“not doing”) is akin to the idea of being a conscientious objector to selfish desires for power. Kinda like what Jesus said, “Be in the world but not of the world.” Talk about non-conforming individualism, Maverick-ism, which by the act of organization (political or religious) intrinsically, as in monetary conditions in the dynamism of unconditional love, immediately diminishes it’s infinite spiritual power. (Fxxk if I know what I’m talking about…oh, well.)

January 11, 2008 @ 6:23 pm | Comment


i was joking – i don’t really think zhou was a daoist

January 11, 2008 @ 9:40 pm | Comment

Nooo, not so much. 🙂

Of course when Mao was in a sulk he used to say things like, “I’m just a monk with a leaky umbrella.”

January 12, 2008 @ 1:26 am | Comment


“I’m just a monk with a leaky umbrella,” perhaps in response to Mao’s brag: ”我是和尚打傘,无发(法)无天“?? Very witty they were.

January 12, 2008 @ 7:53 am | Comment

Ooops. The “leaky umbrella” was supposedly Mao’s line (the version I heard, in English so I don’t know if it is the same quote as yours), not anything Zhou was supposed to have said.

January 12, 2008 @ 8:02 am | Comment

I think it is a mistranslation, isn’t it? By “和尚打傘,无发(法)无天” I thought Mao meant “I don’t give a shit about anything. Whatever, I do what I want.” Nothing even close to Taoism.

January 12, 2008 @ 9:42 am | Comment

@ One Flew,

You are right, this saying has ABSOLUTELY nothing to do with Daoism. Well, it’s MAOISM.

January 12, 2008 @ 1:31 pm | Comment

Forgive my faulty memory; it’s been a long time since I’ve looked at this stuff. But it was basically Mao saying, “I don’t really want to be the Chairman, I’m just an old monk with a leaky umbrella.” And then if anyone took him up on that, he’d complain about being made into a Buddha on a shelf. This was I believe either right before or after the Great Leap. My read is that he really had little interest in the nuts and bolts of governing but could not stand the idea of ceding power. He didn’t like feeling irrelevant, even if at times he liked to pretend that he was.

January 12, 2008 @ 2:17 pm | Comment

和尚打傘,无发(法)无天 implies the image of a monk with no hair (homophone: law) and in the act of holding an umbrella, with no view of the sky (heavens/god). In the context of the Great Leap Forward, where man is at war with heaven and earth to build an industrialized socialist utopia, the phrase seem to imply that Mao is lawless and godless, with fear of nothing. Of course, the leaky umbrella interpretation is also without basis as a self-deprecating comment. Could it be both? After all, not only is Mao a political strategist but he is also a poet…another reason why it is better to have self-serving bean counters in charge of government than wild-eyed visionaries.

January 13, 2008 @ 3:38 am | Comment

“NOT without basis” ,I meant (above).

As far as Zhou, I agree with Si’s critique. Zhou always manages to find himself on the side of the winning political factions of the day. From Wang Ming and Otto Braun of the communist international to Mao, Zhou is a flip-flopper and his only allegiance is to those in power.

I have to disagree with Si’s assessment of Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping. They may have “appeared to have principles beyond covering their own arse”, but that is only because Liu and Deng had political ambitions to be top dog, while Zhou settled for second best. Liu and Deng were all too eager to agree with Mao’s anti-Rightist campaigns of 1957. Liu and Deng openly supported the excesses of the old Red Guards at the start of the Cultural Revolution. Liu’s wife Wang Guangmei spearheaded the CR Working Groups on the campuses of Beijing’s universities that started the whole bloody mess in the first place. Liu and Deng were not against the political persecutions of the CR. They were simply against the turning of the target of persecution to the actual communist party elite: themselves.

January 13, 2008 @ 3:59 am | Comment

regarding the whole “monk with leaky umbrella thing” here is an excellent explanation of the phrase:



i think your comments are excellent, and certainly place mine in a better context. regarding their principles, i said that because there is at least one defensible thing that can be said of them (they did have the final aim of raising living standards and were prepared to fight over this), unlike mao or zhou.

January 14, 2008 @ 4:31 pm | Comment

Backing Si up here — Mao’s comment about being “an old monk with a leaky umbrella” is pure mistranslation — whether deliberate or accidental is up for debate. It comes from a well-known 歇后语 (a two-part allegorical saying, usually hinging on a pun — think of it as a Chinese Fat Albert joke, like “You’re just like a school in summertime — no class”), and the expression is common enough that Mao felt no need to complete it. Snow took the literal meaning of the phrase 和尚打伞 at face value, believing it to be a charming, folksy expression of modesty, because he wasn’t aware of the second half: æ— (法 / 发)无天 — an expression meaning that he wasn’t bound by any power, earthly or otherwise. This is the sort of thing that keeps translators up nights.

January 14, 2008 @ 5:07 pm | Comment


I get what you’re saying, but I beg to differ. It is a game of power politics, pure and simple. Liu and Deng were no better than Mao or Zhou. Liu wasn’t exactly ‘fighting to raise living standards’ of the common man out of some selfless idealism. Liu’s policies of economic development was what gave him the political upper hand over a discredited Mao after the disastrous GLF. The same could be said of Deng after the CR. Power was the name of the game and when challenged, TAM was the result. Mao probably had more idealism but his lunatic revolutionary zeal did far more harm to the country than the self-serving kleptocrats of today. At the end of the day, they are all bastards.

January 15, 2008 @ 11:05 am | Comment

Brendan, Si, thanks for that. I had only ever seen the remark in translation, and god knows my Chinese is nowhere near good enough to make these distinctions if I had seen it in Chinese.

January 15, 2008 @ 3:28 pm | Comment


my chinese is also nowhere near good enough – i only happened to see it on an article linked to eswn a couple of weeks ago. thought i’d pass it on


i totally agree that they are all bastards.

January 15, 2008 @ 4:38 pm | Comment

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