Zhou Enlai, the premier of the People’s Republic of China from 1949 until his death in 1976, is the last Communist political leader to be revered by the Chinese people. He is considered “a modern saint” who offered protection to his people during the Cultural Revolution; an admirable figure in an otherwise traumatic and bloody era. Works about Zhou in China are heavily censored, and every hint of criticism is removed — so when Gao Wenqian first published this groundbreaking, provocative biography in Hong Kong, it was immediately banned in the People’s Republic.
Using classified documents spirited out of China, Gao Wenqian offers an objective human portrait of the real Zhou, a man who lived his life at the heart of Chinese politics for fifty years, who survived both the Long March and the Cultural Revolution not thanks to ideological or personal purity, but because he was artful, crafty, and politically supple. He may have had the looks of a matinee idol, and Nixon may have called him “the greatest statesman of our era,” but Zhou’s greatest gift was to survive, at almost any price, thanks to his acute understanding of where political power resided at any one time.