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Year 12 - History - The Chinese Revolution: Key People

Units 3 and 4 - Causes & Consequences

Yuan Shikai (Yuan Shih-K’ai) (1859–1916)

Yuan Shikai (September 16, 1859 – June 6, 1916) was a Chinese military official and politician during the late Qing Dynasty and the early Republic of China

Born into a prosperous family, and entered the Qing Brigade after twice failing the civil service examinations. He distinguished himself in Korea, and in 1895, after the First Sino-Japanese War, when the Qing government recognized he need to train a modern army, Yuan was put in charge first new army. He supported the Dowager Empress Cixi when she deposed the Guangxou Emperor in 1898 after the Hundred Days’ Reform, and fled to the countryside after they died in 1908 to avoid execution. The Qing government called him back into service after the Wuhan Uprising in October, 1911, but he sided with the revolutionaries and was elected Provisional President of the Republic of China on February 14, 1912, by the Nanjing Provisional Senate. On December 12, 1915, he proclaimed his reign as Emperor of the Chinese Empire, but Yunnan's military governor, Cai E and several other provinces rebelled and he abandoned monarchism in March, 1916, three months before his death from uremia.      New World Encyclopedia

Jiang Jieshi (Chiang Kai-Shek) (1887–1975)

Jiang Jieshi (1887-1975, Wade-Giles: Chiang Kai-shek) was the leader of the Guomindang, the National Revolutionary Army and the Chinese republic between 1926 and 1949.

Jiang was born in Zhejiang, eastern China, the son of a successful salt merchant. As a young man, Jiang set his sights on a military career. He enrolled in the Baoding military academy, a training facility for New Army officers, then travelled to Japan for further training and military service there.

While in Japan, Jiang became involved in republican and revolutionary groups, joining Sun Yixian’s Tongmenghui in 1908. In 1911 he returned to China and participated in the Xinhai Revolution. By 1924, Jiang was commandant of the newly created Huangpu Military Academy and was considered an important figure in the Guomindang’s mission to reunify China.

Mao Zedong (Mao Tse-Tung) (1893–1976)

Mao Zedong (1893-1976, Wade-Giles: Mao Tse-tung) was a Chinese communist, military commander, strategist, political philosopher and party leader. He became the most significant leader and figurehead of the Chinese Revolution. 

Rising from humble origins, Mao was a minor regional figure in the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) until the 1930s. During the Long March (1934-36) and the Yan’an period (1936-46), Mao became the undisputed leader of the party, as well as its leading strategist and ideological mentor.

It was Mao Zedong who addressed a crowd in Tiananmen Square, Beijing in October 1949, to declare the CCP’s final victory and the formation of the People’s Republic of China. Mao is perhaps best known as the architect of the Great Leap Forward (1958-61), an ambitious but disastrous economic program that produced a widespread national famine in China, causing the deaths of an estimated 30 million people. Mao was also the figurehead of the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), a disruptive and sometimes violent mass campaign driven by political radicals.


Peng Dehuai (P'eng Te-huai) (1898-1974)

Peng Dehuai, Wade-Giles romanization P’eng Te-huai, original name Peng Dehua, (born Oct. 24, 1898—died Nov. 29, 1974), military leader, one of the greatest in Chinese communist history, and minister of national defense of China from 1954 until 1959, when he was removed for criticizing the military and economic policies of the party.

Peng was a military commander under a local warlord and later under Chiang Kai-shek (Jiang Jieshi) but broke with him in 1927 when Chiang attempted to rid the Nationalist Party (Kuomintang) of leftist elements. In 1928 Peng became a communist and soon afterward became involved in guerrilla activity, leading a series of peasant uprisings. He became a senior military commander under Mao Zedong and participated in the Long March (1934–35). Peng was the second-ranking man in the communists’ military hierarchy from the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War in 1937 to 1954 and was a member of the Political Bureau (Politburo) of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) from 1936. He led Chinese forces in the Korean War and signed the armistice at P’anmunjŏm on July 27, 1953. In 1954 he became minister of national defense. In 1959, however, he criticized as impractical the policies of the Great Leap Forward, which emphasized ideological purity over professional expertise in both the military forces and the economy. Peng was deprived of office for a while and in 1965 was sent to the CCP’s Southwest Bureau in Sichuan province. Peng was posthumously “rehabilitated” in December 1978 under the post-Mao regime.  Britannica


Lin Biao (Lin Piao) (1907-1971)

Lin Biao, Wade-Giles romanization Lin Piao, original name Lin Yurong, (born Dec. 5, 1907—died Sept. 13, 1971?), Chinese military leader who, as a field commander of the Red Army, contributed to the communists’ 22-year struggle for power and held many high government and party posts. He played a prominent role in the first several years of the Cultural Revolution (1966–76), but in 1971 he allegedly sought to remove Chinese leader Mao Zedong and seize power; his plot was discovered, and he died under obscure circumstances.

Throughout his life, Lin Biao was more a doer than a thinker. His writings are few and uninspiring. They deal primarily with questions of military strategy and tactics, especially the latter (of which he was a master), or with the importance of political indoctrination. As a leader, Lin lacked Mao’s wit and charisma and Zhou Enlai’s charm and urbanity. In contrast to these other two members of the ruling triumvirate in the late 1960s, Lin seemed almost colourless. Even as a military commander he was characterized more by caution and deliberation than by dash and flamboyance.  Britannica

Liu Shaoqi (Liu Shao-chi'i) (1898-1969)

Liu Shaoqi, Wade-Giles romanization Liu Shao-ch’i, (born November 24, 1898—died November 12, 1969), chairman of the People’s Republic of China (1959–68) and chief theoretician for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), who was considered the heir apparent to Mao Zedong until he was purged in the late 1960s. Liu was active in the Chinese labour movement from its inception, and he was influential in formulating party and, later, governmental strategy. He played an important role in Chinese foreign affairs after the communists had gained control of the country.

 Mao relinquished his position as chairman of the People’s Republic, though he remained party chairman, and Liu assumed the chairmanship in April 1959. In his new post as head of state, Liu began to play a more prominent role in foreign affairs, receiving state visitors from Indonesia, the Soviet Union, Pakistan, Ghana, Cuba, North Vietnam, Cambodia, and North Korea. In addition, he traveled abroad rather extensively during 1959–66. Upon reaching this pinnacle, however, Liu became one of the most important figures to be purged in the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966–76). Many persons associated with him, such as Peng Zhen, mayor of Beijing, and Deng Xiaoping, a member of the Political Bureau, were also purged, decimating what had been viewed as a highly cohesive Chinese leadership. In October 1968 Liu was stripped of party positions and labeled China’s Khrushchev, and, by April 1969, a new constitutionally designated successor to Mao had been chosen—Lin Biao, head of the armed forces. In the autumn of 1971 Lin Biao disappeared, and it was announced that he—“a conspirator and arch-traitor”—had died in an airplane crash while fleeing from an attempt to assassinate Mao.

The causes of Liu’s fall (and events leading to Lin Biao’s death) are not clear. For several years the names of Liu, Deng, and Lin were linked, and the three were condemned in the party press as “capitalist roaders” intent on defeating the revolution.   Britannica


Sun Yixian (Sun Yat-Sen / Sun Zhongshan) (1866–1925)

Sun Yat-sen, Chinese (Pinyin) Sun Yixian  also called Sun Zhongshan, (born November 12, 1866, —died March 12, 1925), leader of the Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang [Pinyin: Guomindang]), known as the father of modern China. Influential in overthrowing the Qing (Manchu) dynasty (1911/12), he served as the first provisional president of the Republic of China (1911–12) and later as de facto ruler (1923–25).

Taking advantage of China’s defeat in the Sino-Japanese War (1894–95) and the ensuing crisis, Sun went to Hong Kong in 1895 and plotted for an uprising in Guangzhou (Canton), the capital of his native province. When the scheme failed, he began a 16-year exile abroad.The year 1903 marked a significant turning point in Sun’s career; from then on, his following came increasingly from the educated class, the most prestigious and influential group in China. For this decisive change Sun owed much to two factors: the steady decline of the Qing dynasty and the powerful propaganda of Liang Qichao, a reformist who fled to Japan in 1898, founded a Chinese press, and turned it into an instant success.


Zhu De (Chu Teh) (1886–1976)

Chu Teh (1886-1976), or Zhu De, was a Chinese Communist military leader. He became closely associated with Mao Tse-tung (Mao Zedong) in 1928 and was for many years afterward commander in chief of the Communist military forces.

Chu spent the years of the Sino-Japanese War largely in the Communist capital of Yenan, serving as commander-in-chief of the Eighth Route Army, the chief force in the Communist movement. In August 1937 Chu Teh's armies, now a part of the regular Nationalist forces, began attacking the Japanese. For eight years Chu Teh, who had been appointed to his command by Chiang Kai-shek, was in direct command of all Communist military operations against the Japanese. On Aug. 14, 1945, however, he refused to obey Chiang's order that he halt independent action, and thereafter Chu's troops began resisting new attempts launched by the Kuomintang to annihilate them. Warfare spread, and by the end of 1948 all Manchuria had fallen to the People's Armies commanded by Chu Teh. Forces under Chu's command swept inexorably southward, taking Peking (Beijing), Nanking (Nanjing), Shanghai, and, finally in November 1949, Canton. Chu's military successes were attributed to a number of his policies, including the maintenance of very close ties between soldiers under his command and the peasants, organizing operations behind enemy lines, effective use of propaganda, and his mobile tactics of "concentration and dispersal." In September 1949, Chu was named to the Consultative Council of the new (Communist) Chinese People's Republic, and in October he was named commander in chief of the People's Liberation Army. In 1954 he became vice chairman of the republic. In 1958, when Mao announced his plan to relinquish his administrative responsibilities as chief of staff, it was thought that Chu might succeed him. However, the following year, in April, the National People's Congress tapped Liu Shaochi'I for chairman. At that time, Chu gave up his post as vice chairman of the National Defense Council and became chairman of the standing committee of the People's Congress.    Your Dictionary Biography

Zhou Enlai (Chou En-Lai) (1898–1976)

Zhou Enlai, Wade-Giles romanization Chou En-lai, (born March 5, 1898—died Jan. 8, 1976), leading figure in the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and premier (1949–76) and foreign minister (1949–58) of the People’s Republic of China, who played a major role in the Chinese Revolution and later in the conduct of China’s foreign relations. He was an important member of the CCP from its beginnings in 1921 and became one of the great negotiators of the 20th century and a master of policy implementation, with infinite capacity for details. He survived internecine purges, always managing to retain his position in the party leadership. Renowned for his charm and subtlety, Zhou was described as affable, pragmatic, and persuasive.

As premier of the People’s Republic of China from its inception in October 1949, Zhou became the chief administrator of China’s huge civil bureaucracy. Serving concurrently as foreign minister, he also bore heavy responsibilities in foreign affairs and continued to play a key role in diplomacy after relinquishing the post of foreign minister. On Feb. 14, 1950, Zhou signed in Moscow a 30-year Chinese-Soviet treaty of alliance, and, at the 1955 Afro-Asian conference that convened at Bandung, Indon. (the Bandung Conference), he offered China’s support to Asian nonaligned nations. Between 1956 and 1964 Zhou traveled widely throughout Europe, Asia, and Africa, proclaiming the latter continent “ripe for revolution.” Zhou visited Moscow in 1964, but he was unable to resolve the fundamental differences that had arisen between China and the Soviet Union. After the U.S. envoy Henry A. Kissinger visited him in Beijing in July 1971, Zhou’s reputation as a diplomat and negotiator was widely noted by the American press. The historic meeting between Mao Zedong and U.S. Pres. Richard M. Nixon that took place in Beijing in February 1972 was, to a great extent, arranged and implemented by Zhou.   Britannica

Jiang Qing (Chiang Ch'ing) (1914-91)

Jiang Qing (1914-91, Wade-Giles: Chiang Ch’ing) was the third and final wife of Mao Zedong. She was also a revolutionary in her own right, rather than a passive consort. By Mao’s death in 1976, Jiang wielded considerable political power, becoming the most influential female leader since the Dowager Empress Cixi. 

In her 20s she became an actress and used her theatrical skills in revolutionary plays and dramas, becoming the leading actress in the CCP stronghold. Her talent and attractive looks caught the eye of Mao.In 1939, Mao divorced his wife and married Jiang. She accompanied Mao through the wars with Japan and the Guomindang but had no overt public or political role.  After the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) takeover in 1949, Jiang held positions in the Ministry of Culture, advising and directing revolutionary-oriented plays and productions. She emerged as a political mover and shaker during the 1960s, being appointed deputy director of the Cultural Revolution in 1966 and, three years later, becoming a member of the Politburo. Jiang participated in the public denigration of Mao’s enemies, particularly Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping. She was also actively involved in motivating and inciting bands of Red Guards. In the 1970s, Jiang became associated with the Gang of Four, a faction of notable leaders who enjoyed Mao’s support. By Mao Zedong’s death in September 1976, the influence of the Gang of Four was in decline. One month later, its members – including Jiang Qing – were denounced, purged from the party and given show trials. Jiang was eventually sentenced to death, though this was later commuted to a life sentence.  AlphaHistory