"one of the two or three most impressive men I have ever met."
- Henry Kissinger
Chou En-Lai is often revered as a pearl among swine when debating the leadership of twentieth century Red China. So sacred was he to the Chinese people that his funeral in 1976 sparked nationwide demonstrations of grief. It was as though a part of them had died with Zhou. They believed so deeply in him, that he was saintly, that he loved them and that he fought for them. Whereas Mau was brutal, Chou was silken, tempering the hand of his master, never making a mistake. However, revisionist historians now suggest that Chou En-Lai, so long held high on a moral pedestal, may too have been flawed.
Born into the gentry in 1898, Chou En-Lai first demonstrated his predilection for revolutionary politics when during the May Fourth movement of 1919 he led a raid on a local government office protesting the humiliating Versailles Treaty. Subsequently spending time mingling with radical Chinese students in France and then in Moscow, Chou was by 1924 a card-carrying Communist. It was during his participation in the Long March of 1934-35, when communists sought to escape from Chiang Kai-Shek's Kuomintang (nationalists), that he secured his position as Mau's number two. In 1937, Chou En-Lai the political tactician brokered an alliance between Mau's communists and Chiang Kai-Shek's nationalists in order to pose a united front against Japanese Imperialism; the truce lasted until after World War II, when the communists drove the Kuomintang out of mainland China.
After 1949, as China's Premier and (until 1958) Foreign Minister, Chou En-Lai proved himself to be a brilliant statesman and the architect of the People's Republic of China's foreign policy, winning great support for China in the developing world and significantly was the driving force behind China's break with Moscow and subsequent rapprochement with the United States. It was during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s that Chou won a reputation for being the face of moderation, and most likable of China's leaders. However, it may be true that in fact Chou was merely playing monkey to Mau's organ-grinder, with evidence now coming to the fore that Chou En-Lai among other things signed arrest orders for his own brother and a goddaughter.