8. Zhou Enlai concentrated on running China while Chairman Mao concentrated on matters of ideology
He was, for around three decades, Mao’s right-hand-man. Some scholars of Chinese history even believe that Zhou Enlai was even more powerful and influential than the infamous Chairman himself. Indeed, to many, he was the ultimate example of someone being the true ‘power behind the throne’. Flying largely under the radar, he wielded significant influence and used his unique position at the very top of the Chinese Communist Party to shape the country’s economic policy, as well as shaping the nation’s foreign policies.
Born in 1898, Zhou was a prize-winning student as a young boy. Then, as a young man, he studied in Japan and became interested in politics, and in particular in the Russian Revolution of 1917. He returned to China and became active in student politics, joining the nascent Communist Party. Ever-ambitious, Zhou worked his way up to the very top and became the first Premier of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. It was a role he would hold right up until his death in January 1946.
Zhou served directly alongside Chairman Mao. The extent of his influence and power has long been the source of much debate. Certainly, he was in control of China’s foreign policy, and it was perhaps thanks to him that the Communist state embarked on a policy of peaceful coexistence with the capitalist West from the late-1940s onwards. It’s also likely that he had a big say – perhaps the biggest say – in domestic policies during the 1950s and 60s. Zhou was one of the few figures to emerge unscathed from the Cultural Revolution, and after this, it’s assumed he was in control of day-to-day affairs while Mao concerned himself with matters of ideology.
Zhou died in 1976, just months before Mao’s death. Looking back, scholars of China have called him a true ‘King Whisperer’. Undoubtedly, Zhou had the ear of Mao and almost certainly used his unique position to have a say in the making of history.