Chinese communist statesman; prime minister (1949–76) and foreign minister (1949–58) of the People's Republic of China. Widely respected for his skill as a negotiator and for his knowledge of world affairs, he was the chief agent in maintaining amicable relations between China and the West.
Born in Huaian, Kiangsu province, the son of a government official, Chou En-lai was educated at Nankai Middle School in Tientsin before travelling to Japan and France. While studying in Paris (1920–24), he was influenced by fellow student Ho Chi Minh and became a committed communist. On his return to China he joined Sun Yat-sen's National Party (Kuomintang), becoming head of the Whampoa Military Academy under Chiang Kai-shek in 1924.
When the communists and nationalists split and Chiang Kai-shek rose to power in 1927, Chou went underground, joining Mao Tse-tung's peasant and guerrilla movement in Kiangsi province (1931). He succeeded Mao as political commissar of the Red Army in 1932 and in the ensuing civil war between the Kuomintang and the communists, played an important role as chief negotiator (he negotiated terms for the release of Chiang Kai-shek when he was kidnapped in 1936). At the end of World War II he represented the communists (1945–47) in negotiations with the USA, which was seeking to mediate in the civil war. When, in 1949, the People's Republic of China was established, he was appointed prime minister, a position he held until his death in 1976. He also served as foreign minister (1949–58).
During the 1960s and early 1970s he continued to keep open communication channels with the USA, despite the USA's refusal to recognize the communist government, and presided over the moves towards detente made by President Nixon in 1972–73. On the domestic front, he was a moderating influence during the Cultural Revolution (1966–68).
Subjects: Contemporary History (Post 1945).