Peng Dehuai

Peng Dehuai (simplified Chinese: 彭德怀; traditional Chinese: 彭德懷; pinyin: Péng Déhuái; Wade–Giles: P'eng Te-huai) (October 24, 1898 – November 29, 1974) was a prominent Chinese Communist military leader, and China's Defense Minister, from 1954 to 1959. Peng was born into a poor peasant family, and received several years of primary education before his family's poverty forced him to suspend his education at the age of ten, and to work for several years as a manual laborer. When he was sixteen, Peng became a professional soldier. Over the next ten years Peng served in the armies of several Hunan-based warlord armies, raising himself from the rank of private second class to major. In 1926 Peng's forces joined the Kuomintang, and Peng was first introduced to communism. Peng participated in the Northern Expedition, and supported Wang Jingwei's attempt to form a left-leaning Kuomintang government based in Wuhan. After Wang was defeated, Peng briefly rejoined Chiang Kai-shek's forces before joining the Chinese Communist Party, allying himself with Mao Zedong and Zhu De.

Peng was one of the most senior generals who defended the Jiangxi Soviet from Chiang's attempts to capture it, and his successes were rivaled only by Lin Biao. Peng participated in the Long March, and supported Mao Zedong at the Zunyi Conference, which was critical to Mao's rise to power. During the 1937–1945 Second Sino-Japanese War, Peng was one of the strongest supporters of pursuing a ceasefire with the Kuomintang in order to concentrate China's collective resources on resisting the Japanese Empire. Peng was the senior commander in the combined Kuomintang-Communist efforts to resist the Japanese occupation of Shanxi in 1937; and, by 1938, was in command of 2/3 of the Eighth Route Army. In 1940, Peng conducted the Hundred Regiments Offensive, a massive Communist effort to disrupt Japanese logistical networks across northern China. The Hundred Regiments Offensive was modestly successful, but political disputes within the Communist Party led to Peng being recalled to Yan'an, and he spent the rest of the war without an active command. After the Japanese surrendered, in 1945, Peng was given command of Communist forces in Northwest China. He was the most senior commander responsible for defending the Communist leadership in Shaanxi from Kuomintang forces, saving Mao from being captured at least once. Peng eventually defeated the Kuomintang in Northwest China, captured huge amounts of military supplies, and actively incorporated the huge area, including Xinjiang, into the People's Republic of China.

Peng was one of the few senior military leaders who supported Mao's suggestions to involve China directly in the 1950–1953 Korean War, and he served as the direct commander of the Chinese People's Volunteer Army for the first half of the war (though Mao and Zhou Enlai were technically more senior). Peng's experiences in the Korean War (in which Chinese forces suffered over a million casualties, more than any other nation involved in the fighting) convinced him that the Chinese military had to become more professional, organized, and well-equipped in order to prepare itself for the conditions of modern technical warfare. Because the Soviet Union was the only communist country then equipped with a fully modern, professional army, Peng attempted to reform China's military on the Soviet model over the next several years, making the army less political and more professional (contrary to the political goals of Mao). Peng resisted Mao's attempts to develop a personality cult throughout the 1950s; and, when Mao's economic policies associated with the Great Leap Forward caused a nationwide famine, Peng became critical of Mao's leadership. The rivalry between Peng and Mao culminated in an open confrontation between the two at the 1959 Lushan Conference. Mao won this confrontation, labeled Peng as a leader of an "anti-Party clique", and purged Peng from all influential positions for the rest of his life.

Peng lived in virtual obscurity until 1965, when the reformers Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping supported Peng's limited return to government, developing military industries in Southwest China. In 1966, following the advent of the Cultural Revolution, Peng was arrested by Red Guards. From 1966–1970, radical factions within the Communist Party, led by Lin Biao and Mao's wife, Jiang Qing, singled out Peng for national persecution, and Peng was publicly humiliated in numerous large-scale struggle sessions and subjected to physical and psychological torture in organized efforts to force Peng to confess his "crimes" against Mao Zedong and the Communist Party. In 1970 Peng was formally tried and sentenced to life imprisonment, and he died in prison in 1974. After Mao died in 1976, Peng's old ally, Deng Xiaoping, emerged as China's paramount leader. Deng led an effort to formally rehabilitate people who had been unjustly persecuted during the Cultural Revolution, and Peng was one of the first leaders to be posthumously rehabilitated, in 1978. In modern China, Peng is considered one of the most successful and highly respected generals in the history of the early Chinese Communist Party.

Read more about Peng Dehuai:  The Korean War, Defense Minister, Later Life, Posthumous Rehabilitation