Peng Dehuai was born in 1898 in Xiangtan County of Hunan Province. He was a rough-hewn man from very humble beginnings. Peng was exiled from his family home at the age of nine. Before joining the army at sixteen, he had worked in coal mines at the age of thirteen and at dams of the Lake Dongting at the age of fifteen. He attended the Hunan Military Academy and served as a Nationalist Officer. Until 1916, he was a day laborer and then a soldier in a Warlord Army for $5.50 a month. He soldiered the rest of his life, some 60 years.
Red Army CommanderEdit
By the age of twenty-eight he was a brigade-commander in the Kuomintang Army and had begun a flirtation with radical politics. Peng was forced to flee Chiang Kai-shek's purge in 1927 and joined the Communist Party of China, participating in the Long March. He commanded the Third Army during the Long March.
His contributions to the CPC were highly praised and earned him the nickname "Great General Peng" (彭大将军). As a poem by Mao Zedong in remembrance of Peng's contributions in the Long March put it, "
- [In] High mountains, dangerous roads, deep pits,
- Troops ride lengthwise and crosswise,
- Who dares to [put the] glaive crosswise and draw the horse to a stop?
- Only our [or my, depending on different interpretations] Great General Peng!"
Peng Dehuai and Lin Biao were generally reckoned to be the Red Army's best battlefield commanders. They do not seem to have been rivals during the Long March. Both of them had supported Mao's rise to de facto leadership at Zunyi in January 1934. According to Harrison E. Salisbury's The Long March, by May 1935 Lin Biao was dissatisfied with Mao's strategy. He says of Mao's circlings to evade the armies of Chiang Kai-shek: "the campaign had begun to look like one of Walt Disney's early cartoons in which Mickey Mouse again and again escaped the clutches of the huge, stupid cat." (Page 188, chapter 18.) But according to Salisbury, Lin Biao in May 1934 tried to persuade Mao to turn over active command to Peng Dehuai.
"A tough Red Army commander who looked a little like a bulldog and fought like one, Peng was a rough-hewn man with strong back and shoulders, from years of early labour... Peng got his first revolutionary spark from a great-uncle who found with the Taipings in the rebellion of the 1850s. Then, said the uncle, the Taipings found food for everyone, the women unbound their feet, and the land was shared among the tillers...
"All his life Peng spoke frankly, bluntly, and he wrote in plain, vigorous Chinese, often at great length so that no one might doubt his meaning.
"The contrast between Mao's top field commanders [Peng and Lin Biao] could hardly have been more sharp, but on the Long March they worked well together, Lin specializing in feints, masked strategy, surprises, ambushes, flank attacks, pounces from the rear, and stratagems. Peng met the enemy head-on in frontal assaults and fought with such fury that again and again he wiped them out. Peng did not believe a battle well fought unless he managed to replenish--and more than replenish--any losses by seizure of enemy guns and converting prisoners of war to new and loyal recruits to the Red Army." (Ibid., pages 191-192)
Edgar Snow in Red Star Over China has much more to say about Peng than Lin, evidently having long conversations and giving Peng two whole chapters, more than any individual apart from Mao. The book is unfortunately out of print, though Snow's biography of Mao is available for download on the internet.
1937 to 1953 Edit
During World War II Peng served as deputy commander-in-chief of the Communist forces and coordinated the Hundred Regiments Campaign. Peng went on to serve with distinction behind Japanese lines in North China. After the Japanese surrender Peng and He Long were cutting Beijing's Nationalist Kuomintang connections with the rest of China and effectively surrounded Beijing. Thereafter, during the late stages of the Chinese Civil War he led the 1st Field Army in its conquest of Shaanxi, Gansu, Ningxia, and Qinghai provinces.
He was the supreme commander of the People's Volunteer Army during the Korean War (1950-1953). The Defense Minister, a member of the Politburo of the Communist Party of China, and was made a marshal of the People's Liberation Army in 1955. However, his treatment of returning Chinese POW's from the Korean war was heavily criticized later. Strategic mistakes which led to the American capture of three Chinese armies also led to disfavor in the party. He was to have many military clashes with Marshal Lin Biao and won most of them.
Fall From Power Edit
In June 1959, he tried to tell Chairman Mao at the Lushan Conference that the Great Leap Forward was a dramatic mistake. This statement would later cost him his life during the Cultural Revolution. Neither Mao nor Peng wanted a split but once Mao initiated the break with Peng, the whole Politburo and the Central Committee were bound to support Mao. They all quarreled with Peng, with Lin Biao the leader.
He was disgraced in 1959, in part because his criticisms of Mao Zedong's Great Leap Forward that went beyond what Mao considered legitimate. Mao accepted that there had been mistakes, including the 'backyard furnaces', but still saw the process as generally positive. Mao had even suggested that Peng write a criticism - whether this was a trap or whether Peng went too far is moot. Definitely, Mao started treating him as an enemy. As a consequence, he was removed from all posts and placed under constant supervision and house arrest in Chengdu, Sichuan; Lin Biao took over the post of Minister of Defense. He was eventually exiled, and shunned for the next 16 years under house arrest.
There were other major issues in the 1959 dispute. Peng had made the army more professional and less political, changes reversed when Lin Biao replaced him. He had also shown signs of not liking the break with Moscow. Mao in 1959 was in too weak a position to have removed Peng if others had not also been suspicious.
He may also have been blamed for the unsuccessful confrontation over Taiwan the previous year:
"On Sept. 17  Peking announced that Marshal Lin Piao had succeeded Marshal Peng Teh-huai as defence minister… "Marshal Lin Piao was commander-in-chief of the people’s liberation army which conquered the whole of mainland China in 1948-49, but owing to a breakdown of health he was inactive for many years. His return to health and to official activity was indicated when, in 1958, he was appointed a member of the Politburo. Marshal Peng, whose fame was not enhanced by the failure of the Quemoy operation in 1958, remained a deputy prime minister." (Britannica Book of the year 1960)
Persecution, Death and ExonerationEdit
Template:NPOV-section He was arrested in 1966 during the Cultural Revolution and put into the hands of violent Red Guard torturers, beaten and beaten until his internal organs were crushed and his back splintered. During interrogations he shouted denials to the Red Guards who beat him, and it is reputed that he pounded the table so hard the cell walls shook. He died November 29, 1974, still loyal to his own version of communist ideals, which diverged radically from those of Mao.
The Third Plenary Session of the Eleventh Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, held in 1978, reexamined Marshal Peng's case and reversed the judgment that had been imposed on him. It exonerated him of all charges and reaffirmed his contributions to the Chinese Revolution.
Further reading Edit
- Jurgen Domes, P'eng Te-huai: The Man & the Image, Stanford University Press, 1985, hardcover 164 pages, ISBN 0-8047-1303-0