Book reviews - Conflict Resolution: Asia

Zhou Enlai : A Political Life
(Hong Kong : The Chinese University of Hong Kong, 2006, 397pp.)

Regular readers may recall a set of four essays "Talking about talking" in the Tibetan Review in 1999 in which I tried to analyse the techniques of Chinese diplomacy. The aim of the articles was to help in the preparation for future Tibetan-Chinese negotiations and to stress the need for building up a core of Tibetans and friends who could serve as a back up to provide information and position papers in a timely way to those doing the negotiations. The analysis was based on the experience of diplomats and business people who had negotiated with the Chinese on different subjects and at different levels.

Another way to analyse Chinese diplomatic techniques is to look at the life and work of an individual who played a key role in Chinese diplomacy during the early years of the Peoples' Republic. This is the value to the readers of the Tibetan Review of this first-class biography of Zhou Enlai.

Zhou was not particularly concerned with Tibet, and there is relatively little direct reference to the way Tibet figured in the early diplomatic efforts of the Peoples' Republic. Zhou was concerned with India and potential Indian influence in Tibet. Zhou always viewed Indian diplomacy as a continuation of that of England.

Zhou was a diplomat, although he held the post of Premier from the start of the Communist government in October 1949 until his death in Beijing in January 1976. There were other people who held the post of Foreign Minister, but Zhou was always the chief negotiator at all crucial times. Mao Zedong knew that he needed a subtle diplomat to be able to meet with foreigners - a skill which he did not have. Zhou had spent 1920 to 1924 in France and had visited England. In Europe, he had participated in heated discussions among Europeans on the importance and the role of the 1917 Russian Revolution. Thus he developed some feeling for intellectual and ideological debates. Zhou had received in his youth a classical Chinese education as Zhou came from a mandarin family, highly educated but not wealthy or powerful.

Although he was a party to all the excesses of his government, the idea of Confucian moderation stayed with him. - "to go beyond is as wrong as to fall short." Thus, there is a certain irony in that, late in his life, during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), when attacks on Confucian thought was a major policy, Zhou's enemies, unable to attack him directly, associated his name with the Duke of Zhou, a famous civil servant of an early emperor.

From 1943 on, Zhou Enlai played a central role in many crucial activities: the war against the Japanese, the Chinese civil war and the establishment of the Peoples' Republic, the war in Korea, the break with post-Stalin Russia, the rise of the Non-aligned Movement, the war in Vietnam, and the re-establishment of relations with the USA.

While it is unlikely that the Chinese government will again be dominated by men such as Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai, there are insights which can be gained by reading the negotiating experience of Zhou Enlai. Diplomacy is always a blend of the personality and character of the negotiator, of the broad culture of which he is a part, and of the particular time and issues in which the negotiations are held. Zhou had a charming personality, intelligence and eloquence which allowed him to be in contact with many different people and cultural settings. He carried out effective negotiations with the Russians, the Americans, French, Central Europeans, Indians, Koreans and Vietnamese.

As the authors point out "A major objective of the Chinese Communist Party since Deng Xiaoping's rise to power in the late 1970s was to maintain its prestige, which had been seriously weakened by the Cultural Revolution. Until this point, Mao had been the focal point of twentieth-century Chinese historiography. The erosion of Maoism in the wake of the Cultural Revolution, however, forced the leadership to locate another, more sedate symbol of the Party's greatness and its infallibility, if it was to set forth a new model for the otherwise discredited Party. Mao's numerous disastrous policies, ranging from the Great Leap Forward to the Cultural Revolution, could no longer represent the finest hour of the Party, but Zhou Enlai could. He was built up and projected as the irreproachable hero of the New China".

Thus, it is important to look at both the diplomatic experience of Zhou Enlai and at the ideological image which is now given of his efforts. This biography is a useful and clear guide.

Rene Wadlow