Chu Teh (1886-1976), or Zhu De, was a Chinese Communist military leader. He became closely associated with Mao Tse-tung (Mao Zedong) in 1928 and was for many years afterward commander in chief of the Communist military forces.
One of 14 children in a poor, frugal peasant family, Chu Teh was born in the village of Ma'an Chung, Szechwan Province, on Dec. 18, 1886. The Chu family had moved to Szechwan from Kwangtung in the early 1800s and although his grandparents were buried in Szechwan, the family's customs and dialect remained that of Kwangtung. It was only in Chu Teh's generation that family members began to speak the Szechwan dialect in addition to Cantonese. Through careful scrimping by the entire family, Chu alone was given an education, studying in the nearby town of Tawan, where he came under the influence of a reform-minded Confucian scholar. In 1905 Chu entered a modern school at Nanch'ung but continued to study for the traditional examinations. He passed the first civil service examination in 1906, just after the examinations had become meaningless because of government reforms. He continued for another year at Nanch'ung and then studied physical education at the Chengtu Higher Normal School. He left school in 1908 to help support his family by teaching physical education in a school near home. His family, which had expected to gain prestige and an easier living through making him a government official, was horrified.
In 1909 Chu entered Yunnan Military Academy at Kunming, where he became involved in the T'ung Meng Hui, an association dedicated to the overthrow of the Manchus, and the Ko-lao-hui, a Chinese secret society with strong roots in the country's southwestern region. He also joined the Revolutionary Party of Sun Yat-sen. Toward the end of his course of studies at Yunnan, Chu established a relationship with one of his teachers, Ts'ai O, a patriot from the province of Hunan and military leader who had come to Yunnan in the spring of 1911 to command a local brigade and to teach at the military academy. When Chu graduated from the academy in June 1911, he became a second lieutenant in the brigade of Ts'ai O, who was a secret revolutionist. Under Ts'ai's command, Chu participated in the revolution against local Manchu authority. The coup brought Ts'ai to power as the first republican governor of Yunnan. Chu and his Szechwanese regiment next returned to their native province to attack the headquarters of Chao Erh-feng, Manchu governor general, at Suifu. Chu and his troops patrolled the Suifu region of Szechwan until the spring of 1912, when he went back to Kunming as an instructor at Yunnan Military Academy. He also joined the Kuomintang and was promoted to the command of a detachment. After his promotion to major in 1913, Chu was stationed on Yunnan's border with Indochina until 1915.
In 1915 Chu became a colonel in Ts'ai O's command, participating in a revolt organized by Ts'ai and Liang Ch'icha'o against would-be monarch Yuan Shih-k'ai. In early 1916 Ts'ai led his forces from Yunnan into southern Szechwan, where Chu commanded troops which fought pro-Yuan forces to a bloody stalemate. Only the death of Yuan in June 1916 brought the conflict to an end. The following month Ts'ai was named governor of Szechwan. Ts'ai in turn appointed Chu commander of the 13th Mixed Brigade of the 7th Division of the Yunnan Army in Szechwan and when Ts'ai became governor of Szechwan in 1916, Chu was made a brigadier general and commander of provincial forces in the southwest. For several years he fought the warlords in Szechwan but slipped into the habits of a warlord himself. By 1921 he and his allies were badly defeated, and Chu was forced to flee to Shanghai for his life.
Convert to Communism
In October 1922 Chu went from Shanghai to Berlin, where he met Chou En-lai and joined the Chinese Socialist Youth League. Chu's subsequent membership in the Communist party was kept secret. He attended the University of Göttingen for a year and then returned to Berlin for political work. He assisted Chou in organizing the German headquarters of the Kuomintang (KMT), with which the Communists were allied. Twice arrested in connection with demonstrations, Chu was expelled from Germany in June 1926.
Chu arrived in China at the height of the Northern Expedition and became director of the Nationalist training school for new officers in Nanchang, Kiangsi, and in effect became garrison commander and head of the Nanchang police. When the Nationalists broke with the Communists in the summer of 1927, the Communist leadership unsuccessfully attempted to capture Nanchang. Chu and a part of the Communist force retreated toward Canton and eventually to the Kiangsi Soviet base of Mao Tse-tung. Chu became commander in chief, and Mao political commissar, of the forces there. Their alliance became the major basis of later Communist success.
In the next four years Chu successfully defended and extended the base area, and early in 1934 he was made a member of the Political Bureau of the party. By late 1934, however, Nationalist attacks on the Kiangsi region forced the abandonment of the base. Chu planned the evacuation and subsequent Long March to northwestern China of about 100,000 men, breaking through three encircling lines of KMT troops and then following an 8,000-mile route through hostile and difficult terrain. Chu commanded the force through the most difficult portion of the march but was apparently "kidnapped" by Chang Kuo-t'ao, leader of a Soviet base in Szechwan, in an obscure inner-party quarrel. Mao proceeded with the main force to Paoan, Shensi, where Chu finally arrived in October 1936.
Chu spent the years of the Sino-Japanese War largely in the Communist capital of Yenan, serving as commander-in-chief of the Eighth Route Army, the chief force in the Communist movement. In August 1937 Chu Teh's armies, now a part of the regular Nationalist forces, began attacking the Japanese. For eight years Chu Teh, who had been appointed to his command by Chiang Kai-shek, was in direct command of all Communist military operations against the Japanese. On Aug. 14, 1945, however, he refused to obey Chiang's order that he halt independent action, and thereafter Chu's troops began resisting new attempts launched by the Kuomintang to annihilate them. Warfare spread, and by the end of 1948 all Manchuria had fallen to the People's Armies commanded by Chu Teh. Forces under Chu's command swept inexorably southward, taking Peking (Beijing), Nanking (Nanjing), Shanghai, and, finally in November 1949, Canton. Chu's military successes were attributed to a number of his policies, including the maintenance of very close ties between soldiers under his command and the peasants, organizing operations behind enemy lines, effective use of propaganda, and his mobile tactics of "concentration and dispersal." In September 1949, Chu was named to the Consultative Council of the new (Communist) Chinese People's Republic, and in October he was named commander in chief of the People's Liberation Army. In 1954 he became vice chairman of the republic. In 1958, when Mao announced his plan to relinquish his administrative responsibilities as chief of staff, it was thought that Chu might succeed him. However, the following year, in April, the National People's Congress tapped Liu Shaochi'I for chairman. At that time, Chu gave up his post as vice chairman of the National Defense Council and became chairman of the standing committee of the People's Congress.
Chu's first wife, whom he married in 1912, died in 1916 shortly after giving birth to Chu's only child, a son, who was apparently killed during a Nationalist police raid on his home in 1935. Chu married again in 1917; the marriage ended in separation in the 1920s, and she was killed by police in 1935. He remarried in 1928; his third wife was executed by the government in 1929. About 1930 he married K'ang K'o-ch'ing, who survived the Long March and became a leader of the women's movement in the People's Republic. After 1949, she served her country on a number of overseas cultural missions. She was named vice chairman of the Women's Federation of China in 1957. On July 6, 1976, at the age of 89, Chu died in Peking.
Further Reading on Chu Teh
Chu's most important publication, a 1945 report on military affairs during the Sino-Japanese War, was translated into English as On the Battlefronts of the Liberated Areas (1952). The only full-length study of Chu is Agnes Smedley, The Great Road: The Life and Times of Chu Teh (1956), a sensitive presentation based on extended interviews with Chu in 1937, written by an American woman who traveled with the Red Army in its fight against the Japanese. Her earlier work, China Fights Back (1938), also contains personal accounts of Chu. Chu is discussed in Edgar Snow, Red Star over China (1938; rev. ed. 1968) and The Other Side of the River: Red China Today (1961); Samuel B. Griffith, The Chinese People's Liberation Army (1967); and John Gittings, The Role of the Chinese Army (1967). Further information on Chu may be found in S.T. Ludwig's entry on him in Colliers Encyclopedia (1996), Britannica Online at http//www.eb.com, and Biograpical Dictionary of Republican China (1967), edited by Howard L. Boorman.