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P'eng Te-huai: A Chronological Re-Examination*

  • J. D. Simmonds


“Fight no battle unprepared, fight no battle you are not sure of winning.…” These words of Mao's, written just over 20 years ago, are an apt reminder of the fact that in the conduct of war, as in the control of the Party or the elimination of opposition, Mao makes no confrontation without intensive preparation. They set the mood of this short study of the dismissal of P'eng Te-huai; a study in which my thesis is that P'eng was eliminated as a real or potential threat to Mao some months prior to the 8th Plenum.



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1 “The Present Situation and our Tasks” in Selected Works of Mao Tse-tung, Vol. IV, p. 161. Foreign Languages Press, Peking, 1961.

2 The text referred to throughout this article is The Politics of the Chinese Red Army (hereafter Politics), edited by Cheng, , Hoover Institute Publications, 1966.

3 See in particular: “The Dismissal of Marshal P'eng Te-huai,” by Charles, David A. in The China Quarterly, No. 8 (October–December 1961) pp. 6376.

4 Charles, op. cit., p. 66.

5 New China News Agency (NCNA), 27 April 1959, Survey of China Mainland Press (SCMP) 2003. The 7th Plenum was held in Shanghai from 2–5 April, 1959 and discussed and decided on the nomination of candidates for leading posts in the State organs …” It was preceded by an enlarged Politburo meeting; see SCMP 1991, 13 April, 1959.

6 As is alleged in several Cultural Revolution publications, e.g., see SCMP 4046, pp. 78, where enmity between P'eng and Lo Jui-ch'ing is dated back to the Yenan period; 4047, pp. 9–10; 4074, pp. 1–9; 4124, pp. 2, 5; Summary of World Broadcasts, Part III (SWB), FE/2612, Peking Radio 18 October 1967; NCNA 12 November 1967.

7 This material has been analysed in a number of publications. A good example is the collection of articles in The China Quarterly No. 18 (April–June 1964). See also numerous references in Politics, op. cit.

8 This material is too voluminous to quote in a short article. Reference to it may, however, be found in The China Quarterly No. 18 (April–June 1964) and in SCMP, Extracts from China Mainland Magazines (ECMM) and Current Background (CB) over the period. For a recent example see the 8th Plenum resolution on P'eng in Red Flag No. 13, 1967, translated in JPRS No. 4, 2866.

9 Fu-ch'un, Li, Red Flag, 16 August, 1960, SWB, FE/417.

10 Te-huai's, P'engLetter of Opinion” (Letter) of 14 July 1959, as given in the Cultural Revolution tabloid Exchange of Revolutionary Experience, dated 24 August 1967, SCMP No. 4032.

11 He may only have had a personal interest in the North-west. In any case the connection is a logical one in view of his activities in 1949; it is also apparent from his “Letter of Opinion.”

12 Communiqué of the 6th Plenum; CB 542, 29 December 1958.

13 This last point is mere surmise. It is based on the date for commune reorganization. In any event, it was not long after, on 23 January, that it was announced that the N.P.C. would be held in April (the previous date of January 1959 had been announced on 29 June 1958).

14 “Letter,” op. cit.

15 T'ung, Shu, 1st Secretary of Shantung, speaking on 24 January 1959 (ECMM 169, 25 May 1959). Though Shu was referring to activities in late 1958, there is no reason to believe that such problems were not also apparent in 1959.

17 , K'o wrote in Red Flag, No. 4, 1959 (ECMM 165, 20 April 1959).Ch'en, wrote in Red Flag, No. 6, 1959 (ECMM 166, 4 May 1959).

18 Liu, was speaking as a secretary of Kiangsu, 29 January 1959 (ECMM 170, 1 June 1959). China had been divided into seven Economic Co-ordination Regions (E.C.R.) by early 1958. The regional committees had few if any delegated powers, serving more as advisory bodies for the Central Government. At some time between 1959 and 1962 they were re-organised into six E.C.R.s and either subordinated to or incorporated into the six Regional Bureaux of the Central Committee.

19 This may have been at the Politburo meeting (unannounced) which must have set the guide lines for the 6th Plenum. We know that such a meeting was held prior to the 7th Plenum and that it decided on personnel changes later announced at the April N.P.C. See note 7.

20 The notice referred to changes passed at two sessions of the State Council and was publicised by NCNA on 25 March.

21 Wang, Deputy Commander of the Peking Military Region, was noted as being a Vice-Minister of Public Security by at least August 1960, Peking's overt biographical records frequently do not balance out for quite some time, due to the fact that announcements of replacements are often delayed and sometimes even entirely suppressed until revealed quite incidentally in some obscure periodical or domestic broadcast.

22 The immediate post-6th Plenum period was, however, one of considerable activity and Hsieh was not alone in dropping out of sight.

23 People's Daily, 4 March 1959.

24 As we shall see later, he certainly seems to have left the province by May.

25 His role in the Cultural Reolution as Lin Piao's right-hand man (at least up to early 1968) establishes this.

26 NCNA, 7 March, in SCMP, 11 March 1959.

27 Teng Hua was Commander of the Mukden Military Region and Chou Huan was Political Commissar. Teng made one more publicized appearance in Mukden on 7 March and was reported on 30 April as having been in the area “recently.”

28 Lin Piao and Chu Te were in Canton in late February and the latter spent most of March touring the bloc. Ch'en Yun made infrequent appearances in Peking. Tung Pi-wu was in Canton, probably towards the end of January. Teng Hsiao-p'ing, Liu Shao-ch'i and Mao made too infrequent appearances to enable one to judge where they were over most of the first quarter of the year. Chou En-lai spent a great deal of time either in Peking or in Moscow.

29 P'eng's “Letter of Opinion,” op. cit., p. 4.

30 The announcement was made 23 January. As noted earlier, the decision might have been taken at the 6th Plenum.

31 Li Fu-ch'un, op. cit. Politics, p. 456.

32 Mao, Liu, and Teng were all reported in Chengchow on 3 March; the first two were back in Peking by 12 March. Chou was in Peking 1 March and again on 6 March.

33 Politics, p. 456.

34 The Politburo meeting was held, presumably at the end of March, in Shanghai. P'eng is alleged to have stated that Mao mainly criticized him at the meeting. If this is true, which is uncertain, the criticism was not severe enough to prevent him going abroad in April. See Collected Materials on P'eng Te-huai, Peking Red Guard Congress Tsinghua University Ching-Kang-shan Corps, November 1967, in Union Research Service, Vol. 50, Nos.16 and 17.

35 The Supreme State Conference was held on 15 April. SCMP 1996.

36 P'eng must have been much concerned from mid-March onwards with the Tibetan revolt. Although Cultural Revolution media have accused Teng Hsiao-p'ing of primary responsibility for the revolt it is tempting to surmise that the prolonged and tenacious Tibetan resistance may have contributed to P'eng's dismissal.

37 NCNA does not include him among leaders present.

38 NCNA, 24 April 1959.

39 On 20 April (see note 34).

40 Liu headed the Council ex officio as Head of State. Lin Piao was still only the second Vice-Chairman.

41 This undoubtedly first occurred when Lin was elected a Vice-Chairman of the Central Committee at the 5th Plenum on 25 May 1958. He had, however, made no public appearances between 3 August and 12 November 1958. He then was said to have attended the 6th Plenum, was in Canton in the latter part of February 1959, and attended the opening and closing sessions of the N.P.C.

42 Lo Ju-ch'ing probably attended meetings of the National Defence Council previously in his capacity of Commander of Public Security Forces.

43 A higher post.

44 Lo spoke in his capacity of Vice-Premier. Tung Pi-wu addressed the conference on 16 May.

45 According to the NCNA, the PLA meetings were held on 7 and 21 May. The “three others” were held on 21 May.

46 NCNA 23 May 1959. Hung should presumably have presided over the conference

47 For the account of Yang's arrival in Kunming see SCMP 2018 of 22 May 1959. He was not to return to Peking, according to NCNA, till 25 May.

48 At the National Defence Council on 5 May 1959.

49 It was described as being a seven-week conference by NCNA. There is some doubt as to the schedule or the festival's conclusion. NCNA on 10 June still spoke of it as lasting seven weeks. On 21 June however NCNA stated that Liu, Chou and P'eng attended it on that day. Perhaps this may be taken to mean some between-session function rather than that the festival proper went on throughout the whole period. It is also possible that it did not conclude when scheduled. I have not seen any reference to its conclusion.

50 Lo Jui-ch'ing, possibly in the capacity of Vice-Premier in charge of general security affairs, probably left Peking at the end of May; he was recorded as being in Hunan on 8 June.

Hunan Radio on 27 September 1966 said that the Lushan “conference” decided to send Chang P'ing-hua to Hunan to replace Chou. This source seems to differentiate between the conference (July) and the plenum (August).

51 He attended a logistics conference in Tibet from 8–27 June, and was in Peking 11 July.

52 At least they were not reported as being there. Last references in Peking are as follows: Lin Piao and Ch'en Yun, 21 May; Teng Hsiao-p'ing, 1 June; Tung Pi-wu, 27 May (touring the Northeast in June); Lo Jui-ch'ing 25 May (Hunan 8 June).

53 On 25 June.

54 Liu was last recorded as being in Peking 21 June.

55 NCNA, 16 August 1963, made the charge (since repeated in Cultural Revolution media) that the Soviet Union had on 20 June scrapped the agreement on new technology for national defence and had refused to provide China with a sample nuclear weapon. Though many of the allegations made in this overt polemical material are of doubtful authenticity, the Soviet Union has not refuted the Chinese charge.

56 We have no evidence from the Bulletin of Activities or from Cultural Revolution material, or from any other source, concerning the allegation of P'eng's implication in the Soviet action.

57 These sources are too numerous to quote here. Many references can be found in, for example, the SCMP, CB and ECMM immediately after the Plenum.Fu-ch'un's, Li 1960 article in Red Flag also mentions this (see above). The SCMP and Survey of China Mainland Magazines (SCMM) over the last year all carry a number of allegations along the same lines.

58 “The light of the sun,” People's Daily, 3 June 1959 (written originally in Swatow, May 1959). See also Red Flag, No. 14, 1967, where this and other articles by T'ao are criticized.

60 Liberation Daily, 26 May 1966, says that “Hai Jui Curses the Emperor” was written in August.However Feng, Kuan and Chieh, Lin in Red Flag No. 5, 1966, date its publication as 18 June;Ch'in, Fang in People's Daily, 7 April 1966, dates it 16 June.Shao-pin, Shih in Red Flag No. 6, 1966, says the foreword to “Anthology of Spear Throwing” was written 6 July. I am indebted to Mrs. Kent, Ann for pointing out that the Hai Jui article did in fact appear in the 16 June issue of People's Daily.

61 “The appearance of the counter-revolutionary ‘Hai Jui’ plays, and the appearance of the ‘Whole nation a co-ordinated chess game’ situation where a big poisoned arrow was shot at the Party Central Committee, were not accidental.…” NCNA 11 July 1966. See above for the dating of the “co-ordinated chess game” thesis.

62 See for example: “Letter of Opinion,” op. cit.; “Down with P'eng Te-huai” in Mass Criticism and Repudiation Bulletin, 5 October 1967, SCMP 4124, 23 February 1968;“Principal Crimes of P'eng Te-huai” in Ching Kang Mountains and Kwang-tung Literary and Art Combat Bulletin, 5 September 1967, SCMP 4047, 25 October 1967; Red Flag No. 13, 1959, “Resolution of the 8th Plenary Session concerning P'eng.”

63 See Red Flag No. 13, 1959, “Resolution … concerning P'eng.”

64 See “Letter of Opinion,” op. cit.

65 According to Mass Criticism and Repudiation Bulletin (see note 62).

66 Ibid. It was dated 14 July according to various sources.

67 Ibid. We are not told why there was this delay.

68 See Ching Kang Mountains (see note 62). This source also claimed: “During the Lushan conference, Soviet revisionist diplomatic personnel many times tried to get news about the conference. At a reception on Army Day on 1 August, the acting chief adviser of the Soviet revisionists greatly praised P'eng Te-huai. Afterward, Khrushchev again publicly described P'eng Te-huai as being ‘correct and brave’ and as his ‘best friend.’ They thus supported and co-operated with each other.”

69 Mass Criticism and Repudiation Bulletin (see note 62).

70 The Sino-Soviet Dispute, Princeton University Press, 1962, pp. 134135. The release of this text thus appears to have coincided with the speech of Chang Wen-t'ien at the Conference. Summary of P'eng Te-huai's Speech at the 8th Plenum, Union Research Service, Vol. 50, No. 17, p. 214.

71 Red Flag, No. 13, 1959, “Resolution … concerning P'eng.” Emphasis added.

72 Ibid.—”…it is essential to transfer P'eng Te-huai …” The actual role of CCP Plenums has often been misunderstood. Schurmann alludes to this problem in his book: Ideology and Organization in Communist China, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1966, p. 143. However, this would not seem to go far enough for in recent years, that is in the last decade or so, what little we know of such matters strongly suggests that the Plenum acts as little more than a forum of legality. Decisions on even somewhat trivial matters, such as appointments and dismissals, are, as we have seen above, made by the Politburo; the Plenum merely goes through the motions of “discussing” what are foregone conclusions. See also below on the Kao/Jao affair. P'eng does not appear to have attended any of the sessions of the pre-plenum conference which followed the circulation of his letter, though he seems to have attended at least one session of the Plenum; see Union Research Service, Vol. 50, No. 17, p. 214.

73 The quotations are from what are stated to have been Lin Piao's criticism of P'eng in Mass Criticism and Repudiation Bulletin (see note 62). The criticism of Li Ching-ch'uan's erroneous attitude at the Lushan “conference” suggests that his critics had this problem of exposing hidden danger in mind (Chengtu Radio, 31 August 1967, SWB, FE 2563).

74 “Resolution on the anti-Party bloc of Kao Kang and Jao Shu-shih” passed by the National Conference of the CCP 31 March 1955.Documents of the National Conference, Foreign Languages Press, Peking 1955. Similar charges were levelled at Jao. Emphasis added.

75 Teng's, Report on the Revision of the Constitution of the Chinese Communist Party, Foreign Languages Press, Peking, 1956, pp. 72 and 8687.

76 They both still retained their official titles and apparent standing till probably mid-December 1953; they were at the G.A.C. meeting held on 9 December (C.B. 275, 20 January 1954, pp. 2728).

77 There was a meeting of the Politburo on 24 December 1953.

78 “Letter of Opinion,” op. cit.

* General note on biographical sources. I have relied very extensively on the bio-graphical data available in the American Consulate General in Hong Kong, supplementing this where necessary with information gleaned from radio monitoring reports.

P'eng Te-huai: A Chronological Re-Examination*

  • J. D. Simmonds


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