Peng Dehuai (simplified Chinese: 彭德怀; pinyin: Péng Déhuái; ) (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.
Peng was born in 1898 in the village of Shixiang, Xiangtan County, Hunan. His personal name at birth was "Dehua". Peng's family lived in a thatched-straw hut and owned approximately 1.5 acres of irrigated land, on which the family grew bamboo, sweet potatoes, tea, cotton, and various vegetables. His father also operated a bean curd shop. The income from the land and shop supported an extended family of eight people, including Peng, his three brothers, his parents, his grandmother, and a grand-uncle. Peng's grand-uncle had joined and fought for the Taiping rebellion, and used to tell Peng about the old Taiping ideals: that everyone should have enough food to eat, that women should not bind their feet, and that land should be redistributed equally. Peng later described his own class background as "lower-middle peasant".
From 1905–1907, Peng was enrolled in a traditional Confucian primary school. In 1908 Peng attended a modern primary school; but, at the age of ten, was forced to withdraw from this school due to his family's deteriorating financial situation. In 1905–1906, there was a severe drought in Hunan. Peng's mother died in 1905, and Peng's six-month old brother died of hunger. Peng's father was forced to sell most of his family possessions for food, and to pawn most of his family's land. When Peng was withdrawn from school in 1908, he and his brothers were sent to beg for food in their village. From 1908–1910, Peng took a job looking after a pair of water buffaloes.
When Peng's grand-uncle died in 1911, Peng left home and worked at a coalmine in Xiangtan, where he pushed carts of coal for thirteen hours a day for a wage of nine yuan a month. In 1912, shortly after the founding of the Republic of China, the mine went bankrupt and the owners fled, cheating Peng out of half his annual wages. Peng returned home in 1912 and took a number of odd jobs. In 1913 Hunan suffered another drought, and Peng participated in a public demonstration that escalated into the seizure of a grain merchant's storehouse, and the redistribution of grain among the peasants. Village police issued a warrant for Peng's arrest, and he fled to northern Hunan, where he worked for two years as a construction laborer for the construction of a dam near Dongting Lake. When the dam was completed, in 1916, Peng assumed that he was no longer in danger of being arrested and returned home, joining the army of a local Kuomintang-aligned warlord, Tang Xiangming.
Service in warlord armies
Peng enlisted as a private second class, with a monthly wage of 5.5 yuan, 2 yuan of which he sent back to support his family. Within seven months he was promoted to private first class, with a monthly wage of 6 yuan, 3 yuan of which he sent to his family. One of Peng's commanding officers was an idealistic Nationalist who had participated in the 1911 Xinhai Revolution, who influenced Peng to sympathize with the Kuomintang goals of social reform and national reunification. When another civil war broke out in 1917, Peng's regiment split from the rest of its army and joined the forces of Tang Shengzhi, who was aligned with Tan Yankai and Sun Yat-sen, against those aligned with the northern warlord Wu Peifu. During this period Peng received training in formal tactics from an officer in his brigade. In July 1918 Peng was captured while on a reconnaissance mission behind enemy lines, but was released after two weeks. In April 1919 Peng was promoted to master sergeant and acting platoon commander. Tang Shengzhi's forces drove enemy troops out of Hunan in July 1920, capturing the provincial capital of Changsha.
Peng participated in a failed mutiny over pay, but was pardoned. In August 1921 Peng was promoted to the rank of second lieutenant, and became acting company commander several weeks later. While stationed in a village in Nanxian, Peng noticed that the poor were being mistreated by a local landlord, and encouraged them to establish an "association to help the poor". When the local villagers hesitated, Peng ordered his soldiers to arrest the landlord and execute him. Peng was reprimanded for his actions, but not demoted or reassigned. After the incident, Peng began to think seriously about leaving the service of his provincial warlord army. On February 1922, after applying for extended unpaid leave, Peng and several other officers traveled to Guangdong to seek employment in the army of the Kuomintang.
Peng's impression of the Kuomintang in 1922 was not favorable, and he left Guangzhou with the intention of settling back in Hunan as a farmer. Peng returned to his home village by sea via Shanghai (then the farthest he had ever been from his home village), and farmed with his father for three months on land which his father had bought with money that Peng had sent home, but Peng did not find this occupation satisfying. When one of Peng's old comrades suggested that Peng apply to the local Hunan Military Academy to seek employment as a formally trained professional officer, Peng accepted. Peng successfully gained admission in August 1922, using the personal name "Dehuai" for the first time. In August 1923, after nine months of training, Peng graduated from the academy and rejoined his old regiment with the rank of captain. He was promoted to acting battalion commander in April 1924.
In 1924 Tang Shengzhi aligned himself with northern warlords against the warlord controlling Guangdong, who was aligned with the Kuomintang. Peng conducted skirmishes along the Hunan-Guangdong border for nine months, but reorganized his battalion along pro-Kuomintang political lines in 1925. In late 1925 Chiang Kai-shek established the National Revolutionary Army (NRA) and led the Kuomintang to take control of Guangdong. Tang then aligned himself with Chiang and joined him in the Northern Expedition, an effort to unify China by defeating the northern warlords. The Hunanese army was reorganized, and Peng was promoted to the rank of major. When Wu Peifu invaded Hunan and occupied Changsha, Chiang sent the NRA to Hunan, beginning the Northern Expedition. Peng's forces then joined the Kuomintang, though Peng never joined the party as a formal member. It wasn't until after Peng joined the Kuomintang, in 1925, that he first heard of the Communist Party.
Between July 1926 and March 1927 Peng campaigned in Hunan, participating in the capture of Changsha and Wuhan. Under general Ho Chien, Peng participated in the Battle of Fengtai, in which Kuomintang forces decisively defeated the warlord Wu Peifu. In 1927, Wang Jingwei attempted to establish a left-leaning Kuomintang government in Wuhan that threatened Chiang Kai-shek's leadership. Tang Shengzhi, who Peng served under, aligned himself with Wang, and Peng was promoted to lieutenant-colonel and regimental commander. After Tang's forces were decisively defeated by Chiang, Peng commanded the rear guard, protecting the retreat of Tang's forces back into Hunan.
In 1927 Peng was approached several times by Communist Party members, some of which were old friends, who attempted to recruit him into the Communist Party. In August 1927 Peng was approached by an old military comrade, Huang Gonglue: Peng was sympathetic, but could not decide to join the Party. On October 12, Peng was approached by Duan Dechang, a Communist Party representative: Peng again expressed sympathy and interest, but at that time considered himself a member of the "Kuomintang left wing", and could not yet bring himself to break with the party. Peng considered joining the Communist Party for some time, met Duan again later that October, and began to study basic communist theory. Peng secretly joined the Chinese Communist Party in mid-February 1928.
In February 1928 Peng joined general Ho Chien when Ho defected back to Chiang's forces, and gained a promotion to full colonel after rejoining Chiang. After rejoining Chiang's Nanjing government, Peng was stationed in the mountainous Pingjiang County, northwest of Changsha. His orders were to eliminate local groups of communist guerrillas who had fled to the area following the Shanghai massacre of 1927. Because Peng had secretly joined the Chinese Communist Party, he instead kept his unit passive and began to organize local Communist Party branches. Peng made contact with local communist guerillas, nominally attached to the forces of Mao Zedong and Zhu De, and decided to issue a pronouncement in favor of the Communists on July 18, 1928.
In July 22, 1928 Peng's forces, approximately 2000 men, occupied Pingjiang County, arresting and executing the county magistrate and over 100 landlords and local militia commanders. On July 23 Peng declared the establishment of the "Hunan Provincial Soviet Government", formally aligning himself with Mao and Zhu. On July 29 Peng's former superior, general Ho Chien, attacked Peng's forces, inflicting heavy casualties. By September, Peng's forces were driven into the mountains, and by October only several hundred men remained. Peng then abandoned his bases and left to join Mao and Zhu at their base in Jinggangshan. Peng's forces successfully joined Mao and Zhu in November 1928. Some of Peng's subordinates in the rebellion survived and became important military figures themselves, including generals Huang Kecheng and Peng Shaohui.