Party affiliation: Communist Party of China
Ye joined the Guomindang (GMD, or, the Nationalist Party) in 1921, and for the next few years was active in Sun Yat-sen's entourage as Sun put in place the grand scheme of a Northern Expedition against the warlord system. Ye played an important military role in protecting Sun during Chen Jiongming's Guangzhou rebellion against Sun in 1922 and in the 1924-1925 campaign against Chen. Meanwhile, he had a hand in organizing the Huangpu (Whampoa) Military Academy in 1924 and became one of its chief instructors. When the Northern Expedition got underway in July 1926, Ye served as the chief-of-staff of the First Army of the National Revolutionary Army (NRA) and later commanded its Second Division in garrisoning Jian, Jiangxi province.
In April 1927, Jiang Jieshi (Chiang Kai-shek), who had assumed control of the NRA after Sun's death in 1925, took drastic steps to purge the ranks of the GMD of Communists who had come into the GMD under the auspices of a GMD-CCP United Front in 1923. In Wuhan, Ye was appointed chief-of-staff of the Fourth Army, and he also joined the CCP. In August and December 1927, Ye took part in the unsuccessful Nanchang and Guangzhou uprisings of the Communist forces. In the wake of these failures, and with Wang Jingwei turning against the Communists to achieve accommodation with Jiang5s Nanjing regime, many Communist leaders left China for the Soviet Union, while others were forced underground, to re-emerge in guerrilla units in different parts of China. In late 1928 Ye went to Moscow and “enrolled” in the University of the Toilers of the East. In 1930, he secretly returned to Shanghai, and then went to Jiangxi in 1931.
During the Long March of the CCP forces, which commenced in October 1934, Ye played an important political role as well as his usual military role as chief-of-staff of the Military Committee of the CC of the CCP. At the Zunyi Conference in January, the Lianghekou Conference in June, and the critical Maoergai Conference in August 1935, Ye staunchly supported Mao Zedong’s strategic leadership against Zhang Guotao, and pushed for the northward thrust of the CCP forces into Northern Shaanxi. After the Communist Long March forces, joined by the Fifteenth Red Army group, occupied Northern Shaanxi in late 1935, Ye became a member of the newly formed Northwest Revolutionary Military Committee of the Chinese Worker-Peasant Red Army and chief-of-staff of the reinstated First Front Army. In December 1935, the CCP Central Committee Politburo called for the formation of a “national United Front” against Japan，whose forces had begun their invasion of China in 1931. The Politburo also instructed that the Red Army make plans to cross the Yellow River into Western Shanxi province. Ye was put in charge of this maneuver. At the time, Shanxi was controlled by the Northeast Army of Zhang Xueliang and Yang Hucheng two GMD generals who disagreed with Jiang Jieshi's strategy of ceding territory, especially in Northeast China, to Japan while focusing the force of the GMD military on exterminating the Communists. After a secret meeting with Zhang in April 1936, the CCP Politburo appointed Ye to take the lead in forging cooperative relations with Zhang's Northeast Army. In September, Ye was sent to Xi'an (Zhang's headquarters) to serve as a liaison between the Red Army and Zhang. In this capacity, Ye played an important political part in paving the way for the Xi'an incident in December 1936 and the second CCP-GMD United Front which followed.
At the beginning of China's war against Japan, Ye, as chief-of-staff of the Communist Eighth Route Army, mainly served as chief liaison officer between the Communists and the GMD. He thus had to stay with Jiang Jie-shi's government as it retreated in the face of the Japanese onslaught and relocated in various places Nanjing, Wuhan, Changsha, and, eventually, Chongqing in 1939. Then, as the military situation in southern China rapidly unfolded, Ye returned to his home province of Guangdong to assume the command of the PLA’S Guangdong Military Region. At the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in October he held various military-political positions that made him virtually the most powerful CCP cadre in southern China. He presided over the liberation of Guangdong and Guangxi in October 1949, the takeover of Hainan Island in early 1950, and the subsequent mopping up of local militia resistance and remnants of GMD forces in the southern provinces. In May 1951 the Central Committee of the CCP established the South China Military Region with Ye as its commander. During these years he had broad oversight for governance of Guangdong, and, in particular, supervised the processes of land reform and urban reconstruction in south China as a whole. In October 1954, Ye was transferred to Beijing and began the next phase of his military-political career, presiding over the training and modernization of the PLA as a new national-defense force. One of Ye^ main achievements of this period was the founding of the PLA Military Science Academy in 1958 for which he served as president until 1972. Meanwhile he held high-ranking positions in the CCP, in the PLA structure, and in the National People’s Congress (NPC). He was awarded various top-level military decorations and named one of the PLA's ten marshals in 1955.
In an early phase of the Cultural Revolution, Ye played an important role as head of the “work group” that investigated the case of PLA chief-of-staff Luo Ruiqing and which in April 1966, recommended Luo’s dismissal. As the Red Guard movement in 1966 rapidly overstepped what had appeared to be understood, boundaries of the Cultural Revolution as adopted by the Eleventh Plenum of the Eighth CC, as the PLA began to be dragged into the Cultural Revolution, and particularly as Mao Zedong himself, who had instigated the Cultural Revolution, appeared to be poised to intervene to curtail the violence and the devastating impact of the Red Guard movement on crucial state and military institutions, Ye joined a number of senior officials in raising questions about the direction and the continued radicalization of the Cultural Revolution. This sequence of events in 1967, to be labeled by the radicals as a “February Reversal of the Cultural Revolution” triggered a political firestorm in March which rendered many senior cadres, including Ye, vulnerable even after the height of the Red Guard movement had passed. Although Ye survived (largely through the protection of Premier Zhou Enlai) and was even elected to the Politburo in 1969 at the Ninth CCP Congress, he was politically quiet from 1967 until 1971.
Ye return to a role at center stage of late-Cultural Revolution Chinese politics was played out in the context of the Lin Biao affair, first in investigating the activities of Lin's associate, Chen Boda, in late 1970 and early 1971, and then, after Lin Biao's defection and death, as head of a reorganized Military Affairs Committee (MAC) looking into and condemning Lin's manipulation of military units for his own aggrandizement. In these roles, he emerged as a Mao loyalist (but an antiradical one) in post-Cultural Revolution politics, aligned with Premier Zhou Enlai and other senior CCP cadres who had managed to survive the violent upheaval of the preceding ten years. When Deng was brought down in late 1975, Ye was implicated. After Zhou Enlai's death in January 1976, and with Mao's own health rapidly failing, the Gang of Upon Mao’s demise on September 9, 1976, the Gang of Four immediately pressed the issue of their claim to succeeding Mao at Politburo meetings on September 19 and 29, at which they sought to exclude Ye.
The action of Mao Yuanxin in calling up an armored division of troops to Beijing on October 2 forced Ye into rapid and decisive action. Ye countermanded the troop maneuver and consulted with Hua Guofeng to settle the issue with the Gang of Four immediately. With China on the verge of being plunged into civil war, Ye, Li Xiannian, and Hua held a Politburo meeting on October 5, 1976 which excluded the Gang of Four and its supporters and issued the orders that resulted in the arrest of the Gang the following day. After the purge of the Gang of Four, Ye threw his support to Hua who became chairman of the Party and of the MAC in addition to being the premier. In his short tenure at the helm of Chinese politics, Hua not only displayed a stubborn rigidity in adhering to Mao Zedong Thought and to a continued legitimation of the Cultural Revolution, but was also confronted by a rising tide of sentiment within the CCP and in the country for Deng Xiaoping’s return to office and leadership. After Hua was in effect removed from his high office at the end of 1980, Ye’s role as a power broker in the post-Mao era came to an end. At the June 1981 Sixth Plenum of the Eleventh CC, at which Hua was formally demoted, Ye was absent but sent a letter to announce his agreement with the critique of Hua and the change in leadership. Thereafter Ye performed nominal public duties as senior vice-chairman of the CCP. He resigned from his position and titles in 1984 and died in October 1986.
- Ye's leadership role in China, and especially in the PRC after 1949, exemplified the manner in which political outcomes can be and are shaped by the balance of power among factions within the military leadership and command structure. Ideologically, Ye had been stalwart in maintaining a moderate position, but he was never a significant leader in any major ideological trend or initiative rather he had served to maintain political and ideological balance within the system by lending support through the considerable weight of his influence in the military, at critical moments when needed, to the ideological center.
Born April 28, 1897
Died October 22, 1986
September 15, 1954 - June 16, 1983
January 17, 1975 - February 26, 1978
October 7, 1976 - September 12, 1982
March 5, 1978 - June 18, 1983
March 5, 1978 - June 18, 1983