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Li Xiannian Edit Profile

military , politician

Li Xiannian was a top-ranking cadre of the Chinese Communist Party in military and economic affairs, president of the People’s Republic of China 1983-1988.


Li Xiannian was born on June 23, 1909 in Hubei, China.


Li Xiannian began his military career as a soldier in Guomindang (GMD) forces in the Northern Expedition in 1926. In 1927, as the United Front between the GMD and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) broke up and Communists were driven underground, Li returned to Huangan as an operative in the Communist Youth Pioneers. Later that year he took part in leading peasant guerrillas in the Huangan-Macheng uprising, and in December 1927 became a member of the CCP.


He joined the Worker-Peasant Red Army in 1928, and subsequently became chairman of the Soviet government of Huangan. After serving several years in local Communist regimes, Li joined the newly formed Fourth Front Army in late 1931 as political commissar of the Thirty-third Regiment (11th Division), and began a long-term relationship with its commander, Xu Xiangqian. Later he became political commissar of the Eleventh Division, and of the Thirtieth Army. He also became a member of the CCP's Northwest Revolutionary Military Affairs Committee in December 1932 and a member of the Central Executive Committee of the Chinese Soviet Republic in 1934.

In 1932 and early 1933, the Fourth Front Army broke out of Jiang Jieshi's Fourth Encirclement and Suppression Campaignw blockade of the Communist forces in the Oyuwan revolutionary base and went into Sichuan province. After much fighting in the region it joined, in the summer of 1935, the CCP forces under Mao Zedong and Zhu De, which had broken out of Jiang’s “encirclement” of the Central Soviet in the Hunan-Jiangxi area the previous year. Afterward the CCP’s Long March forces split up, with troops led by Zhang Guotao heading westward into Gansu and Xinjiang and the smaller force, led by Mao, slogging through dangerous terrain northward toward Shaanxi. With a remnant of his Thirtieth Army, Li was sent in a deep foray into Western Sichuan to clear the path for the bulk of the Red Army. In 6ctober 1936, Li’s troops were ordered to cross the Yellow River into Ningxia and in the spring of 1937, with barely 700 troops left under his command he reached the Gansu-Xinjiang border. In these various maneuvers, Li's forces played a major role in protecting the Red Army Western flank in and subsequent to the Long March and experienced much bitter fighting. In December 1937, Li and what remained of his troops were transported to Yan’an,in northern Shaanxi, which by this time had become the CCP's strongest base. Li then entered the Anti-Japanese Military and Political University at Yan'an.

In the first five years of the PRC, when China's governmental structure was dominated by a system of regional division, Li continued to hold top posts in the Hubei region, in the Central-South Military-Administrative Committee and in the CCP Central-South Bureau. Then with the promulgation of the PRC Constitution in 1954 and the reorganizing of the gov-ernment structure and the formation of the State Council that followed, Li was transferred to Beijing, where he began a second career as an economic administrator in the national government. He became a vice-premier of the State Council, Minister of Finance, and director of the Fifth Staff Office of the State Council, in charge of trade and finance, while also holding membership on the National Defense Council. He was a member of the CC of the CCP, and was elected to the Politburo for the first time in September 1956 at the Eighth Congress of the CCP. In 1958 he became a secretary of the CCP's Central Secretariat and in 1962, became the chairman of the State Council’s State Planning Commission the main body for long-term strategic national planning in the Chinese government.

Ironically, Li's involvement in financial administration and state and economic planning put him in a vulnerable position as China plunged into the Cultural Revolution in the mid-1960s. Although for the most part he was able to survive the criticism of the radical faction and the attack of the Red Guards through retaining the trust of Mao Zedong and protection by Premier Zhou Enlai, he was criticized for his role in the post-Great Leap Forward economic reconstruction period which had been dominated by a Liu Shaoqi-Deng Xiaoping leadership, and especially for his part in the drafting of the Six Articles on Finance in 1961, at the so-called Xilou Conference of 1962 and at the Tenth Plenum of the Eighth CC in September 1962. In early 1967, in the aftermath of the Red Guard movement which had severely undermined the work of crucial state and economic institutions, a number of senior government officials and CCP cadres criticized the direction of the Cultural Revolution and its continued and intensifying radicalization. The radical faction, whose leadership would eventually gel as the so-called Gang of Four, seized on this criticism, which it labeled as a wFebruary Reversalw of the Cultural Revolution and of Maoism, to counterattack, and, despite Zhou's protection, Li was sent down to a lumber mill in Beijing outskirts for Mcorrection by labor.55 He was not rehabilitated until April 1969, when at the First Plenum of the Ninth CC, he was reinstated as a member of the Central Committee.

In 1975, as Zhou Enlai's health began to fail, Deng Xiaoping was reinstated as first vice-premier and ran the nation affairs. Li was clearly in Deng’s corner, and when Deng fell to the criticism of the Gang of Four late that year, Li was once again implicated. When Zhou died on January 8, 1976, Hua Guofeng was chosen by Mao to succeed Zhou as premier, and Li, together with other senior officials, threw their support to Hua in the political struggle of that year between Hua and the Gang of Four, who were unable to disguise their contempt for Hua whom they considered an upstart and who also attacked Zhou’s legacy increasingly blatantly. As Mao's own demise, which would come on September 9, 1976 drew near, the battle lines of an inevitable show-down in the power struggle were drawn. On Mao5s death, the Gang of Four immediately pressed for their own claim to succession and attempted to exclude Li and Ye Jianying, who were the most senior members of the Politburo (and both had strong ties to the Peopled Liberation Army command) from the decision-making. In early October, as rumors of an impending military coup being staged by the Gang of Four flew around Beijing, Ye, in consultation with Li and Hua, acted swiftly and decisively to bring about the arrest of the Gang of Four on October 6.

With the purge of the Gang, Hua assumed command as chairman of the CCP and of its Military Affairs Commission as well as premier, which he had been since early 1976. Li became a member of the Standing Committee of the Politburo and ranking vice-chairman of the Central Committee of the CCP in August 1977, as well as member of the Standing Committee of the Military Affairs Commission. However, Hua's brief tenure at the helm (1976-1980) was handicapped by his far-too-obstinate adherence to Maoist ideology and to the legitimacy of the Cultural Revolution.

Hua was also faced with rising sentiment both in the Party and in the nation at large for the return of Deng Xiaoping to office. While Li and Ye, the elder statesman, had some ambivalence toward Deng's return to power, they (and in particular Li) accepted its inevitability. Li, having played a major role in finance and economic planning in the past, was particularly disillusioned by Hua s grandiose and rigidly Maoist vision of the so-called Ten Year Plan of economic reconstruction. In the Hua-Deng struggle which unfolded in 1978-1980, Li, who had reclaimed a major role as deputy director of the Finance and Economics Commission of the State Council in March 1979, began to throw his still considerable political weight into Deng s corner. When Hua was subjected to humiliating criticism in late-1980, which led to his being relieved of his positions in early 1981 and the return of Deng to full leadership in the Chinese government, Li was considered a major Deng sponsor. In June 1983 Li became president of the PRC the highest, though in fact a titular, post in Li's political career. Li held this position until March 1988. He died on June 21, 1992.


  • Through its vicissitudes, Li's political leadership in the history of the CCP and the PRC was a remarkable one. His military exploits in the Long March and in the civil war era remain the stuff of legend, and yet he also managed to turn himself into a major force in financial and economic matters in the Chinese government after 1949. His continued influence in the People s Liberation Army (PLA) and the ability to use such influence to affect political outcomes in characteristic of PRC politics. Albeit that by the time he attained his highest government position it had already turned into a titular post rather than one of true leadership, Li nonetheless did provide leadership in major decision-making junctures that affected the course of PRC history. This demonstrated to the very end his uncanny ability to back the right person in the turbulent and dangerous currents of Chinese politics.


Li had four children. Two daughters are doctors and his only son is a PLA general. His youngest daughter, Li Xiaolin, is the President of the Chinese People's Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries. She spent her entire career with the organisation, except for two years as a secretary at the Chinese embassy in the United States. She is a member of the CPPCC national committee.

Shang Xiaoping

Lin Jiamei