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The Political Relationship between Peng Zhen and Liu Shaoqi (1928-1966)
Conventional interpretations of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leadership, especially the factional-politics model adopted by many Western scholars, tends to portray Peng simply as a true subordinate of Liu who supported Liu without reservation. This study, based on careful examination of evidences, demonstrates that the conventional view of Peng-Liu relations was significantly different from historical truth.
Peng and Liu met and worked together briefly for the first time in 1928. After Peng was released from jail in 1935, they developed a close working relationship. However, instead of cultivating a closer bilateral relationship, their main concern and top priority were to carefully maintain their individual relations with Mao Zedong, as they both respectfully considered Mao as CCP’s top leader. Moreover, Mao became the most crucial factor affecting Peng’s and Liu’s attitudes towards each other.
From the mid-1940s to the mid-1960s, Peng showed great respect and support for Liu, based on the perception that Liu was Mao’s successor and most important assistant; Liu supported Peng because Peng had always been entrusted with crucial political posts. Some subtle changes took place after the Great Leap Forward; Mao and Liu had divergent views on the issues of economic adjustment in 1962 and on the Socialism Education Movement in 1964. In contrast to Liu, Peng shared similar views with Mao on these issues; he sided with Mao without hesitation, even launched criticism against Liu. However, Mao’s relationship with Peng deteriorated quickly after 1965; Peng was purged before the downfall of Liu. It is worth noting that although both Peng and Liu were victims of Mao’s Cultural Revolution, Mao treated the two political figures differently: while Liu was persecuted to death, Mao showed some mercy towards Peng and disapproved accusations of treason against him. This showed that to Mao, Peng was not simply deemed as Liu’s trusted follower. In sum, this paper argues that during the pre-Cultural Revolution period, Peng and Liu were not the inseparable political allies as the analysis of factionalism has asserted.
The Journal of History