Gao, Wenqian 1953-

views updated

Gao, Wenqian 1953-


Born 1953, in China; immigrated to the United States, 1993.


Home—New York, NY.


Historian and researcher, Chinese Institute of Central Documents. Former official biographer of Zhou Enlai and member of biography team of Mao Zedong. Scholar at Wilson International Center, Princeton University, and Harvard University. Visiting scholar, Columbia University, 1995.


Wan nian Zhou Enlai, Ming jing chu ban she (Carle Place, NY), 2003, English translation by Peter Rand and Lawrence R. Sullivan published as Zhou Enlai: The Last Perfect Revolutionary: A Biography, PublicAffairs (New York, NY), 2007.

(With Su Shaozhi and Chen Yizi) Ren min xin zhong de Hu Yaobang, Ming jing chu ban she (Carle Place, NY), 2006.


As a scholar at the Chinese Institute of Central Documents, Wenqian Gao had access to classified documents about Chinese Communist Party leader Mao Zedong and his premier, Zhou Enlai. Indeed, Gao was appointed Zhou's official biographer, and for thirteen years he produced material that expressed the party line about the premier. But Gao was shaken by China's brutal suppression in 1989 of the prodemocracy rallies in Tiananmen Square—a cause he supported—and he was convinced as a result that he must somehow write honestly about Zhou as a way to serve the interests of the Chinese people. Having smuggled his notes out of China, Gao immigrated to the United States in 1993 and began work on Wan nian Zhou Enlai, translated into English and published as Zhou Enlai: The Last Perfect Revolutionary: A Biography in 2007. Chinese officials pressured him not to publish his book and promptly banned it when the Chinese-language version was produced in 2003. Despite this government sanction, the book quickly became an underground best seller in China.

Zhou Enlai challenges the conventional view of Zhou as the pragmatic and competent builder of political bridges between disagreeing factions, intent on mitigating the most disastrous results of Mao's policies. As Time International contributor Peter Ritter observed, Gao depicts his subject as "thoughtful and scrupulous, yet so blinkered by loyalty to Mao that he sanctioned the arrest of his own brother." Zhou stood by as Mao orchestrated the Cultural Revolution, which killed between five hundred thousand and three million people and cost many more their families, homes, work, and dignity. Though Zhou tried to protect friends and colleagues from the worst of the damage, he did nothing to try to bring the program to a halt. "Zhou was unwilling to get directly involved in the conflict," Gao writes about the clash between Mao and Liu Shaoqi that led to Mao's implementation of the Cultural Revolution, "but he tried his best to regulate the tension as it boiled up between the Party and state chairman. Refusing to align himself with either of these political titans, Zhou employed his fabled Confucian strategy and tried to find a middle way."

Noting that Zhou had studied acting, Gao describes the premier as a master of his assigned role as Mao's indispensable servant. "He was almost entirely self-effacing," Gao writes of Zhou. Gao continues, "He knew how to mend the broken pieces of crockery that Mao shattered from time to time. Zhou's genius for self-abnegation and the deft and artful way that he had of cleaning up a nasty mess aggravated Mao, the master, and piqued his pride. They were the odd couple, but this was no domestic comedy." writer Doug Bandow stated that Gao describes Zhou as a long-standing "enabler" of "one of history's greatest moral monsters." Foreign Affairs contributor Lucian W. Pye, though, acknowledged that Gao shatters some myths about Zhou but stated that the biography also shows Zhou's "revolutionary accomplishments" and his courage in the late 1970s in resisting Mao and the Gang of Four, consisting of four Chinese Communist party officials who continued to support the Cultural Revolution. Nicholas Shakespeare, in a review for the London Telegraph, praised Gao's ability to write about this subject without oversimplification and observed that Zhou Enlai "offers valuable insights into the ‘brutal mafia-like battle that is Chinese politics.’" Dong Wang, in an interview with Gao for the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) International Institute Web site, described the book as "a Chinese analogue of the Watergate tapes, in the sense that Mr. Gao uses secret, archival documents, which were also not for public consumption, to provide readers with a ‘behind-the-scenes’ look at a world leader." The result, Wang stated, is an "unprecedented work [that] reveals Zhou to be a tragic hero who had a very complex character."



Gao, Wenqian, Zhou Enlai: The Last Perfect Revolutionary: A Biography, translated by Peter Rand and Lawrence R. Sullivan, PublicAffairs (New York, NY), 2007.


Epoch Times, January 29, 2005, Cai Hong and Ya Mei, author interview.

Far Eastern Economic Review, December 1, 2007, Jonathan Mirsky, review of Zhou Enlai, p. 66.

Foreign Affairs, January 1, 2008, Lucian W. Pye, "The Long March: The True History of Communist China's Founding Myth," review of Zhou Enlai, p. 195.

Telegraph (London, England), January 19, 2008, Nicholas Shakespeare, review of Zhou Enlai.

Time International, November 12, 2007, Peter Ritter, "Saint and Sinner," review of Zhou Enlai, p. 6.

Times Literary Supplement (London, England), May 9, 2008, Kate Merkel-Hess, review of Zhou Enlai, p. 27.

ONLINE, (July 8, 2008), Doug Bandow, review of Zhou Enlai.

Perseus Book Group Web site, (July 8, 2008), author profile.

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) International Institute Web site, (July 8, 2008), Dong Wang, author interview.