Zhou Enlai (Chinese: 周恩来; Wade–Giles: Chou En-lai; 5 March 1898 – 8 January 1976) was the first Premier of the People's Republic of China, serving from October 1949 until his death in January 1976. Zhou served along with Chairman Mao Zedong and was instrumental in the Communist Party's rise to power, and later in consolidating its control, forming foreign policy, and developing the Chinese economy.
A skilled and able diplomat, Zhou served as the Chinese foreign minister from 1949 to 1958. Advocating peaceful coexistence with the West after the stalemated Korean War, he participated in the 1954 Geneva Conference and the 1955 Bandung Conference, and helped orchestrate Richard Nixon's 1972 visit to China. He helped devise policies regarding the bitter disputes with the U.S., Taiwan, the Soviet Union (after 1960), India and Vietnam.
Zhou survived the purges of other top officials during the Cultural Revolution. While Mao dedicated most of his later years to political struggle and ideological work, Zhou was the main driving force behind the affairs of state during much of the Cultural Revolution. His attempts at mitigating the Red Guards' damage and his efforts to protect others from their wrath made him immensely popular in the Cultural Revolution's later stages.
As Mao Zedong's health began to decline in 1971 and 1972, Zhou struggled against the Gang of Four internally over leadership of China. Zhou's health was also failing, however, and he died eight months before Mao on 8 January 1976. The massive public outpouring of grief in Beijing turned to anger towards the Gang of Four, leading to the Tiananmen Incident. Although succeeded by Hua Guofeng, Deng Xiaoping, Zhou's ally, was able to outmaneuver the Gang of Four politically and eventually take Hua's place as paramount leader by 1978.
He is also known as Chou En-lai and Enlai Zhou.
According to the recent biography of Zhou by Gao Wenqian, Zhou was first diagnosed with bladder cancer in November 1972. Zhou's medical team reported that with treatment he had an 80 to 90 percent chance of recovery, but medical treatment for the highest ranking party members had to be approved by Mao. Mao ordered that Zhou and his wife should not be told of the diagnosis, no surgery should be performed, and no further examinations should be given. By 1974, Zhou was experiencing significant bleeding in his urine. After pressure by other Chinese leaders who had learned of Zhou's condition, Mao finally ordered a surgical operation to be performed in June 1974, but the bleeding returned a few months later, indicating metastasis of the cancer into other organs. A series of operations over the next year and a half failed to check the progress of the cancer. Zhou continued to conduct work during his stays in the hospital, with Deng Xiaoping, as the First Deputy Premier, handling most of the important State Council matters. His last major public appearance was at the first meeting of the 4th National People's Congress on 13 January 1975, where he presented the government's work report. He then fell out of the public eye for more medical treatment. Zhou Enlai died from cancer at 09:57 on 8 January 1976, aged 77.