Liu Shaoqi

Liu Shaoqi

Official portrait of Liu Shaoqi, the 2nd Chairman of the People’s Republic of China

Liu Shaoqi (1898-1969) was a prominent Chinese politician and one of the key figures in the early years of the People’s Republic of China. In April 1959, Mao Zedong, Chairman of the Communist Party of China, stepped down as the head of state of China. He was succeeded to the position by Liu Shaoqi.

Early Life and Involvement in Politics

Liu Shaoqi was born on November 24, 1898, in Hunan Province, China. He joined the May Fourth Movement, a cultural and political movement in the 1910s and 1920s that sought to modernize China and promote democracy. Liu became politically active and joined the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in 1921.

Leading member of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)

Liu Shaoqi played an instrumental role in the Communist Party’s activities during the Chinese Civil War against the ruling Kuomintang (KMT) party. He held various leadership positions within the party and was known for his organizational skills and ideological commitment. He was elected to the Central Committee and Politburo of the CCP.

After the Communists’ victory in the Chinese Civil War and the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, Liu Shaoqi held significant leadership positions within the new government. He served as the Vice Chairman of the People’s Republic of China and became the President of the People’s Republic of China in 1959.

Economic and Political Policies

Liu Shaoqi was associated with the economic policies of the Great Leap Forward, initiated by Mao Zedong in the late 1950s. However, he later became critical of the policy’s negative impact on the economy and its disastrous consequences, including the Great Chinese Famine. He advocated for economic reforms and a focus on agriculture to address the food shortage crisis.

Liu Shaoqi’s Strained Relationship with Chairman Mao

Liu Shaoqi’s relationship with Mao Zedong became strained over time. He was seen as a moderate within the CCP, advocating for economic pragmatism and a more cautious approach to policies. Mao, on the other hand, embraced radical ideological campaigns like the Cultural Revolution.

He became a target of political persecution during the Cultural Revolution, which resulted in his downfall and removal from power. He was displaced as Party Deputy Chairman by Lin Biao in July 1966.

Once considered as the successor to Chairman Mao, Liu Shaoqi and some of his family members were heavily persecuted, with Shaoqi being labelled “commander of China’s bourgeoisie headquarters” and even China’s foremost “capitalist-roader” after his big fallout with Mao. Image: Liu Shaoqi being subjected to public humiliation at a rally during the Cultural Revolution

Persecution and Death

Liu Shaoqi was denounced and subjected to intense political persecution during the Cultural Revolution, accused of being a capitalist roader and a traitor to the communist cause. He was subjected to physical and psychological abuse, which severely impacted his health.

At the 9th National Congress of the CCP in April 1969, Liu was denounced as traitor to the CCP and China. Then premier Zhou Enlai described Liu as “a criminal traitor, enemy agent and scab in the service of the imperialists, modern revisionists and the Kuomintang reactionaries”.

Liu and Deng, along with many others, were denounced as “capitalist roaders“. Liu was labeled as a “traitor” and “the biggest capitalist roader in the Party”;

By 1967, he and his wife Wang Guangmei were effectively under house arrest in Beijing. He was removed from all his positions and expelled from the Party in October 1968. After his arrest, Liu was kept entirely out of the public view.

Due to the immense physical and psychological strains, his health began to deteriorate very fast. He suffered several bouts of pneumonia as a result of mistreatment and neglect. On November 12, 1969, the former communist leader died due to complications from diabetes. His body was cremated the following day.

How is Liu Shaoqi remembered?

Liu Shaoqi’s legacy is complex and subject to different interpretations. He is often seen as a more pragmatic and moderate figure within the Communist Party, advocating for economic stability and caution.

His criticism of certain policies and his strained relationship with Mao Zedong led to his downfall and posthumous rehabilitation after Mao’s death in 1976.

Despite his later persecution, Liu Shaoqi made contributions to the early years of the People’s Republic of China and played a crucial role in the CCP’s rise to power. However, his political fate reflects the turbulent and factional nature of Chinese politics during the Mao era.

Did you know…?

  • His wife Wang Guangmei (1921-2006) and son Liu Yumbin (1925-1967) were subject to a lot of political persecution. Guangmei, like Shaoqi, was imprisoned. Yumbin, a famed nuclear scientist, suffered immensely before ultimately taking his own life in 1967.
  • About a decade after his death, paramount leader Deng Xiaoping (1904-1997) issued a resolution to rehabilitate Liu Shaoqi’s image. The resolution stated that persecution of Shaoqi was an unjust endeavor, describing the deceased Chinese leader as “a great Marxist and proletarian revolutionary”.  Similarly, the reputations of his wife and children were rehabilitated.
  • On the 120th anniversary of his birth, the CCP’s general secretary Xi Jinping honored Shaoqi’s name in a speech in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.

Liu Yunbin (1925-1967) was the son of former President of the People’s Republic of China Liu Shaoqi

Liu Shaoqi: Quick Facts

Date of birth: November 24, 1898

Place of birth: Ningxiang, Hunan

Died: November 12, 1969

Cause of death: Complications due to diabetes

Place of death: Kaifeng, Henan, China

Aged: 70

Spouses: He Baozhen (1923-1934), Xie Fei 1935-1940), Wang Qian (1942-1943), Wang Guangmei (1948-1969)

Children: 9, including, Liu Yuan and Liu Yunbin

Most famous for: Involvement in the founding the People’s Republic of China

Political party: Chinese Communist Party (1921-1968)

Positions: Head of State of the People’s Republic of China (1959-1968); 1st Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (1954-1959), First Vice Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party (1956-1966)