In mid-1927, Ye secretly joined the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) while remaining chief of staff of the GMD's National Revolutionary Army's Fourth Army, in which capacity he helped plan the two abortive Communist uprisings at Nanchang in Jiangxi (Kiangsi) and Guangzhou (Canton) in Guangdong, in August and December, respectively. At year's end, Ye fled abroad. He returned to China in 1931, serving in the soviet base in Ruijin (Juichin), Jiangxi, as chief of staff of the Red Army and president of the Red Army Academy.
In October 1934, Ye participated in the Long March as chief of staff of the Third Red Army Group and reached Yan'an (Yenan) in Shaanxi (Shensi) a year later. In Shaanxi, Ye worked closely with Nationalist Generals Zhang Xueliang (Chang Hsüeh-liang) and Yang Hucheng (Yang Hu-ch'eng), an alliance that resulted in the GMD-CCP united front against Japan, a key product of the Xi'an (Sian) Incident of December 1936.
From the time the Sino-Japanese War began in July 1937 until early 1941, Ye worked closely with the GMD in Xi'an, at Nanjing (Nanking) in Jiangsu (Kiangsu), at Wuhan in Hubei (Hupeh), at Changsha in Hunan, and at Chongqing (Chungking) in Sichuan (Szechwan), coordinating the war efforts of the Chinese Communist Eighth Route and New Fourth Armies. In August 1937, he became chief of staff of Zhu De's (Chu Teh's) Eighth Route Army, renamed the Eighteenth Army Group under the GMD forces in September, and in January 1939, he became dean of the Nationalists' Guerrilla Warfare Training Center in southern Hengshan in Hunan.
After the New Fourth Army Incident of January 1941, Ye returned to Yan'an, where he stayed until the war's end; during this period, he resumed his post as chief of staff of the Eighth Route Army and helped train Chinese Communist forces. Ye also continued his liaison work with both Chinese and foreign correspondents and foreign military delegations, including the July–August 1944 U.S. Dixie Mission.
After the war, Ye headed the CCP side of GMD-CCP negotiations to avert civil war. During the Chinese Civil War, he was chief of staff of the People's Liberation Army until January 1949, when Beijing (Peking) in Hebei (Hupeh) was liberated. Ye then moved south to organize CCP control over his native province, holding important posts in Guangzhou. In 1955, he returned to Beijing, where he was rewarded by being named one of the 10 marshals of the People's Liberation Army. He spent the remainder of his life serving the party, undertaking diplomatic assignments in several foreign countries. Ye died in Beijing on 22 October 1986.
Colling, John. The Spirit of Yenan: A Wartime Chapter of Sino-American Friendship. Hong Kong: API Press, 1991.; Seldon, Mark. China in Revolution: The Yenan Way Revisited. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 1995.; Ye Jianying Zhuan Bianxiezu. Ye Jianying Zhuan (Biography of Ye Jianying). Beijing: Dangdai Zhongguo, 1995.