Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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Chen Yi (1901–1972)

Chinese communist politician, diplomat, and foreign minister of the People's Republic of China (PRC) during 1958–1969. Born in Lezhi, Sichuan Province, on 26 August 1901, Chen Yi went to France in 1919 on a work-study basis. He returned to China in 1921 and joined the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), engaging in underground activities.

During both the Sino-Japanese War and the Chinese Civil War, Chen commanded the Chinest communist armed forces, fighting in northeastern China. After successfully liberating Shanghai, Jiangsu, in May 1949, Chen became its mayor, a post he held until 1959. Upon the establishment of the PRC in October 1949, he gained membership in both the People's Revolutionary Military Council and the East China Military and Administrative Committee.

Prior to 1954, Chen spent most of his time in Shanghai, where he received a number of foreign visitors and made important diplomatic contacts. In September 1954, he moved to Beijing to assume the posts of vice premier and vice chairman of the National Defense Council. In these capacities he regularly traveled abroad to strengthen the PRC's ties with fellow socialist nations in Africa and Asia. In 1958, he succeeded Zhou Enlai as the PRC's foreign minister and continued to uphold Zhou's Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence first enunciated at the 1955 Bandung Conference.

Chen's tenure witnessed a breakthrough in Sino-American relations. In early 1969 he proposed reinstating the Sino-American Ambassadorial Talks, which had begun in 1955 but were suspended in 1967. Chen sought to end China's diplomatic isolation that had deepened since the Sino-Soviet split in the early 1960s. His proposal was ultimately approved, paving the way for the Sino-American rapprochement of the 1970s.

Despite Chen's considerable achievements, however, the leaders of the ultraleftist Cultural Revolution relieved him of all his posts in October 1969, charging him with conducting revisionist foreign policy. Chen died in seclusion in Beijing on 6 January 1972.

Law Yuk-fun


Further Reading
Ma, Jisen. The Cultural Revolution in the Foreign Ministry of China. Hong Kong: Chinese University Press of Hong Kong, 2004.; Ross, Robert S., ed. China, the United States, and the Soviet Union: Tripolarity and Policymaking in the Cold War. Armonk, NY: Sharpe, 1993.
 

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