Zhou Enlai or Chou En-lai (both: jō ĕn-lĪ) [key], 1898–1976, Chinese Communist leader. A member of a noted Mandarin family, he was educated at an American-supported school in China and a university in Japan. His involvement in radical movements led to several months imprisonment. After his release he studied (1920–22) in France. A founder of the Chinese Communist party, he established (1922) the Paris-based Chinese Communist Youth Group. After a few months in England, he studied in Germany. Zhou returned (1924) to China and joined Sun Yat-sen, who was then cooperating with the Communists. He served (1924–26) as deputy director of the political department at the Whampoa Military Academy, of which Chiang Kai-shek was commandant. After the Northern Expedition began, he worked as a labor organizer. In 1927 he directed a general strike in Shanghai, opening the city to Chiang's Nationalist forces. When Chiang broke with the Communists, executing many of his former allies, Zhou became a fugitive from the Kuomintang. Later, holding prominent military and political posts in the Communist party, he participated in the long march (1934–35) to NW China. During the partial Communist-Kuomintang rapprochement (1936–46) he was the chief Communist liaison officer.
In 1949, with the establishment of the People's Republic of China at Beijing, Zhou became premier and foreign minister. He headed the Chinese Communist delegation to the Geneva Conference of 1954 and to the Bandung Conference (1955). In 1958 he relinquished the foreign ministry but retained the premiership. A practical-minded administrator, Zhou maintained his position through all of Communist China's ideological upheavals, including the Great Leap Forward (1958) and the Cultural Revolution (1966–76). Initially supportive of the latter, he was periodically attacked by Red Guards for attempting to shelter its victims. He was largely responsible for China's reestablishing contacts with the West in the early 1970s before becoming ill.
See biographies by D. W. Chang (1984), D. Wilson (1984), and G. Wenqian (2003, tr. 2007).