Deng Xiaoping

In Memory of Liu Bocheng


Published: October 21, 1986
Translated by: Unknown
Source: Deng Xiaoping Works
Transcription for MIA: Joonas Laine


After a long illness Bocheng has passed away. I worked with him for a long time and knew him very well. I am deeply grieved by his death.

Bocheng joined the army when he was very young and served in it his whole life. After the Revolution of 1911 he participated in the campaigns to protect the Republic and uphold the Provisional Constitution, proving himself a valiant soldier. I still have a photograph of him taken in 1915, when he was twenty-two years old — just in his prime. In 1916, while leading his troops in the Fengdu battle in Sichuan Province (part of the expedition against Yuan Shikai), he was struck by two bullets in the head and lost his right eye. Later he commanded countless campaigns and engagements and was wounded at least nine more times. He performed outstanding military exploits and became famous as the resourceful one-eyed general.

I became acquainted with Bocheng in 1931 in the Central Soviet Area in Jiangxi Province. When I saw him for the first time, I was impressed by his honesty, sincerity and amiability. Beginning in 1938 we worked together for 13 years, first in the 129th Division of the Eighth Route Army, where he served as commander and I as political commissar, and then in the Shanxi-Hebei-Shandong-Henan Field Army, the Central Plains Field Army and the Second Field Army. Although he was ten years older than I, and we had different personalities, we got on very well together and cooperated closely. People always spoke of us together, calling us Liu-Deng. And indeed, in our hearts we felt we were inseparable. I was very happy to work and fight alongside him. Bocheng was a man of the greatest virtue and worked well with other comrades, setting an example for all our leading cadres even today.

Bocheng had strong Party spirit. This was especially evident in the way he always subordinated his own interests to the general interests. To meet the needs of the whole, he never hesitated to sacrifice the interest of the part. He always asked to take on the hardest and most dangerous tasks and carried them out by surmounting all difficulties. Before the Long March, because of his opposition to dogmatism in the military command, he was wrongly dismissed from the post of chief of the general staff and demoted to chief of staff of the Fifth Army Group of the Chinese Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army. Enduring the humiliation, he continued to work hard. At the beginning of the Long March he led the Fifth Army Group in bitter rear-guard engagements, in which his troops, while greatly outnumbered, managed to ensure the safety of the organs of the Central Committee. Later, under his command the vanguard detachment of the Chinese Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army captured one strategic point after another and thus paved the way for the Long March. After the rendezvous of the First and Fourth Front Armies of the Red Army, Bocheng firmly supported the Central Committee’s policy of marching north to resist the Japanese invaders and opposed Zhang Guotao’s attempts to split the Party and the Red Army and set up a separate central committee. He always retained his strong Party spirit, not only during the War of Resistance Against Japan and the War of Liberation but also after the founding of the People’s Republic of China.

In the second year of the War of Liberation the Central Committee decided to send 100,000 troops from Shanxi, Hebei, Shandong and Henan into the Dabie Mountains, so as to carry the war into Kuomintang-controlled areas. This would be a difficult and dangerous strategic operation, because the troops would have to fight without a rear area to support them. Some cadres hesitated before this prospect, but Bocheng explained the situation to them. “If we do this,” he said, “we can draw the enemy to ourselves and make it easier for the other field armies. How can you take hot embers out from under a pot if you are afraid of burning your fingers? Even if we have to make sacrifices, we should not begrudge them.” In carrying out the Party’s resolutions and strategies, Bocheng set a fine example.

Comrade Bocheng was a great intellectual and a great strategist in our Party and army. As a skilled commander and military theorist, he had few equals at home or abroad. He knew a great deal about the art of war. He drew on the best military theories, both ancient and modern, Chinese and foreign, and applied them in the Chinese revolutionary war. In devising tactics for battles, he paid close attention to the particular circumstances. He would size up the enemy’s situation correctly, make meticulous plans and carefully deploy his forces. As a result, his troops often defeated the enemy by a surprise move, and even the enemy admired his wonderful foresight in directing battles. In his own words, “wonderful foresight” simply came, first of all, from having a clear understanding of the task, the strength of the enemy, one’s own strength, the specific time and the specific terrain. He called these the five factors and often said, “If we are not clear about those things, we are doomed to utter defeat.”

What he objected to most was commanders who stuck rigidly to conventional practice, without considering changed circumstances and making careful plans accordingly. He often used two common Sichuanese sayings to criticize humorously comrades who were careless in their work or who paid no attention to reconnaissance and investigation before launching military operations but gave arbitrary and impracticable orders. One was, “You’re burning incense and praying in the wrong temple.” The other was, “The mosquito bites a clay idol — the wrong target.” Bocheng frequently reviewed the lessons learned in combat, raised military practice to the level of theory and then used that theory creatively to guide future practice. He was an outstanding Marxist military theorist. He made a great contribution to the shaping and development of Mao Zedong’s thinking on military matters. It can truly be said that Comrade Bocheng’s military theories constituted an important part of Mao Zedong’s military thinking.

As an outstanding strategist, Bocheng demonstrated his perspicacity not only in directing battles but also in building a modern, regular army. Even in the years when our army had only millet to eat and only rifles to fight with, he began to envisage combined operations using different arms. During the second half of 1946, many battles were fought in the Liberated Area of Shanxi-Hebei-Shandong-Henan — an average of one every twenty days. Even so, Bocheng made the best use of the intervals in the fighting to translate into Chinese those parts of Tactics which had not yet been translated from Russian and to revise the rest of the translation. He very much enjoyed the well-known Soviet play The Front [by A.E. Korneichak, 1942] and declared on many occasions that we should emulate Ognev, who boldly accepted new things, rather than Gorlov, who was a conservative.

Bearing in mind the new features of war in the new situation, he was among the first Chinese leaders to study and apply the advances in modern military science of other countries and to give strategic importance to education and training in the army. Not long after the liberation of the mainland, recognizing the general need to strengthen the army, he wrote a letter to the Central Committee asking permission to resign from the posts of chairman of the Southwest Military and Administrative Commission and commander of the Second Field Army, so that he could establish a military academy. He worked indefatigably to train cadres in modern military science. Although his eyesight was deteriorating, with the help of a magnifying glass he examined translations of foreign works on the subject, altogether amounting to about one million Chinese characters, and compiled a vast number of teaching materials. Even today his achievements in the Military Academy still play an important role in building a modern, regular army. In 1958 he was criticized for dogmatism — that was unfair. We can definitely say that Bocheng was one of those who laid the groundwork for a modern, regular army. We should forever remember the important contributions he made in this respect.

Bocheng attached great importance to political work. He respected not only the political commissars but also the personnel of the political departments. Whenever he went down to a grass-roots unit, he always asked some of them to go with him as representatives of those departments. He wanted them along not so that they could write speeches for him or news releases reporting his activities, but so that he could consult them when problems arose. Whenever he went to an army unit to brief the men on a forthcoming engagement, he would ask them to accompany him, so that they could do political work at the same time. Before he was to relay a directive from the Central Committee or to make a speech mobilizing the soldiers politically, he would always submit the outline of his remarks to the political department for correction. He did so not just out of modesty but, more important, out of a conviction that political work was the lifeblood of the army. He was concerned with that work and with the political and ideological education of officers and men. We can say that in this respect he was a model for the army’s senior commanders.

When still very young, Bocheng was already determined to deliver the people from their abyss of suffering. It was this breadth of vision that helped him gradually change from a follower of old democracy to a Communist. Like many who were concerned about the destiny of their country and their people, he saw clearly from his own experience that the only way to make China independent and to liberate the Chinese people was to follow the course charted by the Communist Party; there was no alternative. Bocheng first came into contact with the Communists in 1924. But it was only two years later, after careful observation and deep reflection, that he made his political choice. Once he was sure that he had made the right choice, he would dedicate himself to it even at the risk of his life. From the day he accepted Marxism and joined the Communist Party, during the period of democratic revolution and the period of socialist revolution and construction, in wartime and in peacetime, whether he was directing battles or running military schools, under good circumstances or bad, and no matter what changes took place in the objective situation, he always immersed himself in the Party’s cause, serving the needs of the Party and giving it his all. He ignored all questions of personal gain or loss, honour or disgrace. He simply gave no thought to himself.

In the winter of 1942, when soldiers and civilians of the Taihang Mountain area were celebrating his fiftieth birthday, and when congratulations were received from leaders in Yan’an, Bocheng said, “Without the Party’s leadership, people like me can accomplish nothing.” And he added, “It will be a great consolation to me if after my death there are carved on my gravestone the words `Here lies a Chinese Bolshevik, Liu Bocheng.”’

In view of Bocheng’s long struggle for the cause of communism, the outstanding contributions he made to the revolution and the strong Party spirit he displayed, we can say that he well deserves the honourable title of Chinese Bolshevik — a true Communist.

(An article published in People’s Daily.)