A book to be published in Hong Kong in the new year says the People’s Republic of China’s much respected first premier, Zhou Enlai (周恩來), was probably gay despite his long marriage, and had once been in love with a male schoolmate two years his junior.
It is a contention certain to be controversial in China, where the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) likes to maintain its top leaders are more or less morally irreproachable and where homosexuality is frowned upon, though no longer officially repressed.
The Hong Kong-based author, Tsoi Wing-mui (蔡詠梅), is a former editor at a liberal political magazine in the territory, who has written about gay-themed subjects before, though this is her first book.
She re-read already publicly available letters and diaries Zhou and his wife, Deng Yingchao (鄧穎超), wrote, including ones that detailed Zhou’s fondness for a schoolmate and emotional detachment from his wife, to conclude that Zhou was probably gay.
Zhou was premier from the revolution in October 1949 that brought the CCP to power until his death from cancer in 1976, a few months before the death of his revolutionary colleague Mao Zedong (毛澤東), the founder of modern China.
Reuters obtained excerpts of the Chinese-language book, called The Secret Emotional Life of Zhou Enlai. It is published by the same house that put out the secret diaries of former CCP chief Zhao Ziyang (趙紫陽), who was ousted after 1989’s Tiananmen Square crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators.
Tsoi re-read books published by the party in 1998 to mark the 100th anniversary of Zhou’s birth that contained public essays and speeches by Zhou, as well as his diary, letters, poems, novels and thesis from 1912 to 1924.
“Zhou Enlai was a gay politician who had the misfortune of being born 100 years early,” Tsoi writes in her book.
She told reporters the real meaning of the diaries had been hidden in plain sight, but no Chinese academics had openly made the connection before as the subject of homosexuality was unknown to them.
“When mainland Chinese authors came into contact with this material, they would not consider the possibility of homosexuality,” she said.
It is not illegal to be gay in China and these days many large Chinese cities have thriving gay scenes, although there is still a lot of family pressure to get married and have children, even for gay men and women.
Tsoi expects the book to be banned in China, where discussion of controversial personal details of senior leaders, especially historically significant ones like Zhou, are off limits.
Gao Wenqian (高文謙), a US-based biographer of Zhou who used to work for the Chinese Institute of Central Documents, said he was aware of speculation about Zhou’s sexuality, but it was hard to say for certain if it was true.
“There’s actually not that much information about it in the records,” Gao said. “There’s no way to be sure.”
China’s State Council Information Office, or Cabinet spokesman’s office, did not respond to requests for comment. The CCP’s History Research Office, reached by telephone, declined to comment.
The book says Zhou was most fond of Li Fujing, a schoolmate two years his junior.
Zhou wrote in his diary that he could not live one day without Li, Tsoi says in the book, and being with Li can “turn sorrow into joy.”
Zhou and Li shared a dormitory from 1917 and “even their shadows do not part,” she wrote. Li died in 1960.
Zhou married Deng in 1925. There were “no romantic feelings” and it was a “marriage in name only ... He was never in love with his wife,” Tsoi wrote.
Deng, who was chairwoman of a high-profile, but largely ceremonial advisory body to parliament from 1983 to 1988, died in 1992.
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