Xu Shiyou

Xu Shiyou

Xu Shiyou (1906 - 1985) (Simplified Chinese: 许世友) was a general in the Chinese People's Liberation Army. Born in Hubei, Xu grew up studying martial arts at the Shaolin Temple for eight years and he later became a soldier in Wu Peifu's warlord army. After having served as a lieutenant in the Kuomintang army, he joined the Chinese Communist Party in 1927.

Early career

Xu first emerged in the annals of Chinese military history in Hubei in 1927, as part of a nascent military unit that included future generals Qin Jiwei and Chen Zaidao. [Whitson, William and Huang Chen-hsia, "The Chinese High Command: A History of Communist Military Politics, 1927-71", Praeger (New York: 1973), p. 126.] In 1932, he commanded the 34th Regiment, 12th Division of the Fourth Front Army led by future Marshall Xu Xiangqian. His deputy in the 25th Division, 9th Corps (which Xu later led) in 1933-36, Chen Xilian [Lampton, David M., "Paths to Power: Elite Mobility in Contemporary China," Center for Chinese Studies "Michigan Monographs in Chinese Studies No. 55," The University of Michigan (Ann Arbor: 1986), p. 208.] , later rose to politburo standing during the Great Proletariat Cultural Revolution. By the age of 29, Xu Shiyou commanded the Red 9th Corps of the Fourth Front Army.

Eight months after the First Front Army abandon the Jiangxi Soviet and embarked on the Long March, it met up with Zhang Guotao’s Fourth Front Army, in June 1935 at Maogong, Sichuan. Zhang favored consolidating power in Sichuan whereas Mao Zedong wanted to continue on to Gansu and Ningxia, to receive aid from the Soviet Union. The compromise decision was to convene a conference, in July at Mao’ergai. Despite support from Liu Bocheng, Zhu De and other commanders, Mao would not be convinced. As a result, the Fourth Front Army was divided into a Left Column under Liu, Zhu and Zhang; and a Right Column under Xu Xiangqian. Xu Shiyou at the time commanded a cavalry regiment.

The Second Front Army, under He Long and Ren Bishi, and Xiao Ke’s Sixth Front Army linked up with the Fourth Front Army in June 1936. Again dividing their forces, He Long took the Second on a northward line toward Gansu while Zhang led his forces somewhat west of that line. The result was that Zhang’s Fourth Front Army was battered by Nationalist and warlord troops, and arrived in Yenan in poor shape in October 1936. Zhang was forced to submit to Mao’s leadership. [Lampton, p. 209ff.]

In the first half of 1937, just prior to the formal beginning of the Sino-Japanese War, the purge of Zhang Guotao and his closest officers sparked turmoil within the party. Cadets of the Fourth Front Army studying at the Anti-Japanese University (Kang Da), including Xu, confronted the party leadership over accusations that Zhang was disloyal. [Whitson, p. 155.]

In 1939, Xu Xiangqian led elements of the 129th Division – including Xu Shiyou and Han Xianchu – into western Shandong to recruit new soldiers. Xu Shiyou went on to serve as deputy commander of the 385th Brigade, 129th Division in eastern Shandong and expanded his forces into the 11th Army of Marshall Chen Yi’s Third Field Army. One of his key deputies during the war was Nie Fengzhi, who would later command the Chinese People’s Volunteers Air Force during the Korean War. Xu remainded in Shandong until 1954. [Lampton, p. 212.] In the fall of 1947, Xu commanded the East Front Army Corps of Chen Yi’s East China Field Army (later the 3rd Field Army); his political commissar, Tan Zhenlin, was one of the most powerful figures in East China. They took Jinan in September 1948. [Lampton, p. 214-15.]

Regional Power

At the end of the war, Xu’s forces found themselves in Shanghai, and he became a member of the East China Military and Administrative Committee under Chen Yi and Su Yu. As the Korean War unfolded, he moved into Shandong (assuming a seat on the local governing committee and the post of Military District Commander), to confront what was thought to be the risk of an American landing on Chinese soil. [Whitson, p. 247.] In Shandong, he worked closely with Gu Mu and Kang Sheng. [Lampton, p. 215.] Although Xu did not serve in Korea, his units did. In 1959, his 12th and 60th Corps returned from Korea to the Nanjing Military Region where they provided the power base he would enjoy well into the 1970s. [Whitson, p. 194.]

Xu served as Commander of the Nanjing Military Region (1954-74), first under East China Military and Administrative Committee chairman Rao Shushi, and then for ten years with
Gang of Four member Zhang Chunqiao as his political commissar (1967-76). This assignment was the single longest tenure of any MR commander on record. Among his deputies during the 1960s were future regional leaders Sung Shilun, Wang Bicheng and Tan Qilong, As the armed forces were called in to restore administrative control, he became Chairman of the Jiangsu Province Revolutionary Committee (1968-74) and CCP First Secretary (1970-74). In the long-delayed military region reshuffle initiated under Deng Xiaoping, Xu was rotated to command the Guangzhou MR (1974-80). [Lamb, Malcolm, "Directory of Officials and Organizations in China, 1968-83", M.E. Sharpe (New York: 1983), p. 500-01 and 515-516).] Xu and political commissar Wei Guoqing provided protection for Deng Xiaoping in 1976, when the future paramount leader was purged by the Gang of Four following the death of Zhou Enlai. [Spence, Jonathan D. "The Search for Modern China" W. W. Norton & Company 1999. ISBN 0-393-97351-4, p. 618.] . Xu was also commander in chief for the Chinese forces in the Sino-Vietnamese War in 1979 [Spence, Jonathan D. "The Search for Modern China" W. W. Norton & Company 1999. ISBN 0-393-97351-4, p. 629] .

Central Power

After being elected an Alternate Member of the 8th Central Committee in 1956, Xu Shiyou served in the Politburo of the 9th, 10th and 11th CCP Central Committees (1969-82). He was a Vice Minister of National Defense (1959-70) and a member of the National Defense Council (1965-75). From 1980, he was also a member of the Military Affairs Commission. In September 1982, Xu became the only military officer named a founding Vice Chairmen of the Central Advisory Commission. [Lamb, p. 2, 15, 23 and 25.]


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