Liu Bocheng ( December 4, 1892 – October 7, 1986) was a Chinese Communist military commander and Marshal of the People’s Liberation Army.
Liu is known as one of the “Three and A Half” Strategists of China in modern history. (The other two are Lin Biao, commander of the CPC, and Kuomintang commander Bai Chongxi, and the half refers to CPC commander Su Yu.) Officially, Liu was recognised as a revolutionary, military strategist and theoretician, and one of the founders of the People’s Liberation Army. Liu’s nicknames, Chinese Mars and The One-eyed Dragon, also reflect his character and military achievement.
Liu was born to a peasant family in Kaixian, Sichuan (the site is currently submerged by the Three Gorges Dam). Although he grew up in poverty, Liu made a determined effort in his studies and gained good grades at school. Influenced by the revolutionary theories of Sun Yat-sen, he later decided to dedicate himself to the cause of establishing a democratic and modern China.
In 1911, Liu joined the Boy Scouts in support of the Xinhai Revolution. In the following year, he enrolled in the Chongqing Military Academy and later joined the army against Yuan Shikai, who was planning to undermine the Xinhai Revolution and proclaim himself Emperor. In 1914, Liu joined Sun Yat-sen’s party and gained extensive military experience.
During one battle during this period he captured 10,000 enemy soldiers, for which he was promoted to brigade commander. In 1916, he lost his right eye in a battle for Fengdu county, Sichuan.
After he lost the eye he gained the nickname “One-Eyed Dragon”. Alternative accounts of how Liu lost his eye have included the speculation that he lost it either earlier, in the 1911 Xinhai Revolution, or later, during the Long March.
In 1923, during a war against the warlord Wu Peifu, in response to the Northern Expedition of the Kuomintang, Liu was appointed commander of the Eastern Route, and later was promoted to commanding general in Sichuan. Liu displayed his military talent in battles against various warlords.
While fighting the army of Long Yun, a Yunnan warlord, Liu defeated a force commanded by Zhu De, who would later become one of his closest comrades in the Red Army.
In the same year, Liu became acquainted with Yang Angong , the elder brother of Yang Shangkun) and Wu Yuzhang , who were among the earliest Communists of Sichuan. Their relationship marked Liu’s first real exposure to the theory and practice of Communism.
In May 1926, Liu joined the CPC and was appointed military commissioner of Chongqing. In December 1926, along with Zhu De and Yang, Liu masterminded the Luzhou and Nanchong uprising, fought against local warlords, while supporting the Northern Expedition.
In 1927, Liu was appointed army corps commander of the 15th Temporarily Organized National Revolutionary Army. It was during this time that Liu witnessed the split between the Kuomintang and the CPC. After joining the CPC, Liu led the Nanchang Uprising together with Zhu De, He Long, Ye Ting, Li Lisan and Zhou Enlai, effectively declaring war on the KMT.
During this uprising, Liu was appointed the first chief of staff of the newly born Chinese Red Army. However, after a series of defeats Liu’s forces were destroyed, and its leaders went underground. In 1927 Liu was selected to travel to Moscow, where he mastered Russian and attended the prestigious Frunze Military Academy. While studying in the Soviet Union he learned conventional, Western-style military tactics.
While in Russia he translated a Russian textbook into Chinese, Combined Arms Tactics, produced a commentary of Sun Tzu’s Art of War, both of which promoted conventional tactics. Later on, Liu gave a lecture on the subject at the 6th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, which was held in Moscow.
In 1936, after the Xian Incident, Chiang agreed to set up an alliance with the CPC in the fight against Japanese invaders. On July 7, 1937, after the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, general war between China and Japan broke out. Under the agreement with Chiang, CPC armies were reorganised into 8th Route Army, and Liu was appointed commander of the 129th Division, one of its three divisions. It was then that he began his long cooperation with Deng Xiaoping, his commissar at that time.
According to the orthodox record of the CCP, their cooperation and friendship lasted more than five decades. Their respective military and political talents complemented the other’s perfectly, and there was a very high level of trust between them. They were said to have formed a perfect pair.
However, their true relationship might not have been as close as it seemed. Firstly, Mao distrusted most of his generals, and sent his associates out as commissars to supervise these generals. Deng, who was Mao’s close associate from 1930’s when he worked in Jiangxi, was sent out for Liu, and Luo Ronghuan for Lin Biao. Secondly, in contrast to Liu’s role as a professional soldier, Deng was a political activist and knew little about the military. Their personalities and personal lives were vastly different, which might have posed a barrier to their becoming true friends.
Liu, Deng and Deputy Commander Xu Xiangqian led their troops to Shanxi, and carried out bushfighting around Taihang Mountain. After rounds of successful battles against the Japanese army, they set up the Jinjiyu Base Area which consisted of parts of Shanxi, Hebei and Henan. In 1940, Liu led his division in the Hundred Regiments Campaign, a major campaign led by Peng to breach the blockage on CPC base areas enforced by Japanese forces under the command of General Okamura Yasuji .
At the same time, Liu integrated regular forces with militia, using frontal attack and bushfighting to frustrate the Japanese army’s suppression and clean-out efforts. The Japanese were so irritated that they sent agents to assassinate Liu.
Although their mission was a failure, they did succeed in murdering Liu’s first daughter when she was kept in kindergarten. The Japanese thought that this revenge might distract Liu, but they underestimated Liu’s willpower. His heightened loathing for the Japanese gave him more courage under fire and more inspiration in command.
In 1943, Liu was called back to Yan’an for Zheng Feng. He pledged his allegiance to Mao and supported Mao’s power struggle with Wang Ming. On the contrary, Peng stood by Wang and as a result fell out of favour with Mao. This was an indication of Liu’s prudence in politics as well.
(Despite this, Liu was still labelled a dogmatist for pursuing his studies in Russia, and he had to make a public apology against his will in 1959.) In 1945, Liu attended the 7th National Congress of the CPC in Yan’an, and prepared the counterattack against the Japanese and the forthcoming civil war with KMT armies.