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Tuesday, 16 October, 2001, 07:40 GMT 08:40 UK
Tribute for Chinese hero
By BBC Shanghai correspondent Duncan Hewitt

One of the most revered figures in modern Chinese communist history, Zhang Xueliang, has died in Hawaii at the age of 100.

One of the regional warlord generals who dominated Chinese politics in the 1920s and 30s, Zhang Xueliang secured his place in history in 1936, when he arrested his boss, China's then nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek, and forced him to form an alliance with the communists against the Japanese.

The nationalists never forgave him, and kept him under house arrest for almost half a century.

When news of the death of Zhang Xueliang reached China from Hawaii, Chinese President Jiang Zemin was quick to praise him as a "great patriot".

Playboy

Yet the man known throughout his life as the Young Marshall was an unlikely communist hero.

In his youth, he was renowned as a playboy and opium addict; his father - a general who controlled much of north-eastern China after the collapse of the country's last imperial dynasty in 1911 - was responsible for the execution of many early communists.

When his father was assassinated by the Japanese in 1928, Zhang Xueliang took over his army.

Yet he grew increasingly disillusioned with his boss, China's then nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek, whom he saw as more interested in eliminating the communists than in preventing Japan's takeover of much of China.

Arrest

In 1936, when Chiang Kai-shek paid him a visit, the Young Marshal had him arrested, and forced him to negotiate with the communists.

The two sides formed a united front which held shakily until the end ofWorld War II; but Chiang Kai-shek never forgave Zhang Xueliang, putting him under house arrest, and transporting him to Taiwan when he retreated there in 1949.

Zhang Xueliang was not freed until some four decades later when martial law was finally lifted in Taiwan.

Yet he expressed little bitterness; and though he said he dreamed of returning to the mainland, he never went, citing his wife's poor health; the couple later moved to Hawaii, where they received frequent visits from both the mainland and Taiwan.

Zhao Yidi, the Young Marshal's third wife, died last year after staying at his side through almost half a century of captivity.

Their story was described by one Chinese newspaper as a twentieth century version of Romeo and Juliet.

Links to more Asia-Pacific stories are at the foot of the page.


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