A new biography of Chinese Prime Minister Zhou Enlai contends the premier was an active homosexual who for years was in love with a male family friend and classmate two years his junior.
Tsoi Wing-mui, author of The Secret Emotional Life of Zhou Enlai, argues that despite his many years of marriage, Zhou had an enduring romantic relationship with Li Fujing.
“Zhou Enlai was a gay politician who had the misfortune of being born 100 years early,” Tsoi writes in her book.
The author says she invested three years researching the book, drawing from prime source material including public essays and speeches, letters, poems and a diary written by Zhou when he was 19 and studying in Japan.
According to Tsoi, former editor of Open Magazine, the underlying meaning of Zhou’s diaries was unintelligible to Chinese scholars and earlier biographers who had no concept of a homosexual relationship.
“When mainland Chinese authors came into contact with this material, they would not consider the possibility of homosexuality,” she told Reuters.
“Zhou Enlai was a tragic figure,” Tsoi said. “He was very famous and always under the media spotlight. But there were many aspects of his life that were like riddles and difficult to explain.”
Tsoi says that Zhou’s sexual orientation sheds light on certain shadowy aspects of his life, such as his tepid marriage with his wife, Deng Yingchao, and running off to join the Communist Party in France in 1921.
The Chinese-language book is being published in Hong Kong by the same house responsible for the publication of the secret diaries of Zhao Ziyang, the liberal premier expelled in 1989 after siding with the pro-democracy demonstrators of Tiananmen Square.
Tsoi says her biography will almost certainly be banned in China, where Zhou is a revered figure and her interpretation of his sexual life will be seen as an affront. Like Mao Zedong after him, Zhou is something of an icon for the Chinese Communist Party.
According to scholars, rumors of Zhou’s homosexuality have circulated for years, but have never been officially recognized.
According to Gao Wenqian, a U.S.-based biographer of Zhou, there was 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.”
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome