Selected Modern Chinese Essays: A Brief Sketch of Peng Dehuai

◎ Ding Ling

“Once on the battlefield, we begin to trust only one man. Scores of us will focus our attention on him and none dare to slack off. Even newcomers to the battlefront will throw aside all fears so long as he is present. When he gives orders, all will charge ahead unhesitatingly to defy the invisible presence of certain death. Yes we fear him, but we love him more.”

That’s what I heard from a 24-year-old young political commissar. While making these remarks, he flushed with excitement. Whom did he refer to?It’s Comrade Peng Dehuai, of whom I’m now making a brief sketch. At this moment he is our front-line Deputy Commander-in-Chief.

He is attired in the common grey uniform of a Red Army man, which, covered with a thin layer of yellowish dust and black greasy dirt, looks very shabby and, moreover, very unbecoming to him. But he doesn’t seem to care. His facial features are somewhat blurry because they are often chapped all over by the cold wind. From the pair of lively black eyes rolling about on a face short on handsomeness, one detects naivety and mischief seldom seen on the face of an adult. And his big mouth is fully expressive of tenacity—the tenacity of a proletarian revolutionary. Whenever young cadres or junior comrades meet him, they will have their militant hearts mollified by his most natural and sincere handshakes. Sometimes he also enjoys bantering with them, cracking jokes that are coarse but harmless. Much more often he will patiently explain to them various problems concerning politics or work, offering comradely encouragement in all sincerity. His listeners will have their hearts calmed down by his words and meanwhile feel pepped up. When he is silently absorbed in thought, everybody around him will keep quiet lest they should disturb him. Sometimes he is really stern and forbidding because, though lax about things in his own personal life, he is very strict with work. Those who have been harshly criticized by him will nevertheless love him all the more.

He often engages in small talk with villagers while holding them by the shoulder or stroking their backs. He will give the thumbs-up to the simple and honest peasants, saying, “Hi, you buddies are real nice guys…”They will in turn pat him on the shoulder or try to put their long-stemmed Chinese pipes to his mouth which he always declines with a smile. When he leaves them, he will always leave behind a permanent impression on the simple and honest country folks.