Xu Xiangqian, one of the famed 10 marshals of the Communist Party’s Red Army, died Friday, the official Xinhua News Agency reported. He was 88.
Xu, a former defense minister, led a division of the Red Army on the Long March in which about 90,000 people trekked nearly 6,000 miles to escape Nationalist Party forces. About half of the marchers died during the journey, which ended in early 1935.
Xu later led guerrilla units against the Japanese invaders.
Nie Rongzhen is now the only survivor among the 10 marshals, who included Mao Zedong’s heir, Lin Biao.
The nationally televised evening news, which opened its newscast by showing a portrait of Xu and playing solemn music, said he died after a long illness. No other details of his death were given.
The 10-minute television report said no funeral or memorial service would be held, at Xu’s request.
“Comrade Xu Xiangqian devoted his entire life to the Chinese people’s revolution and building (of a nation) and has earned the love and respect of the entire nation,” the report said.
He joined the Communist Party in 1927 and became active in its underground work against the ruling Nationalists. He helped set up one of the Communists’ first revolutionary base areas, which became a center for its political and military strategies.
Forces under Xu’s command captured the key northern city of Taiyuan in April, 1949.
After the Communist takeover, he held a series of prominent posts in the party, military and government until 1967, when he was accused of opposing Lin Biao and sabotaging the radical leftist Cultural Revolution.
In 1969, he was reelected to the party’s Central Committee. He was appointed minister of defense in March, 1978, a post he held until 1981.
As defense minister, Xu kept alive Mao’s idea of a “people’s army” but argued for a well-trained, well-equipped military force. He also advocated use of foreign military technology, a departure from China’s policy of self-sufficiency.
To win support for his views, Xu made alarming predictions of imminent Soviet aggression.
Xu’s military and political career ended in 1985, when he and other aging leaders, including fellow marshals Nie and Ye Jianying, were forced to resign. At the time, Xu was on the Politburo and Central Committee and was a vice chairman of the Central Military Commission.