Archer’s Chou En-lai is not a mere chronicle of this leader’s historical accomplishments. It is a remarkable portrait of Chou as a man of brilliant wit, stern integrity, radiant exuberance, charming grace, extraordinary courage, and composure. With clarity, sensitivity, and momentum, Archer delineates these qualities, which made Chou a charismatic leader. To create a three-dimensional character, he portrays Chou’s personality not only in his political life but in his personal life as well, especially his love for and marriage with Teng Ying-chao. Archer not only directly narrates Chou’s actions and reactions at critical moments but also includes dramatic scenes that reveal his character, such as his meeting during the Sian Incident with Chiang Kai-shek, who put an $80,000 bounty on his head, or his encounter at a Geneva conference with U.S. secretary of state John Foster Dulles, who said that he expected to meet Chou privately only if their automobiles collided. Observations of Chou by his admirers, detractors, and adversaries are also incorporated into the narrative in order to shed light on his character from different angles. Thanks to Archer’s skillful characterization, the reader can visualize Chou’s image even without the aid of photographs or other illustrations.
Archer employs a dispassionate tone, but he is not apathetic. In writing the biography, he entered into a certain relationship with his subject and, according to noted...
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Jules Archer is a prolific author of nonfiction. He has written more than sixty books, many of which are biographies. His subjects range from U.S. presidents to civil rights advocates to such communist leaders as Mao Tse-tung, Ho Chi Minh, Tito, and Joseph Stalin, as well as Italian fascist Benito Mussolini. Archer broke away from the tradition of presenting to young people only famous American figures with accomplishments and personalities worthy of emulation. Whoever his subject is, he does serious research to arrive at the whole truth and tells it honestly, the good and the bad alike. Chou En-lai is a typical example of Archer’s biographies and one of the best juvenile biographies that present an important worldview to young people.
Among biographies of Chou En-lai accessible to young people, Archer’s Chou En-lai stands out strikingly. Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler’s Chou En-lai (1986), with many illustrations and a brief text, is intended for younger readers and does not have a narrative as rich and lively as Archer’s. Ed Hammond’s Coming of Grace (1980), also liberally adorned with photographs, does not have a poignant style or a well-wrought characterization comparable to Archer’s biography. John Roots’s Chou: An Informal Biography of China’s Legendary Chou En-lai (1977) benefits from the author’s personal knowledge of Chou but to some extent also suffers from his closeness to the subject: His portrayal of Chou is not as balanced as Archer’s.