The former senior Chinese diplomat Xiong Xiang-hui, who has died aged 86, played a vital undercover role during the final phase of the communist revolution, after the second world war, which may have tipped the balance in Mao Zedong‘s favour. Twenty or so years later, he was a key figure in the re-emergence of the country onto the international scene, attending secret meetings in Beijing with the US secretary of state Henry Kissinger and joining communist China’s first delegation to the United Nations in 1971.
Outside China, however, Xiong’s importance is barely known. His name does not appear in Kissinger’s memoirs or in recent biographies of Mao. The full extent of his exploits was only revealed in 1991, when he published Twelve Years Underground with Zhou Enlai, followed by several essays on his postwar career. But though the revelations attracted media attention in China, they went virtually unnoticed in the outside world.
Xiong’s involvement in politics began as a student in 1936. After secretly joining the Communist party, he managed to get onto the staff of Hu Zongnan, one of the nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek’s most able generals, serving as his confidential secretary for 10 years.