Former Top Chinese Military Commander Dies at 58, Media Delays Reporting

By Frank Yue
Frank Yue
Frank Yue
Frank Yue is a Canada-based journalist for The Epoch Times who covers China-related news. He also holds an M.A. in English language and literature from Tianjin Foreign Studies University, China.
October 27, 2021 Updated: October 27, 2021

It took three weeks for Chinese state media to report on the death of a senior general of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

Zhang Xudong, former chief of the PLA’s Western Theater Command, died from illness in Beijing on Oct. 1, according to state media Xinhua News Agency on Oct. 21.

He was reportedly 58 years of age.

The announcement provided no specifics about the illness that caused his death. State media outlets seldom mention much in the way of personal details about high-ranking officials in their reports.

The announcement came 20 days after the general’s death and such delays in China are considered a rare occurrence but the date of his death coincided with communist China’s national day. The Chinese Communist Party established its regime on Oct. 1, 1949.

On the same day two years ago, Zhang rocketed to public attention when he showed up as the vice commander of a massive military parade at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. As a trusted aide for Chinese leader Xi Jinping, he helped organize the event marking the CCP’s 70th anniversary.

In China, such a massive parade was seen as a major occasion to boost Xi’s profile. A little more than one year later, in December 2020, Zhang received the title of full general and was later appointed chief of the Western Theater Command.

Public information shows the Western Theater Command is the largest of five of its type in China, with a jurisdiction that covers five provinces; Sichuan, Gansu, Qinghai, Shaanxi, and Yunnan; three ethnic minority regions of Ningxia, Tibet, and Xinjiang; and the municipality of Chongqing.

However, Zhang stepped down from the high position in June for unclear health reasons, half a year after taking office in December 2020. Afterward, he was assigned to work in the Central Military Commission’s Strategic Planning Committee.

Following his resignation, his successor Xu Qiling stayed at the position for a shorter period of time—two months—before his removal, again for undisclosed health causes. Currently, the head of the command is full general Wang Haijiang.

Frank Yue
Frank Yue is a Canada-based journalist for The Epoch Times who covers China-related news. He also holds an M.A. in English language and literature from Tianjin Foreign Studies University, China.