Ye Jianying was born in April 28, 1897, into a well-to-do merchant family north of Guangzhou (Canton). He was an instructor at the Whampoa Military Academy where he met Zhou Enlai. He remained close to Zhou during his entire life. He joined the Communist Party in 1924 in Germany, came back to China where he rose ultimately to become one of China's Ten Marshals.
Ye commanded the First Military Commission and later served as Chief of Staff of Zhang Guotao's Fourth Front Army. During the Long March, he assisted Liu Bocheng in directing the crossing of the Yangtze River. Not a man was lost during the crossing. During the danger of conflict between Zhang's Fourth Front Army and Mao's First Front Army Ye intercepted by accident a message from Zhang Guotao attempting to overthrow Mao. He took the message to Mao to warn him. Mao told Ye, "You have done a wonderful thing."
After Mao's Army had slipped away, Ye was able to secure a map that had fallen to the floor and he and General Yang Shangkun (who later became the President of the PRC) were able to slip away on foot and alone. They managed to escape because it was expected that they were on horses and had a large contingent guarding these two high ranking generals.
After the formation of the PRC, he would serve for many years as Defense Minister. He survived the Cultural Revolution, paid lip service to Jiang Qing, but led the conspiracy of generals and Party seniors that overthrew Jiang Qing and the Gang of Four.