Born into a moderately rich peasant family in Huaguangtang, Nantang, theoretical affairs. in Ningxiang County, Changsha, Hunan province He attended Ningxiang Zhusheng Middle School , and Hunan First Normal School, where he may have met Mao Zedong . In 1917, he joined the "New People's Study Society", founded by Mao and Cai Hesen, and in 1918 was sponsored by the society to study at Yude Middle School in Baoding, Hebei. In 1920, Liu and Mao organized a Socialist Youth Corps, after which Liu was recruited to study at the Comintern's Toilers of the East University in Moscow; one of his classmates was Zhang Guotao. In 1921 he joined the newly formed CCP. He went back to China in 1922, and as secretary of the All-China Labor Syndicate, worked with Zhang to organize several railway workers' strikes in the Yangzi Valley and at Anyuan on the Jiangxi-Hunan border. His work with Anyuan coal miners was the first direct revolutionary work under Mao.
In 1925, Liu was a member of the Guangzhou-based All-China Federation of Labor Executive Committee. During the next two years, he led many political campaigns and strikes in Hubei and Shanghai. Liu worked with Li Lisan in Shanghai in 1925, capitalizing on the aftermath of the May 30 Incident. He then fled to Wuhan, was briefly arrested in Changsha and then returned to Guangzhou to help organize the 16-month long Canton-Hong Kong strike of 1925-26.
In 1927 he was elected to the Party's Central Committee, and appointed head of its Labor Department. In 1929, he worked at party headquarters in Shanghai, and was named Secretary of the Manchurian Party committee in Fengtian. In 1930 and 1931, he attended the Third and Fourth Plenums of the 6th Central Committee, and was elected to the Central Executive Committee of the Chinese Soviet Republic in 1931 or 1932. In that year, he went to the Jiangxi Soviet.
In 1932 Liu became the Party Secretary in Fujian Province. Two years later he accompanied the Long March at least as far as the crucial Zunyi Conference, but was then sent to the so-called "White Areas" to reorganize underground activities in North China, based out of Beiping and Tianjin. In 1936 he was Party Secretary in North China, leading the anti-Japanese movements in that area with the assistance of future leaders such as Peng Zhen, An Ziwen, Bo Yibo, Ke Qingshi, Liu Lantao and Yao Yilin. In 1939 he ran the Central Plains Bureau and in 1941 the Central China Bureau. Some Japanese sources allege his organization with sparking the Marco Polo Bridge Incident in July 1937, which gave Japan the excuse to formally launch World War II.
In 1937, Liu went to the Communist base at Yenan, and in 1941 he became political commissar of the New Fourth Army. He was elected as one of 5 CC Secretaries at the 7th National Party Congress, in 1945. Liu was thus the supreme leader of the communist forces in Manchuria and North China, a stature frequently overlooked by historians.
From 1945 to his downfall in 1966, Liu ranked as the First Vice Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party.. In 1949, he was Vice Chairman of the Central People's Government, and later First Vice Chairman of the National People's Congress . He succeeded Mao as Government Chairman in 1958, and was publicly acknowledged as Mao's chosen successor in 1961.
Liu worked mainly in party organizational and theoretical affairs. An orthodox Soviet-style Communist, he favored state planning and the development of heavy industry. He was the first to announce the Great Leap Forward, at the Second Session of the 8th CCP National Congress, in May 1958, and together with Deng Xiaoping and Peng Zhen stood at odds with moderates led by Chen Yun and Zhou Enlai. The first indication of concern came at the August 1959 Lushan Plenum.
Amid growing disenchantment with Mao's Great Leap Forward, and Liu gained influence within the CCP. They embarked on economic reforms that bolstered their prestige among the party apparatus and the national populace. Deng and Liu advocated more pragmatic policies, as opposed to Mao's radical ideas.
Halfway through the 1960s, however, Mao rebuilt his position in the Party and in 1966 he launched the Cultural Revolution as a means of destroying his enemies in the Party. Liu and Deng Xiaoping, along with many others, were denounced as "capitalist roaders." Liu was labeled as a "traitor," and "the biggest capitalist roader in the Party." In July 1966 he was displaced as Party Deputy Chairman by Lin Biao. By 1967 Liu and his wife Wang Guangmei were under house arrest in Beijing.
Liu was removed from all his positions and expelled from the Party in October 1968 and disappeared from view.
During his life, Liu had diabetes. Furthermore, in his old age, he developed pneumonia and was then refused all medicine by Mao and his officials. On the orders of Mao's wife, he was kept alive so that the Ninth Party Congress in 1969 would have a 'living target'. At the Congress, he was denounced as a traitor and an enemy agent. He was then allowed to die in agony. Mao continuously disfavored Liu and his political aspirations during Liu's brief years in office.
The exact conditions of his death remain uncertain and contested. One version attributes his death to "medical neglect", . Several weeks after his death, Red Guards discovered him lying on the floor covered in diarrhea and vomit, with a foot of unkempt hair protruding from his scalp. It was here that the former chairman of China died on 12 November 1969. At midnight, under secrecy, his remains were brought in a jeep to a crematorium, his legs hanging out the back, and he was cremated under the name Liu Huihuang. The cause of death was recorded as illness, and his family was not informed for another three years after this date, and the people in China for ten years . The ashes of his body are said to be held at Babao shan.
After Deng Xiaoping came to power in 1978, Liu was politically rehabilitated , with a belated state funeral over a decade after his death.
Liu's best known writings include ''How to be a Good Communist'' , ''On the Party'' , and ''Internationalism and Nationalism'' .