Lin Biao (pinyin: L n Bi o; IPA: ; December 5, 1907 September 13, 1971) was a major Chinese Communist military leader who was pivotal in the communist victory in the Chinese Civil War, especially in Northeastern China. Lin was the general who commanded the decisive Liaoshen Campaign and Pingjin Campaign, co-led the Northeast battlefield army of the People's Liberation Army into Beijing, and crossed the Yangtze River in 1949. He ranked third among the Ten Marshals. Zhu De and Peng Dehuai were considered senior to Lin, and Lin ranked ahead of He Long and Liu Bocheng.
Lin abstained from taking an active role in politics after the civil war, but became instrumental in creating the foundations for Mao Zedong's cult of personality in the early 1960s. Lin was rewarded for his service to Mao by being named Mao's designated successor during the Cultural Revolution, from 1966 until his death.
Lin died in September 1971 when his plane crashed in Mongolia, following what appeared to be a failed coup to oust Mao. Because little inside information is available to the public on this "Lin Biao incident", the exact events preceding Lin's death have been a source of speculation among China scholars ever since. Following Lin's death, he was officially condemned as a traitor by the Communist Party of China. He and Jiang Qing are still considered to be the two "major Counter-revolutionary cliques" blamed for the excesses of the Cultural Revolution.
200px Lin Biao was the son of a small landlord in the village of Huanggang, Hubei. His name at birth was "Lin Yurong". Lin's father opened a small handicrafts factory in the mid-late 1910s, but was forced to close the factory due to "heavy taxes imposed by local militarists". After closing the factory, Lin's father worked as a purser aboard a river steamship. Lin entered primary school in 1917, but moved to Shanghai in 1919 to continue his education. As a child, Lin was much more interested in participating in student movements than in pursuing his formal education; and, after Lin graduated in 1924, he enrolled in the newly established Whampoa Military Academy later that year.
Lin joined the Communist Youth League in 1925, and matriculated at the Whampoa Military Academy when he was 18, during the First United Front between the Communists and the Kuomintang. As a young cadet, Lin admired the personality of Chiang Kai-shek, who was then the Principal of the Academy. At Whampoa, Lin also studied under Zhou Enlai, who was eight years older than Lin. Lin had no contact with Zhou after their time in Whampoa, until they met again in Yan'an in the late 1930s. Lin's relationship with Zhou was never especially close, but they rarely opposed each other directly. Less than a year after graduating from Whampoa, Lin was ordered to participate in the Northern Expedition, rising from deputy platoon leader to battalion commander in the National Revolutionary Army within a few months. By 1927 Lin was a colonel.
When he was 20 Lin married a girl from the countryside with the family name "Ong". This marriage was arranged by Lin's parents, and the couple never became close. When Lin left the Kuomintang to become a communist revolutionary, Ong did not accompany Lin, and their marriage effectively ended.
Chinese civil war
After the Kuomintang-Communist split, Lin participated in the Nanchang Uprising on August 1, 1927 as a company commander under a regiment led by Chen Yi. Following the failure of the revolt, Lin escaped to the remote Communist base areas, and joined Mao Zedong and Zhu De in the Jiangxi Fujian Soviet in 1928. After joining forces with Mao, Lin became one of Mao's closest supporters.
Lin became one of the most senior military field commanders within the Jiangxi Soviet. He commanded the First Army Group, and achieved a degree of power comparable to that of Peng Dehuai, who commanded the Third Army Group. According to Otto Braun, Lin was "politically... a blank sheet on which Mao could write as he pleased" during this period. After Mao was removed from power in 1932 by his rivals, the 28 Bolsheviks, Lin frequently attended strategic meetings in Mao's name and openly attacked the plans of Mao's enemies.
Within the Jiangxi Soviet, Lin's First Army Group was the best-equipped, and arguably most successful, force within the Red Army. Lin's First Army became known for its mobility, and for its ability to execute successful flanking maneuvers. Between 1930-1933 Lin's forces captured twice the amount of prisoners of war and military equipment as the Third and Fifth Army Groups combined. The successes of Lin's forces are due partially to the division of labour within the Red Army: Lin's forces were more offensive and unorthodox than other groups, allowing Lin to capitalize on other Red Army commanders' successes.
During the Communists' defense against Chiang's 1933-34 Fifth Encirclement Campaign, Lin advocated a strategy of protracted guerilla warfare, and opposed the positional warfare advocated by Braun and his supporters. Lin believed that the best way to destroy enemy soldiers was not to pursue them or defend strategic points, but to weaken the enemy through feints, ambushes, encirclements, and surprise attacks. Lin's views generally conformed with the tactics advocated by Mao.
After Chiang's forces successfully occupied several strategic locations within the Jiangxi Soviet, in 1934, Lin was one of the first Red Army commanders to publicly advocate the abandonment of the Jiangxi Soviet, but he was opposed by most Red Army commanders, especially Braun and Peng Dehuai. After the Communists finally resolved to abandon their base, later in 1934, Lin continued his position as one of the most successful commanders in the Red Army during the Long March. Under the direction of Mao and Zhou, the Red Army finally arrived at the remote Communist base of Yan'an, Shaanxi, in December 1936.
Lin and Peng Dehuai were generally considered the Red Army's best battlefield commanders, and were not rivals during the Long March. Both of them had supported Mao's rise to de facto leadership at Zunyi in January 1935. Lin may have become privately dissatisfied with Mao's strategy of constant evasion by the end of the Long March, but continued to support Mao publicly.
Lin Biao did not present the bluff, lusty face of Peng Dehuai. He was ten years younger, rather slight, oval-faced, dark, handsome. Peng talked with his men. Lin kept his distance. To many he seemed shy and reserved. There are no stories reflecting warmth and affection for his men. His fellow Red Army commanders respected Lin, but when he spoke it was all business ....
The contrast between Mao's top field commanders could hardly have been more sharp, but on the Long March they worked well together, Lin specializing in feints, masked strategy, surprises, ambushes, flank attacks, pounces from the rear, and stratagems. Peng met the enemy head-on in frontal assaults and fought with such fury that again and again he wiped them out. Peng did not believe a battle well fought unless he managed to replenish and more than replenish any losses by seizure of enemy guns and converting prisoners of war to new and loyal recruits to the Red Army.
The American journalist Edgar Snow met Lin Biao in the Communist base of Shaanxi in 1936, and wrote about Lin in his book, Red Star Over China. Snow's account focused more on the role of Peng than Lin, evidently having had long conversations with, and devoting two whole chapters to, Peng (more than any individual apart from Mao). But he says of Lin:
With Mao Zedong, Lin Biao shared the distinction of being one of the few Red commanders never wounded. Engaged on the front in more than a hundred battles, in field command for more than 10 years, exposed to every hardship that his men have known, with a reward of $100,000 on his head, he miraculously remained unhurt and in good health.
(Within a year of Snow's reporting this, Lin was seriously wounded).
In 1932, Lin Biao was given command of the 1st Red Army Corps, which then numbered about 20,000 rifles. It became the most dreaded section of the Red Army. Chiefly due to Lin's extraordinary talent as a tactician, it destroyed, defeated or outmanoeuvered every Government force sent against it and was never broken in battle ....
Like many able Red commanders, Lin has never been outside China, speaks and reads no language but Chinese. Before the age of 30, however, he has already won recognition beyond Red circles. His articles in the Chinese Reds' military magazines ... have been republished, studied and criticised in Nanking military journals, and also in Japan and Soviet Russia.
Lin and Mao generally had a close personal relationship, but some accounts claim that Lin sometimes made disparaging comments about Mao in private, and that Lin's support of Mao was largely for the pursuit of power. After arriving in Yan'an, Lin became the principal of the newly-founded "Anti-Japanese University". In 1937 Lin married one of the students there, a girl named Liu Ximin, who had earned the nickname "University Flower".
Second Sino Japanese War (1937 1945)
In August 1937, Lin was named commander-in-chief of the 115th Division of the Communist 8th Route Army and ordered to aid Yan Xishan's forces in repelling the Japanese invasion of Shanxi. In this capacity, Lin orchestrated the ambush at Pingxingguan in September 1937, which was one of the few battlefield successes for the Chinese in the early period of the Second Sino-Japanese War.
In 1938, while he was still leading Chinese forces in Shanxi, Japanese soldiers who had joined the Communists and were serving under Lin's command presented Lin with a Japanese uniform and katana, which they had captured in battle. Lin then put the uniform and katana on, jumped onto a horse, and rode away from the army. While riding, Lin was spotted alone by a sharpshooter in Yan's army. The soldier was surprised to see a Japanese officer riding a horse in the desolate hills alone. He took aim at Lin and severely injured him. The bullet grazed Lin's head, penetrating deep enough to leave a permanent impression on his skull. After being shot in the head, Lin fell from his horse and injured his back.
Recovering from his wounds and ill with tuberculosis, Lin left for Moscow at the end of 1937, where he served as the representative of the Communist Party of China to the Executive Committee of the Communist International. He remained in Moscow until February 1942, working on Comintern affairs and writing for its publication. Lin was accompanied by his wife, Liu Ximin, but their relationship deteriorated in Moscow, and Lin eventually returned to Yan'an without her.
While in Moscow, Lin became infatuated with Zhou Enlai's adopted daughter, Sun Weishi, who was studying in Moscow from 1938-1946. Before returning to China, in 1942, Lin proposed to Sun and promised to divorce his wife, from whom Lin had become estranged. Sun was not able to accept Lin's proposal, but promised to consider marrying Lin after completing her studies. Lin divorced Liu Ximin after returning to China, and married another woman, Ye Qun, in 1943. The relationship between Sun and Ye was notably bad. After returning to Yan'an, Lin was involved in troop training and indoctrination assignments.
Defeating the Kuomintang
Lin as commander-in-chief of the Manchurian Field Army. Lin was absent for most of the fighting during World War II, but was elected the sixth-ranking Central Committee member in 1945 based on his earlier battlefield reputation. With the resumption of the Chinese Civil War, Lin commanded the Red Army forces that conquered the Manchurian provinces, and then swept into North China. Forces under Lin were responsible for winning two of the three major military victories responsible for the defeat of the Kuomintang. Lin suffered from ongoing periods of serious illness throughout the campaign.
Lin with high ranking officers under his command (Harbin, 1946)
By the end of 1945 Lin had 280,000 troops in Manchuria under his command. Mao and other communist leaders intended to take over the whole of Northeast China as their base, but with the withdrawal of the Soviet Army it was clear that they would have to fight for it. For the sake of bargaining with the Nationalists (Kuomintang) in the peace negotiation, Mao ordered Lin to assemble key armies to defend key cities, which was against the previous strategy of the CPC Red Army. Lin suffered a major defeat in Siping, and retreated before receiving clear orders from Mao. Lin suggested seriously that the Red Army should change its strategy. In order to achieve victory, Lin's forces abandoned the cities and employed Mao's strategy of guerrilla warfare and winning peasant support in the countryside. Within a year of active command in Manchuria, Lin had entrapped the core of Chiang Kai-shek's American-armed and American-trained armies, capturing or killing a total of thirty-six generals.
Between the fall of 1948 and the spring of 1949, Lin commanded two of the "three great campaigns" waged by the PLA in northern China. Lin directed the Liaoshen Campaign, commanding a force of 700,000 against a KMT force of 550,000. Lin eliminated 470,000 Nationalist soldiers and secured the region for the Communists. Following the victory in Manchuria, Lin commanded over a million soldiers, encircling Chiang's main forces in northern China during the Pingjin Campaign, taking Beijing and Tianjin within a period of two months. Tianjin was taken by force, and on January 22, 1949 General Fu Zuoyi and his army of 400,000 men agreed to surrender Beijing without a battle, and the PLA occupied the city on January 31. The Pingjin Campaign saw Lin eliminate a total of approximately 520,000 enemy troops. Many of those who surrendered later joined the PLA.
After taking Beijing, the Communists attempted to negotiate for the surrender of the remaining KMT forces. When these negotiations failed, Lin resumed his attacks on the KMT in the southeast. After taking Beijing, Lin's army numbered 1.5 million soldiers. By the end of 1949 the Red Army succeeded in occupying all KMT positions on mainland China. The last position occupied by Lin's forces was the island of Hainan.
Lin Biao was regarded as one of the Communist's most brilliant generals after the founding of the People's Republic of China, in 1949. Lin was the youngest of the "Ten Marshals" named in 1955, a title that recognized Lin's substantial military contributions.
Lin Biao continued to suffer from poor health after 1949, and chose to avoid high-profile military and political positions. His status led him to be appointed to a number of high-profile positions throughout most of the 1950s, but these were largely honorary and carried few responsibilities. He generally delegated or neglected many of the formal political responsibilities that he was assigned, usually citing his poor health as an excuse.
After Lin's injury in 1938, he suffered from ongoing physical and mental health problems. His exact medical condition is not well understood, partially because his medical records have never been publicly released. Dr. Li Zhisui, then one of Mao's personal physicians, believed that Lin suffered from neurasthenia and hypochondria. He became ill whenever he perspired, and suffered from phobias about water, wind, cold, light, and noise. He was said to become nervous at the sight of rivers and oceans in traditional Chinese paintings, and suffered from diarrhea, which could be triggered by the sound of running water. Li's account of Lin's condition is notably different from the official Chinese version.
Lin suffered from excessive headaches, and spent much of his free time consulting Chinese medical texts and preparing traditional Chinese medicines for himself. He suffered from insomnia, and often took sleeping pills. He ate simple meals, did not smoke, and did not drink alcohol. As his condition progressed, his fear of water led to a general refusal to either bathe or eat fruit. Because of his fear of wind and light, his office was gloomy and lacked any ventilation. Some accounts have suggested that Lin became a drug addict, either to opium or morphine.
As early as 1953, Soviet doctors diagnosed Lin as suffering from manic depression. Lin's wife, Ye Qun, rejected this diagnosis, but it was later confirmed by Chinese doctors. Lin's fragile health made him vulnerable, passive, and easily manipulated by other political figures, notably Ye Qun herself.
Lin's complaints got worse with time and age. In the years before his death, the fiancee of Lin's son reported that Lin became extremely distant and socially and politically detached, even to the extent that he never read books or newspapers. His passivity made him difficult to connect with at any meaningful level: "usually he just sat there, blankly". In Lin's rare periods of activity, he used his time mostly to complain about, and seek treatment for, his large variety of medical issues.
Alliance with Mao
Lin, like most of the Politburo, initially held serious reservations about China's entry into the Korean War, citing the devastation that would result if the "imperialists" detonated an atomic bomb in Korea or China. Lin later declined to lead forces in Korea, citing his ill health. In early October 1950, Peng Dehuai was named commander of the Chinese forces bound for Korea, and Lin went to the Soviet Union for medical treatment. Lin flew to the Soviet Union with Zhou Enlai and participated in negotiations with Joseph Stalin concerning Soviet support for China's intervention, indicating that Mao retained his trust in Lin.
Due partially to his periods of ill health and physical rehabilitation in the Soviet Union, Lin was slow to rise to power. In the early 1950s Lin one of five major leaders given responsibility for civil and military affairs, controlling a jurisdiction in central China. In 1953 he was visited by Gao Gang, and was later suspected of supporting him. In 1955 Lin was named to the Politburo. In February 1958 Peng Dehuai, then China's Defense Minister, gave a speech for the fortieth anniversary of the Soviet Red Army in which he suggested increasing the military cooperation between China and the Soviet Union. Mao wanted to distance China from the Soviet Union, and began grooming Lin Biao as a viable successor to Peng. In 1958 Lin joined the Politburo Standing Committee and became one of China's Vice-Chairmen. In 1959, after the Lushan Conference, the relationship between Mao and Peng led to Peng's arrest and removal from all government positions. Privately, Lin agreed with Peng's perspective on, and opposition to, Mao's Great Leap Forward, and he was strongly opposed to Peng being purged, but Lin's fear of being purged himself kept Lin from publicly opposing Mao's efforts to purge Peng, and Lin publicly condemned Peng as a "careerist, a conspiricist, and a hypocrite". Following Mao's direction, Peng was successfully disgraced and put under indefinite house arrest. Lin was the senior leader most supportive of Mao following the Great Leap Forward, in which Mao's economic policies caused an artificial famine in which tens of millions of people starved to death.
Lin initially refused to replace Peng, but finally accepted the position at the insistence of Mao Zedong. As Defense Minister, Lin's command of the PLA was second only to Mao, but he deferred many of his responsibilities to subordinates. The most important figures who Lin deferred the day-to-day operations of China's armed forces to were Chief of Staff Luo Ruiqing and the Central Military Vice-Chairman, He Long.
As Defense Minister, Lin's policies differed from that of his predecessor. Lin attempted to reform China's armed forces based on political criteria: he abolished all signs and privileges of rank, purged members considered sympathetic to the USSR, directed soldiers to work part-time as industrial and agricultural workers, and indoctrinated the armed forces in Mao Zedong Thought. Lin's system of indoctrination made it clear the Party was clearly in command of China's armed forces, and Lin ensured that the army's political commissars enjoyed great power and status in order to see that his directives were followed. Lin implemented these reforms in order to please Mao, but privately was concerned that they would weaken the PLA (which they did). Mao strongly approved of these reforms, and conscientiously promoted Lin to a series of high positions.
Lin used his position as Minister of Defense to flatter Mao by promoting Mao's cult of personality. Lin devised and ran a number of national Maoist propaganda campaigns based on the PLA, the most successful of which was the "learn from Lei Feng" campaign, which Lin began in 1963. Because he was the person most responsible for directing the "learn from Lei Feng" campaign, Lin may have directed the forging of Lei Feng's Diary, upon which the propaganda campaign was based.
Because of Lin's fragile health, Ye Qin controlled many aspects of Lin's public life during the 1960s, including who would see Lin and what others would know about him. Mao encouraged Ye to act on Lin's behalf, giving her an unusual amount of power and responsibility. In 1965 Mao asked Ye to publicly criticize Lin's chief of staff, Luo Ruiqing, on Lin's behalf, even though Ye did not yet hold any high political position. When Lin discovered that Ye had done so (after Luo was purged), he was angry at Ye, but powerless to alter Luo's disgrace.
Lin often read speeches prepared by others, and allowed his name to be placed on articles that he did not write, as long as these materials supported Mao. One of the most famous articles published in Lin's name was the 20,000-word pamphlet on revolution in developing countries, Long Live the Victory of the People's War!, which was released in 1965. This article made Lin one of China's leading interpreters of Mao's political theories. The article likened the "emerging forces" of the poor in Asia, Africa, and Latin America to the "rural areas of the world", while the affluent countries of the West were likened to the "cities of the world". Eventually the "cities" would be encircled by revolutions in the "rural areas", following theories prevalent in Mao Zedong Thought. Lin made no promise that China would fight other people's wars, and foreign revolutionaries were advised to depend mainly on "self-reliance".
Lin worked closely with Mao, promoting Mao's cult of personality. Lin directed the compilation of some of Chairman Mao's writings into a handbook, the Quotations from Chairman Mao Zedong, which became known as the Little Red Book. Lin Biao's military reforms and the success of the 1962 Sino-Indian War impressed Mao. A propaganda campaign called "learn from the People's Liberation Army" followed. In 1966, this campaign widened into the Cultural Revolution.
The Cultural Revolution
Rise to prominence
Lin's support impressed Mao, who continued to promote Lin to higher political offices. After Mao's second-in-command, Liu Shaoqi, was denounced as a "capitalist roader" in 1966, Lin Biao emerged as the most likely candidate to replace Liu as Mao's successor. Lin attempted to avoid this promotion, but accepted it on Mao's insistence.
Privately, Lin opposed the purging of Liu and Deng Xiaopeng, on the grounds that they were "good comrades", but was not able to publicly oppose Mao's condemnation of them. Lin privately admired Liu, and once told his daughter that Liu had "a better understanding of theory than Mao". Zhou Enlai was also considered for the position of Vice-Chairman, but Zhou successfully withdrew from the nomination, leaving Lin the only candidate.
Lin also seriously attempted to withdraw from the nomination, but was not able to do so because Mao had made Lin's appointment a decision of the Central Committee, so rejecting the position would violate Party procedure and would risk ending Lin's political career. Lin was not present at the conference where it was decided to name him vice chairman. After Lin was named, he met with Mao and begged him personally not to name him to the position, but Mao criticized him, comparing Lin to the Ming emperor Shizong, who devoted so much of his time to the search for longevity medicines that Shizong neglected his government responsibilities. In 1966 all other candidates for the position were removed, and Lin accepted the position as sole Vice-Chairman, replacing Liu Shaoqi as Mao's unofficial successor. After his appointment, Lin again attempted to submit a formal written request to Mao, asking Mao to rescind Lin's appointment to the position of vice-chairman, but Mao again rejected this request. When Lin received the rejection letter, he was so angry that he tore the letter up and threw it in the garbage.
Because there was no way to avoid becoming Mao's second-in-command, Lin attempted to protect himself from the chaos of the Cultural Revolution by giving absolute support to Mao and doing very little else. Lin avoided expressing any opinion, or making any decision on any matter, until Mao's own opinions and positions on that matter were clear, after which Lin would adhere as closely to Mao's direction as possible. Lin made sure that, whenever he and Mao were scheduled to appear in the same place, Lin would always arrive earlier than Mao, waiting to greet the Chairman. Lin attempted to make all observers believe that he was Mao's closest follower, always appearing beside Mao in all of Mao's public appearances with a copy of Mao's Little Red Book. When he was informed that the public's image of Lin was that he was "Mao's best student", Lin was pleased, and stated: "I don't have any talent. What I know, I learned from Mao."
Because Lin had no real interest in the position of Vice-Chairman, he did little other than whatever he believed would ingratiate himself to Mao. Privately, Lin had no interest in promoting the Cultural Revolution, and attended government meetings only when Mao demanded that he do so. Those colleagues closest to Lin noted that Lin avoided talking about the Cultural Revolution in any context other than public speeches, and when pressed would only make very brief and ambiguous statements. After 1966 Lin made no phone calls, received few visitors, secluded himself from his colleagues, and gained a reputation as being "reticent and mysterious". He did not take an active role in government, but allowed his secretaries to read short summaries of selected documents for half an hour in the morning and half and hour in the afternoon. This was generally insufficient to fulfill the responsibilities of vice-chairman, and he left most important work and family duties to his wife, Ye Qun.
Lin's passivity was part of a calculated plan to survive the Cultural Revolution alive and well. When Lin perceived that his longtime subordinate, Tao Zhu, was in danger of being purged in the beginning of the Cultural Revolution, Lin sent a letter to warn Tao, advising Tao to be "passive, passive, and passive again". Tao probably did not understand Lin's advice, and was successfully purged in 1967. In his relationship with Mao, Lin adopted a policy of "three 'nos': no responsibility; no suggestions; no crime".
Following the lead of Mao, in 1966 Lin directed Red Guards in Beijing to "smash those persons in power who are traveling the capitalist road, the bourgeoisie reactionary authorities, and all royalists of the bourgeoisie, and to forcibly destroy the "four olds": old culture, old ideas, old customs, and old habits. In October 1966 students at Chinese military academies followed Lin's instructions, breaking into the offices of Lin's National Commission for Defense Science to abduct one of the department's directors, and claiming Lin's deputy chief of staff, Li Tianyu, who students accused of disciplining them. Lin continued to support the Red Guards until May 1967, when Mao accepted Zhou Enlai's appeals to moderate their radical activity through military intervention.
After 1966, Lin's few personal political initiatives were efforts to moderate the radical nature of the Cultural Revolution. Privately, he expressed unhappiness with the Cultural Revolution, but was unable to avoid playing a high-profile role due to the expectations of Mao, China's unpredictable political environment, and the manipulations of his wife and son, Ye Qun and Lin Liguo. After 1966 Lin, like Liu before him, attempted to build his own base of support so that he could better position himself for the inevitable, unpredictable political situation that would occur following the death of Mao. Lin's few proactive attempts to direct the Cultural Revolution were attempts to protect Red Guards and his political allies from political persecution, and to mediate the attempts of Jiang Qing and her followers to radicalize China's political climate. In May 1967 Lin's follower, Chen Boda, saved Zhou Enlai from being persecuted by Red Guards by convincing them that Zhou was Lin's follower and supporter. Zhou repaid Lin's assistance by giving him excessive public praise three months later, in August, but was forced to write a formal apology to Lin after Lin complained to Mao that such praise was inappropriate.
Lin and Jiang cooperated at the outset of the Cultural Revolution, but began to deteriorate in 1968 as Jiang frequently attempted to interfere in Chinese military affairs, which Lin found intolerable. By 1970 Lin and Ye were very unfriendly with Jiang Qing: Lin once referred to her as a "long-nosed pit viper". From 1968 until his death in 1971, Lin and his supporters disagreed with Zhou Enlai and his followers over the issue of China's relationship with the United States and the Soviet Union. Lin believed that both superpowers were equally threatening to China, and that they were colluding to thwart China's interests. Zhou Enlai believed that China should become closer to the United States, to mediate the threat posed by the Soviet military. Lin was supported by Jiang Qing in his opposition to pursuing a relationship with the United States, but was not able to permanently disrupt Zhou's efforts to contact the United States.
Lin Biao, as Defense Minister, was responsible for the Chinese response to the Zhenbao Island incident of March 1969, a battle with the Soviet Union over a small, uninhabited island on the border of Mongolia. Lin issued a report labeling the Soviet Union a "chauvinist" and "social imperialist" power, and issuing orders warning Chinese troops to be wary of an impending Soviet attack. Lin's followers attempted to use the hysteria generated by the incident in an effort to deepen the power that they had gained during the Cultural Revolution, disregarding and acting against the interests of Zhou Enlai and his supporters.
Height of power
Lin officially became China's second-in-charge in April 1969, following the 1st Plenary Session of the 9th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China. Lin's position as Mao's "closest comrade-in-arms and successor" was recognized when the Party constitution was formally revised to reflect Lin's future succession. At the 9th Central Committee, Lin's faction was unquestionably dominant within the Politburo. Of the Politburo's twenty-one full members, Lin counted on the support of six members: the generals Huang Yongsheng, Wu Faxian, Li Zuopeng, Qiu Huizo; Ye Qun; and Chen Boda, an ambitious ideologue. Lin's support surpassed the number of members aligned with Jiang Qing, and far surpassed those aligned with Zhou Enlai. Because over 45% of the Central Committee were of members of Army, Lin's supporters dominated the Politburo, and Lin's power was second only to Mao.
During the Second Plenary Session of the 9th Central Committee, from August September 1970, Mao became uncomfortable with Lin's growing power, and began to maneuver against Lin by undermining his supporters and attacking some of Lin's suggestions at the conference. At the Second Plenum, Lin advocated that Mao take the position of President, which had been dissolved after the removal of Liu Shaoqi, but Mao dismissed this appeal, suspecting Lin of using it to increase his own power. Mao did not attack Lin directly, but showed his displeasure by attacking Lin's ally, Chen Boda, who was quickly disgraced. Lin kept his position, but the events of the Lushan Conference revealed a growing distrust between Lin and Mao.
Because Lin was one of the most influential figures in promoting Mao's personality cult, he began to be criticized within the Party for its excesses later in 1970. After 1970, some factions within the Army, and those led by Zhou Enlai and Jiang Qing, began to distance themselves from Lin. In order to mediate Lin's growing power, Mao approved Zhou's efforts to rehabilitate a number of civilian officials who had been purged during the first years of the Cultural Revolution, and supported Zhou's efforts to improve China's relationship with the United States.
A serious rift developed between Mao and Lin. Mao was displeased with comments that Lin had made about his wife, Jiang Qing, at the Second Plenary Session of the 9th Central Committee. Generals loyal to Lin refused to accept Mao's criticism of them, and Mao began to question whether Lin continued to follow him unconditionally. Mao wanted Lin to make a self-criticism, but Lin stayed away from Beijing and resisted doing so. Ye Qun made a self-criticism, but it was rejected by Mao as not genuine. Zhou Enlai attempted to mediate between Mao and Lin, but by 1971 Lin had become extremely reclusive and difficult to talk with at any level, and Zhou's mediation failed. In July 1971 Mao decided to remove Lin and his supporters. Zhou again attempted to moderate Mao's resolution to act against Lin, but failed.
The "Lin Biao incident"
Lin died when a plane carrying him and several members of his family crashed in Mongolia on September 13, 1971, allegedly after attempting to assassinate Mao and defect to the Soviet Union. Following Lin's death, there has been widespread skepticism in the West concerning the official Chinese explanation, but forensic evidence conducted by Russia (which recovered the bodies following the crash) has confirmed that Lin was among those who died in the crash.
Official Chinese narrative
According to the Chinese government, Lin Biao was made aware that Mao no longer trusted him after the 9th Central Committee, and he harbored a strong desire to seize supreme power. In February 1971 Lin and his wife, Ye Qun (who was then a Politburo member), began to plot Mao's assassination. In March 1971, Lin's son, Lin Liguo (who was a senior Air Force officer) held a secret meeting with his closest followers at an Air Force base in Shanghai. At this meeting, Lin Liguo and his subordinates supposedly drafted a plan to organize a coup, titled "Project 571" (in Chinese, "5-7-1" is a homophone for "armed uprising"). Later that March, the group met again to formalize the structure of command following the proposed coup.
Mao was unaware of the coup plot; and, in August 1971, scheduled a conference for September to determine the political fate of Lin Biao. On August 15 Mao left Beijing to discuss the issue with other senior political and military leaders in southern China. On September 5, Lin received reports that Mao was preparing to purge him. On September 8, Lin gave the order to his subordinates to proceed with the coup.
Lin's subordinates planned to assassinate Mao by sabotaging his train before he returned to Beijing, but Mao unexpectedly changed his route on September 11. Mao's bodyguards foiled several subsequent attempts on Mao's life, and Mao safely returned to Beijing in the evening of September 12. By failing to assassinate Mao, Lin's coup attempt failed.
After realizing that their coup attempt had failed, Lin's party first considered fleeing south to their base of power in Guangzhou, where they would establish an alternate base of power and attack armed forces loyal to Mao in cooperation with the Soviet Union. After hearing that prime minister Zhou Enlai was investigating the incident, they abandoned this plan as impractical, and decided to flee to the Soviet Union instead. In the early morning of September 13, Lin Biao, Ye Qun, Lin Liguo, and several personal aides attempted to flee to the Soviet Union and boarded a prearranged Trident 1-E, (a CAAC B-256) piloted by Pan Jingyin, the deputy commander of the PLAAF 34th division. The plane did not take aboard enough fuel before taking off, ran out of fuel, and crashed near nd rkhaan in Mongolia on September 13, 1971. Everyone onboard, eight men and one woman, were killed.
Foreign perception of official Chinese explanation
The exact circumstances surrounding Lin's death remain unclear, due to a lack of surviving evidence. Many of the original government records relevant to Lin's death were secretly and intentionally destroyed, with the approval of the Politburo, during the brief period of Hua Guofeng's interregnum in the late 1970s. Among the records destroyed were telephone records, meeting minutes, personal notes, and desk diaries. The records, if they had survived, would have clarified the activities of Mao, Zhou Enlai, Jiang Qing, and Wang Dongxing relative to Lin, before and after Lin's death. Because of the destruction of government documentation related to Lin's death, the Chinese government has relied on the "evidence" provided by the "confessions" of purged officials close to Lin to corroborate the official narrative, but non-Chinese scholars generally regard this "evidence" as unreliable.
Ever since 1971, scholars outside of China have been skeptical of the Chinese government's official explanation of the circumstances surrounding Lin's death, based on alleged inconsistencies in the official explanation and the general lack of evidence. Skeptics claim that the official narrative does not sufficiently explain why Lin, one of Mao's closest supporters and one of the most successful Communist generals, would suddenly attempt a poorly-planned, abortive coup. The government narrative also does not sufficiently explain how and why Lin's plane crashed. Skeptics have claimed that Lin's decision to flee to the Soviet Union was illogical, on the grounds that the United States, or Taiwan would have been safer destinations.
Influential Western historians critical of the Chinese government's official story have promoted the view that Lin did not have either the intention or the ability to usurp Mao's place within the government or the Party. One theory attempted to explain Lin's flight and death by observing that Lin opposed China's rapprochement with the United States, which Zhou Enlai was organizing with Mao's approval. Because the Chinese government never produced evidence to support their report that Lin was onboard the plane that crashed in Mongolia, Western scholars originally doubted that Lin had died in the crash. One book, published anonymously using a Chinese pseudonym in 1983, claimed that Mao had actually had Lin and his wife killed in Beijing, and that Lin Liguo had attempted to escape by air. Other scholars suggested that Mao had ordered the Chinese army to shoot down Lin's plane over Mongolia.
The Chinese government has no interest in re-evaluating its narrative on the death of Lin Biao. When contacted for its comment on fresh evidence that surfaced on the Lin Biao incident after the Cold War, the Chinese Foreign Ministry stated: "China already has a clear, authoritative conclusion about the Lin Biao incident. Other foreign reports of a conjectural nature are groundless." Non-Chinese scholars interpreted China's reluctance to consider evidence that contradicts its "official" history as the result of a desire to avoid exploring any issue that may lead to criticism of Mao Zedong, or which may distract China from pursuing economic growth.
Subsequent scholarship and reliable eyewitness accounts
A six-month investigation by Western scholars in 1994 examined evidence in Russia, Mongolia, China, the United States, and Taiwan, and came to a number of conclusions, some of which were contrary to the official Chinese version of events. The study confirmed that Lin Biao, Ye Qun, and Lin Liguo were all killed in the crash. Lin's plane was travelling away from the Soviet Union at the time of its crash, making the exact sequence of events before Lin's death more confusing, and casting doubt on the possibility that Lin was attempting to seek asylum in the USSR. Lin's wife and son may have forced Lin to board the plane against his will. Several senior leaders within the Communist Party hierarchy knew that Lin's party would flee, but chose not to attempt to stop their flight. According to this study, Lin had attempted to contact the Kuomintang in Taiwan on two separate occasions shortly before his death. The findings of Lin's attempt to contact the Kuomintang supported earlier rumors from inside China that Lin was secretly negotiating with Chiang's government in order to restore the Kuomintang government in mainland China in return for a high position in the new government. The claims of Lin's contact with the Kuomintang have never been formally confirmed nor denied by either the Communist government nor the Nationalist government in Taiwan.
The eyewitness account of Zhang Ning, who was Lin Liguo's fiancee before his death, and another witness who requested anonymity, indicate a sequence of events different from the official narrative. According to Zhang, Lin Biao had become extremely passive and inactive by 1971. When Lin Liguo informed Ye Qun that Mao was preparing to strip Ye of her Politburo seat, the two became convinced that their family would be purged if they failed to act, and developed a plan to escape.
At 10 o'clock the night before Lin's party fled, Ye Qun announced that the family would board a plane at 7 the next morning to fly to Guangzhou. Lin's 27-year old daughter, Lin Liheng (known by the nickname "Doudou") opposed the escape plan, and contacted Lin's bodyguards to request that they guard her father from Ye. Doudou then phoned Zhou Enlai, but was not able to contact him directly, and Zhou only received Doudou's report second-hand.
Zhou received Doudou's message shortly after Doudou's phone call, directly from the general office of the Central Committee responsible for guarding China's senior leaders. The message contained Doudou's warning that Ye Qun and Lin Liguo were attempting to persuade Lin Biao to flee the country using an aircraft currently being prepared at Qinhuangdao Shanhaiguan Airport. Zhou called Wu Faxian, the commander of the air force, who verified the plane's existence. Zhou then issued orders that the plane could not take off without the written permission of himself and several other senior military officials, including Wu Faxian, general chief-of-staff Huang Yongsheng, and the commander of the navy and general chief-of-staff, Li Zuopeng. At 11:30, Ye Qun called Zhou and informed him that Lin Biao was planning to fly to Dalian, and denied that they had prepared a plane at Shanhuaiguan. Zhou then told Ye to wait for him to travel to see Lin before they left Beidaihe (where they were staying), issued orders to neutralize potentially disruptive officers close to Lin (Wu Faxian and Huang Yongsheng), and ordered two planes readied in Beijing so that he could fly to Lin's residence to personally deal with the matter.
Ye made an announcement that the party were to pack quickly. Two hours after Doudou contacted Zhou, soldiers had still not responded in any meaningful way. Ye and Lin Liguo woke Lin Biao and packed him into a waiting limousine. The party then drove to Shanhaiguan airport, 25 miles away from their residence in Beidaihe, where their plane was waiting. Lin's bodyguards told Doudou and another companion that they were ordered to take them as well, but Doudou and her companion refused.
One soldier shot at Lin's limousine as it left Beidaihe, but missed, and most soldiers that the party encountered on their way to the airport allowed the limousine to pass. According to the driver of Lin's limousine, there was no time to place mobile stairs next to the plane's entrance, so the party boarded the plane via a rope ladder. Lin Biao was so weak that he had to be lifted and pulled onto the plane.
Zhang Ning observed the plane after it left the airport. Lin's plane initially traveled southeast (in the direction of Guangzhou). The plane then returned twenty minutes later and circled the airport several times as if it were trying to land, but the runway lights had been turned off. Soviet officials and Mongolian witnesses reported that the plane then flew north, over Mongolia and almost to the Soviet border, but then turned around and began flying south before it crashed. A Mongolian who witnessed the plane crash reported that the plane's tail was on fire when it crashed.
None of Zhou's instructions prevented Lin's flight, and he learned that Lin's plane had taken off before he, himself, could fly to see Lin. Zhou then ordered all planes in China grounded without the written permission of Mao, himself, and several senior military leaders. He rushed to Zhongnanhai to brief Mao of Lin's flight, and asked Mao if he wanted to order Lin's plane shot down, but Mao replied that China should "let him go". At 8:30 PM, September 13, the Mongolian Foreign Ministry summoned the Chinese ambassador to make a formal complaint about the unauthorized entrance of a plane into Mongolian airspace, and reported to the ambassador that the plane had crashed, killing all on board. The Chinese ambassador to Mongolia then phoned Zhou Enlai, who then instructed the ambassador to tell the Mongolians that the plane had entered Mongolian airspace because it had gone off course.
Mongolian investigators were the first to inspect the wreckage, arriving later the same day. They found an identity card belonging to Lin Liguo, confirming Lin Liguo's presence on the flight. Markings on the plane and surviving miscellaneous personal items confirmed that the plane and passengers had originated from China, but the Mongolians were uncertain that any of the dead were either Lin Biao or Ye Qun. After inspecting the crash, the Mongolians buried the dead onsite.
Through the Chinese ambassador, Zhou requested and received permission for Chinese embassy staff to inspect the wreckage of Lin's plane, which they did on September 15 16. The staff reported to Zhou that the plane had caught fire while attempting to land, and then exploded. Zhou then sent additional staff to interview Mongolian witnesses of the crash, and to perform a detailed technical assessment of the crash. The report concluded that the plane had approximately 30 minutes of fuel when it crashed, but attempted to land without activating its landing gear or wing flaps.
Later in 1971 a Soviet medical team secretly traveled to the crash site and exhumed the bodies, which were by then modestly decomposed. The team removed the heads of two of the corpses suspected to be Lin Biao and Ye Qun and took them back to Russia for forensic examination. In 1972 the team concluded that the heads belonged to Lin Biao and Ye Qun (the heads are still stored in Russian archives). In order to corroborate their findings the team returned to Mongolia a second time to inspect the body believed to be Lin Biao's. After exhuming the body a second time the team found that the corpse's right lung had the remains of tuberculosis, which Lin had suffered from, confirming the Soviet identification. The Soviet team were not able to determine the cause of the crash, but hypothesized that the pilot was flying low to evade radar and misjudged the plane's altitude. Judging from the fires that burnt after the plane crashed, the Soviets estimated that it had enough fuel to fly to the Soviet cities of Irkutsk or Chita. All of the work and its results were kept secret from the public: outside of the investigative team, only KGB director Yuri Andropov and Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev were informed. The report remained classified until the early 1990s, after the end of the Cold War.
Graffiti with Lin Biao's foreword to Mao's Little Red Book. Lin's name (lower right) was later scratched out, presumably after his death
Lin Biao was survived by Doudou and one other daughter. All military officials identified as being close to Lin or his family (most of China's high military command) were purged within weeks of Lin's disappearance. On September 14, Zhou announced to the Politburo that four of the highest-ranking military officials in China were immediately suspended from duty and ordered to submit self-criticisms admitting their associations with Lin. This announcement was quickly followed by the arrest of ninety-three people suspected of being close to Lin, and within a month of Lin's disappearance over 1,000 senior Chinese military officials were purged. The official purge of Lin's supporters continued until it was closed by the 10th Central Committee in August 1973. The incident marked the end of the myth that Mao was always considered absolutely correct within the Party. The National Day celebrations on October 1, 1971, were cancelled.
The news of Lin's death was announced to all Communist Party officials in mid-October 1971, and to the Chinese public in November. The news was publicly received with shock and confusion. Mao Zedong was especially disturbed by the incident: his health deteriorated, and he became depressed. At the end of 1971 he became seriously ill, he suffered a stroke in January 1972, received emergency medical treatment, and his health remained unstable. Mao became nostalgic about some of his revolutionary comrades whose purging Lin had supported, and backed Zhou's efforts to conduct a widespread rehabilitation of veteran revolutionaries, and to correct some of the excesses of the Cultural Revolution (which he blamed on Lin). In the aftermath of the purge of Lin's supporters, Zhou Enlai replaced Lin as the second most powerful man in China, and Jiang Qing and her followers were never able to displace him. Without the support of Lin, Jiang was unable to prevent Zhou's efforts to improve China's relationship with the United States, or to rehabilitate cadres who had been purged during the Cultural Revolution. The clause in the Party constitution indicating that Lin was Mao's successor was not officially amended until the 10th Central Committee in August 1973.
The position of the Chinese government on Lin and the circumstances of his death changed several times over the decade following 1971. For over a year the Party first attempted to cover up the details of Lin's death. The government then began to issue partial details of the event, followed by an anti-Lin Biao propaganda campaign. After Mao's death, in 1976, the government confirmed its condemnation of Lin and generally ceased any dialogue concerning Lin's place in history. Throughout the 1970s, high-ranking leaders of the Chinese Communist Party, including Hua Guofeng, spread the story to foreign delegates that Lin had conspired with the KGB to assassinate Mao.
In 1974, Jiang Qing, Mao's fourth wife and a former political ally of Lin's, started the Criticize Lin, Criticize Confucius campaign, aimed at using Lin's scarred image to attack Zhou Enlai. Much of this propaganda campaign involved the creative falsification of history, including (false) details about how Lin had opposed Mao's leadership and tactics thoroughout his career. Lin's name became involved in Jiang's propaganda campaign after flashcards, made by Ye Qun to record Lin's thoughts, were discovered in Lin's residence following his death. Some of these flashcards recorded opinions critical of Mao. According to Lin's writings, Mao "will fabricate 'your' opinion first, then he will change 'your' opinion - which is not actually yours, but his fabrication. I should be careful of this standard trick." Another critical comment of Lin's states that Mao "worships himself and has a blind faith in himself. He worships himself to such an extent that all accomplishments are attributed to him, but all mistakes are made by others". Lin's private criticisms of Mao were directly contradictory of the public image cultivated by Lin, who publicly stated following the Great Leap Forward that all mistakes of the past were the result of deviating from Mao's instructions.
Like many major proponents of the Cultural Revolution, Lin's image was manipulated after Mao's death in 1976, and many negative aspects of the Cultural Revolution were blamed on Lin. After October 1976, those in power also blamed Mao's supporters, the so-called Gang of Four. In 1980, the Chinese government held a series of "special trials" to identify those most responsible for the Cultural Revolution. In 1981, the government released their verdict: that Lin Biao must be held, along with Jiang Qing, as one of the two major "counter-revolutionary cliques" responsible for the excesses of the late 1960s. According to the official Party verdict, Lin and Jiang were singled out for blame because they led inter-Party cliques which took advantage of Mao's "mistakes" to advance their own political goals, engaging in "criminal activity" for their own self-benefit. Lin has been officially remembered as one of the greatest villains of modern China since then. Lin was never politically rehabilitated, so the charges against him continue to stand.
For several decades Lin's name and image were censored within China, but in recent years a balanced image of Lin has reappeared in popular culture: surviving aides and family members have published memoirs about their experience with Lin; scholars have explored most surviving evidence relevant to his life and death, and have gained exposure within the official Chinese media; movies set before 1949 have made reference to Lin; and, Lin's name has re-appeared in Chinese history textbooks, recognizing his contributions to the victory of the Red Army. Within modern China, Lin is regarded as one of the Red Army's best military strategists. In 2007 a portrait of Lin was added to the Chinese Military Museum in Beijing, included in a display of the "Ten Marshals", a group considered to be the founders of China's armed forces.
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