Charles DOBBS

Lin Biao addresses the Peking (Beijing) celebration rally in 1966. UNKNOWN PHOTOGRAPHER.

Lin Biao was a military leader of the Chinese Communist forces and a propagandist for Mao Zedong. He died under mysterious circumstances in a plane crash in 1971; the plane was headed to Russia, where it was said he intended to defect. He was tried posthumously with the Gang of Four in 1980–81.

Lin Biao was a prominent general at the end of China’s Civil War, served as defense minister of the People’s Republic and finally as vice-chairman to Mao Zedong. The circumstances surrounding his death in 1971 were concealed until the government released an official statement in 1972 saying that Lin had been part of a failed conspiracy to depose Mao.

Early Career

Lin Biao, the son of a factory worker, was born in either 1907 or 1908 in Hubei Province. He attended Whampoa Military Academy where he was a member of the Socialist Youth League. Lin’s distinguished military career began in the Nationalist army, but he deserted to join the Communists in 1927. Lin commanded a Red Army corps during the Long March (1934–1935) and headed the Red Academy at the new Communist base at Yan’an. Lin was among the youngest and best of the Communist generals during the War of Resistance against the Japanese (also known as the Second Sino-Japanese War, 1937–1945). His genius for partisan warfare played a critical role in helping the forces of Mao Zedong (1893–1976) defeat Chiang Kai-shek and the Nationalists in Manchuria. He led the Red Army into Beijing in 1949.

Rise in Communist Party

Lin held several positions in the Communist Party and military hierarchy, although illness during the 1950’s may have hindered his career. After Lin became Minister of Defense in 1959, Mao relied on him to keep the People’s Liberation Army loyal and under control of the Communist Party in the period leading up to and during the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976). Lin is credited with the propaganda campaign of the 1960s. Called Mao’s “best student,” he compiled and wrote the forward to the collection of Mao’s quotations that became known as The Little Red Book. In 1966, Lin was elevated to the second-ranking position in the Chinese Communist party, and thus became Mao’s heir apparent.

Fall from Grace

Perhaps in part because public adulation of Lin rivaled that of Mao, tensions arose between the two. Mao spoke publicly in 1971 about his anger at Lin’s opposition to Jiang Qing (Mao’s wife) at the Second Plenum. Lin’s son Lin Liguo, a deputy director of the Department of Operations of China’s Air Force, apparently openly discussed opposition to Mao. Lin disappeared in September 1971, and a purge of army leaders was conducted immediately after. In 1972 an official statement said that Lin and his family died in an airplane crash in Mongolia on 13 September 1971. Lin and his son were said to be part of a conspiracy to usurp supreme Party leadership (“Project 571”) and were said to be fleeing to the Soviet Union to seek sanctuary after the coup’s failure. In 1973, the Central Committee expelled Lin from the Communist Party posthumously, and in 1976, he was tried posthumously with the Gang of Four.

Further Reading

Jin Qui. (1999). The culture of power: The Lin Biao incident in the Cultural Revolution. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Teiwes, F. C. (1966). The tragedy of Lin Biao: Riding the tiger during the Cultural Revolution, 1966–1971. London: Hurst.

Yao Ming-le. (1983). The conspiracy and death of Lin Biao. S. Karnow (Trans.). New York: Alfred Knopf.

Source: Dobbs, Charles, & Muchmore, Nicole. (2009). LIN Biao. In Linsun Cheng, et al. (Eds.), Berkshire Encyclopedia of China, pp. 1330–1331. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing.

LIN Biao (Lín Bi?o ??)|Lín Bi?o ?? (LIN Biao)

Download the PDF of this article