Lin Biao

From New World Encyclopedia

Lin Biao (Chinese: 林彪; pinyin: Lín Biāo; Wade-Giles: Lin Piao) (December 5, 1907 - September 13, 1971) was a Chinese Communist military leader who was instrumental in the communist victory in the Chinese Civil War. At the age of eighteen, he entered Whampoa Military Academy and by 1927, was a colonel in the National Revolutionary Army. After the split between the Kuomintang and the Chinese Communist Party, Lin Biao joined Mao Zedong’s Red Army. During the Chinese Civil War (1945–1949), Lin used guerrilla tactics to whittle away at the Kuomintang forces, increasing the size of his own army to over 800,000 troops, until he had taken Manchuria.

After the establishment of the People's Republic in October 1949, Lin Biao was appointed to a variety of high posts in the government. In 1958, he was named to the Politburo Standing Committee. During the 1960s, he compiled some of Chairman Mao's writings into a handbook, the Quotations from Chairman Mao Zedong, which became known simply as "the Little Red Book." His reform of the People's Liberation Army made it into a powerful and organized political force, and during the Cultural Revolution, he became second-in-command and Mao Zedong's designated successor. In 1971, he disappeared under mysterious circumstances. The government of the Peoples Republic of China claimed he had attempted a coup and condemned him as a traitor.


Lin Biao was born December 5, 1907, the son of a small landlord in Huanggang, Hubei province. Lin received his primary education in the village school, and entered middle school in Wuchang, the provincial capital, in 1921. While in middle school, he was affected by the social and cultural upheaval then taking place in his country. Lin joined the Socialist Youth League after his graduation from middle school in 1925, and matriculated at Whampoa Military Academy. While at Whampoa he became the protégé of both Zhou Enlai and the Soviet General Vasily Blyukher. Less than a year later, he 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. Lin graduated from Whampoa in 1925 and by 1927, was a colonel.

After the split between the nationalist Kuomintang and the Chinese Communist Party, Lin escaped to the remote Communist base areas and joined Mao Zedong and Zhu De in Jiangxi in 1928. Lin proved to be a brilliant guerrilla commander, and during the 1934 breakout, he commanded the First Corps of the Red Army, which fought a two-year running battle with the Kuomintang, culminating in the occupation of Yan'an in December 1936.

Lin Biao and Peng Dehuai were regarded as the Red Army's best battlefield commanders. They do not seem to have been rivals during the Long March. Both of them had supported Mao's rise to de facto leadership at Zunyi in January 1935. According to Harrison E. Salisbury's The Long March, by May 1935, Lin Biao was dissatisfied with Mao's strategy. He said of Mao's circling maneuvers to evade the armies of Chiang Kai-shek: "The campaign had begun to look like one of Walt Disney's early cartoons in which Mickey Mouse again and again escaped the clutches of the huge, stupid cat."[1] According to Salisbury, in May 1934, Lin Biao tried to persuade Mao to turn over active command to Peng Dehuai.

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.[2]

In Red Star Over China, Edgar Snow focused more on the role of Peng than on Lin, evidently having had long conversations with Peng, 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.

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 outmaneuvered 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.[3]

Relationship with Mao

Red Star Over China also suggests that Lin and Mao had a close personal relationship: "Between acts at the Anti-Japanese Theatre, there was a general demand for a duet by Mao Zedong and Lin Biao, the twenty-eight year old president of the Red Academy, and formerly a famed young cadet on Chiang Kai-shek's staff. Lin blushed like a schoolboy, and got them out of the 'command performance' by a graceful speech, calling on the women Communists for a song instead."[4]

In Mao: The Untold Story (Knopf, 2005), which covers the Mao-Lin relationship in depth, Jung Chang and Jon Halliday present a different view:

Lin lauded Mao to the skies in public, although he felt no true devotion to Mao, and at home he would often make disparaging and even disdainful remarks about him, some of which entered his diary. It was out of pure ambition that Lin stood by Mao and boosted him—the ambition to be Mao's No. 2 and successor. He told his wife that he wanted to be 'Engels to Marx, Stalin to Lenin, and Chiang Kai-shek to Sun Yat-sen.[5]

According to Chang and Halliday, Lin remained valuable to Mao because, like the Chairman, he continued to put personal power above the interests of the country. In contrast, Peng was purged, with Lin's help, after challenging Mao at Lu Shan conference in August 1959, over the famine.

Sino-Japanese War (the War of Resistance Against Japan, 1937-1945)

As commander of the 115th Division of the Communist 8th Route Army, Lin orchestrated the ambush at Pingxingguan in September 1937, one of the few battlefield successes for the Chinese in the early period of the Second Sino-Japanese War (which began before World War II, and then merged into it). After the Battle of Pingxingguan, the Chinese troops captured many of the personal items that belonged to Imperial Japanese Army personnel. Among them was a cloak and a katana (sword) which were favored by Lin. He tried the cloak on, strapped the katana to his side, jumped onto a horse and went for a ride. He was spotted riding alone by one of the sharpshooters from the troops of Fu Zuoyi, who later became the mayor of Beijing after surrendering the city to the Communists.

The soldier was surprised to see a Japanese officer riding a horse in the desolate hills all by himself. He took aim at Lin Biao, hit him in the head and severely injured him. Lin was then given the post of commandant of the Military Academy at Yan'an in 1938. He spent the next three years (1939-1942) in Moscow, receiving medical treatment for his injury. After returning to Yan'an, Lin was involved in troop training and indoctrination assignments. In 1942, he served briefly as a member of the Communist liaison with the Nationalists. In 1945, he was elected for the first time to the Communist Party's 44-member Central Committee.

Chinese Civil War ("The Liberation War," 1945-49)

With the resumption of Civil War after World War II, Lin was made Secretary of the Northeast China Bureau and commanded the Red Army forces that conquered the Manchurian provinces and then swept into North China. Mao and other communist leaders intended to take over the whole of Northeast China as their base, but with the retreat of the Soviet Red Army, it became clear that they would have to fight for it. In order to strengthen his position in peace negotiations with the Kuomintang, Mao ordered Lin to assemble the strongest forces to defend each of the key cities, contrary to the usual strategy of the Chinese Red Army. Lin suffered a serious defeat in Si Ping, and retreated before receiving clear orders from Mao. Lin then suggested that the Red Army should change its strategy. To achieve victory, he abandoned the cities and employed Mao's strategy of using guerrilla warfare and winning peasant support in the countryside.

Within a year he entrapped the core of Chiang Kai-shek's American-armed and American-trained armies, capturing or killing a total of thirty-six generals. Then came the Three Great Battles. Lin directed the Liao Shen Battle, eliminating 450,000 troops. Following victory in Manchuria, Lin encircled Chiang's main forces in northern China during the Pin Jin Battle. The Communists took over Tianjin by force, and ravaged the city. Finally, in Peking [Beijing], General Fu Zuo Yi and his army of 400,000 men surrendered to him without a battle.[6]

The Ping Jin Battle eliminated a total of 520,000 troops.

Lin’s army gradually isolated the Nationalists in the cities, and forced their garrisons to surrender, one by one. The Fourth Group, now numbering almost a million soldiers, swept China from the Northeast, to the southernmost area, the island of Hai Nan, capturing Wu-han in May, and Canton in October. During this period, several separate Liberation Armies fought on different fronts. Liu Bo Cheng and Deng Xiaoping, leading the 2nd Group, and Chen Yi and Su Yu leading the 3rd Group, closed in on 500,000 Kuomintang troops in Xuzhou and destroyed them in the decisive Battle of Huai Hai.


Lin Biao's exact role during the 1950s is unclear. After the establishment of the People's Republic in October 1949, he was appointed to a variety of high posts in the government, including administrative head and party chief of the six-province “Central-South” region of China; vice premier of the State Council (or Cabinet) and a vice chairman of the National Defense Council. In 1955, he was elevated to the Central Committee's 13-man Politburo. It appears that during this period he was frequently ill, did not often appear in public and only occasionally carried out the responsibilities of his office. In his autobiography, Dr. Li Zhisui, one of Mao's personal physicians at the time, writes that Lin was mentally unbalanced rather than suffering from any chronic physical illness. Dr. Li's account of Lin's condition differs from the official Chinese version, both before and after Lin's fall.

Lin and the rest of the Politburo initially opposed China's entry into the Korean War.[7] Early in 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 Stalin concerning Soviet support for China's intervention, indicating that Mao still trusted Lin despite his opposition to joining the war in Korea.

Due to periods of ill health and physical rehabilitation in the USSR, Lin was slow in his rise to power. In 1958, he was named to the Politburo Standing Committee. In 1959, after the Lushan Conference, Peng Dehuai was removed from his position as Minister of Defense and replaced by Lin Biao. As Defense Minister, Lin's policies differed from that of his predecessor. "Lin Biao's reforms aimed at 'de-Russification'. 'Professional-officer-cast' mentality was fought, titles and insignia of rank were abolished, special officer privileges ended, the Yenan type of soldier-peasant-worker combination was restored, and the Thought of Mao Tse-tung superseded all other ideological texts…"[8]

In 1965, an article on revolution in developing countries, entitled "Long Live the Victory of the People's War!" was published in Lin's name. 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 the Thought of Mao Tse-tung. Lin made no promise that China would fight other people's wars, however. They were advised to depend mainly on "self-reliance." Lin worked closely with Mao, creating a cult of personality around him. Lin compiled some of Chairman Mao's writings into a handbook, the Quotations from Chairman Mao Zedong, which became known simply as "the Little Red Book."

Lin Biao's military reforms and the success of the Sino-Indian War (1962) impressed Mao. Lin's army in the early 1960s was an example of how, according to Mao's teachings, professional expertise could be combined with political consciousness, and was held up as a model for the rest of society, including the party itself, to emulate. A propaganda campaigned called "learn from the People's Liberation Army" followed. In 1966, this campaigned widen into the Cultural Revolution.

After the purging of Liu Shaoqi during the Cultural Revolution, on April 1, 1969, at the CCP's Ninth Congress, Lin Biao emerged as the primary military power and second in party rank behind Mao Zedong. Even the Party constitution was modified to name Lin as Mao's special successor.

As the Cultural Revolution spun out of control, the People's Liberation Army, under Lin's command, effectively took over the country from the party.

Attempted coup and downfall

The circumstances surrounding Lin's death remain unclear. Lin disappeared in 1971, the standard explanation being that he died after attempting a coup. After becoming China's second-in-command on April 1, 1969, Lin advocated the restoration of the position of State President, held by Liu Shaoqi until his disgrace. The purpose of the restoration was to ensure a legal transition to power in the event of Mao's death. On August 23, 1970, the CCP held the second plenum of its Ninth Congress in Lushan, where Lin spoke for restoration of the position of President along with his supporter Chen Boda.

Some historians believe Mao had become uncomfortable with Lin's power and planned to purge him, and that Lin planned a preemptive coup. The Chinese government’s explanation was that Lin, with the help of his son, Lin Liguo, had planned to assassinate Mao sometime between September 8 and 10, 1971. According to the memoir of Dr. Li Zhisui, then one of Mao's personal physicians, Lin's own daughter, Lin Liheng (Doudou), inadvertently exposed her father's plot. Doudou had become estranged from her mother Ye Qun and incorrectly believed that her mother was plotting against her father.

There has never been a satisfactory explanation for the claims of a plot by Lin, nor of why Mao or others in the Party would seek to purge Lin even after he had been defeated politically. Having suffered such a defeat, it seems doubtful that Lin would have counted on sufficient support for a coup from the Peoples Liberation Army, which had a strong history of support for Mao and for Zhou.

Plane crash

Supposedly, after the discovery of the planned coup, Lin, his wife Ye Qun, his son, and several personal aides attempted to flee to the Soviet Union. It is said they were chased to the airport by armed PLA officers and guards. According to the PRC account of Lin's death, their prearranged Hawker Siddeley Trident plane did not take aboard enough fuel before taking off, and as a result, crashed after running out of fuel near Öndörkhaan in Mongolia, on September 13, 1971, killing all on board. After the crash, the Soviets sent a number of field scientists to inspect the scene.

There are conflicting reports on whether or not Zhou Enlai attempted to send air force fighter planes after the fleeing Lin’s aircraft. One account relates that when Zhou Enlai asked Mao Zedong whether air force fighters should be sent to chase Lin's plane, Mao replied with an ancient Chinese proverb: "Just like the sky is going to rain, and a widowed mother is going to remarry, let it be." Dr. Li Zhisui writes that there was a feeling of relief in the Chinese government when word came from Mongolia that there were no survivors. Zhou Enlai reportedly said, "死得好, 死得好" ("it is better that he's dead"). A biography of Zhou by Han Suyin, however, claims that, on hearing that Lin was on board an aircraft leaving China, Zhou in fact ordered the grounding of all Chinese aircraft.

In fact, no Chinese fighters entered the Mongolian airspace, because the high cost of fuel at that time had prevented the Chinese fighters from flying in the area. According to a retired Chinese army enlisted personnel who guarded the Shanhaiguan Airbase, before take-off the Trident struck a fuel tank carrier truck parked near the runway. The impact tore part of the fuel tank on the Trident's wings, and while flying through the Mongolian airspace, the leaking fuel reached the side engines, triggering the loss of control.

In 1990, Mongolian officials cast doubt on the Chinese government's claim that Lin had been among those killed in the 1971 airplane crash, reinforcing speculation that Lin was in fact assassinated by the Chinese leadership.


Several reasons have been suggested for why Mao wished to rid himself of Lin. One view is that Lin opposed the rapprochement with the U.S., which Zhou Enlai was organizing with Mao's approval, because it was contrary to Lin's strategy of "People's War." Lin, unlike Mao, did not have a history of making compromises and retreats when it was convenient. There were also rumors that Lin was secretly negotiating with the Kuomintang on Taiwan to restore the KMT government in China in return for a high position in the new government. These claims were never formally confirmed nor denied by either the Communist government or the Nationalist government on Taiwan.

Most of the military high command was purged within a few weeks of Lin's disappearance. The National Day celebrations on October 1, 1971, were canceled. The news of Lin Biao's plot and disappearance was withheld from the general public for nearly a year. When it did become public, the people were told that Mao's "best pupil" had betrayed them.

In the years after Lin's death, 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. As happened to many major proponents of the Cultural Revolution, Lin's image was manipulated after the movement. Many negative aspects of the Cultural Revolution were blamed on Lin, and after October 1976, blamed on Mao's supporters, the so-called Gang of Four. Lin was never politically rehabilitated. In recent years, the appearance of Lin's photo in history books indicates that the Chinese are changing their attitude towards the politician. Lin is now regarded as one of the best military strategists in China. A portrait of him, is included in a display of the "Ten Marshals," a group considered founders of China's armed forces, at the Chinese Military Museum in Beijing in 2007.


  • "Study Chairman Mao's writings, follow his teachings, act according to his instructions, and be a good soldier of his."—Foreword of The Little Red Book
  • "Sailing the sea needs a helmsman; making a revolution needs Mao Zedong thought."
  • "Comrade Mao Zedong is the greatest Marxist and Leninist of our time. Comrade Mao Zedong ingeniously, creatively, and completely inherited, defended, and developed Marxism and Leninism, and upgraded Marxism and Leninism to a brand-new stage."


  1. Harrison Salisbury, The Long March, p. 188.
  2. Harrison Salisbury, The Long March, p. 191-192
  3. Edgar Snow, Red Star Over China (Victor Gollancz, 1937), p. 109-110.
  4. Snow, Red Star Over China, p. 84.
  5. Chang and Halliday, Mao: The Untold Story, p. 504.
  6. Edgar Snow, Red Star Over China (Penguin, 1972), p. 548.
  7. Chen Jian, China's Road to the Korean War
  8. Edgar Snow, Red Star Over China.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Cooke, B. 2006. Mao: The Untold Story. Free Inquiry. 26:61.
  • Jin, Qiu. 1999. The Culture of Power the Lin Biao Incident in the Cultural Revolution. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. ISBN 058506931X.
  • Salisbury, Harrison E. 1985. The Long March: The Untold Story. New York: Harper & Row. ISBN 0060390441.
  • Snow, Edgar. 1968. Red Star Over China. New York: Grove Press.
  • Teiwes, Frederick C., and Warren Sun. 1996. The Tragedy of Lin Biao: Riding the Tiger During the Cultural Revolution, 1966-1971. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 0824818113.
  • Yao, Ming-le, and Stanley Karnow. 1983. The Conspiracy and Death of Lin Biao. New York: A.A. Knopf. ISBN 0394525434.

External links

All links retrieved October 29, 2022.


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