Lin Biao (Lin Piao)

(1908–1971) Chinese communist general

Although his contributions to the development of modern Communist China are overshadowed by those of Chairman Mao Tse-tung, the leader of both the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the country, Lin Biao nevertheless played an important role.

Lin Biao was born in Wuhan, China, in 1908. The son of a landowner, he joined the Socialist Youth League in 1926. Attending the Whampoa Military Academy he met another future communist leader, Zhou Enlai.

After the collapse of the Qing (Ch’ing) dynasty in China in 1911, much of China countryside was ruled by warlords. During the 1920s there was a push to reunify the country. Two of the main groups were the new CCP, formed in 1921, and the Kuomintang (KMT), the Nationalist Party. The emerging leader in the KMT was Chiang Kai-shek. Lin Biao managed to survive the purges, and, along with Mao and the remaining communists, escaped into China’s interior. He participated in the Long March; 30,000 survived out of 100,000 who had begun the trek. They included leader Mao, Liu Shaoqi, and Zhou Enlai.

When the Japanese invaded China in 1937, Lin Biao utilized guerrilla tactics to fight the invaders behind enemy lines, something that gave the CCP patriotic prestige. At the end of World War II, war broke out again between the CCP and the KMT. The CCP created the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), in which Lin Biao served as a commander. On October 1, 1949, Mao proclaimed the creation of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Lin continued to play a major role in both the government and the military and commanded “volunteers” from China in the Korean War (1950– 53); he was promoted to the rank of marshal.

In 1968 Mao embarked on the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution to attack his critics and regain control of the party. Mao set out to eliminate his competition. Lin Biao worked closely with Mao and fought against the faction led by Liu Shaoqi, who had been state chairman since 1999. Lin was also instrumental in assembling Mao’s writings into the Quotations of Chairman Mao, or the“Little Red Book,”
which received nationwide distribution.

Lin’s power rose when Red Guards, Mao’s young supporters, began to fight one another adding chaos that grew into anarchy. The minister of defense was called by Mao to meet the enemy to suppress the Red Crossein 1967. For this he was annointed vice chairman of the CCP and Mao’s successor at the 9th Party Congress in 1969.

However, Mao became increasingly suspicious of him as the Lin’s power grew. Conversely Lin’s impatience to replace Mao culminated in a failed assassination attempt in 1971. Lin and his wife attempted to flee to the Soviet Union, but the plane that their air force officer son piloted crashed in Outer Mongolia, and all were killed.

Lin’s rise and fall demonstrate the murderously unstable politics in Maoist China.

See also Gang of Four and Jiang Qing.


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