Lin Piao

Lin Piao (1907-1971) was a Chinese Communist military commander and political leader. His distinguished military career and loyalty to the principles of Mao Tse-tung were the basis for his rise to second position in the Chinese Communist leadership. He was involved in an unsuccessful coup d'etat in 1971.

Lin Piao was born in Huangkang County, Hupei Province. His father owned some land and a small dye works. Lin's education was begun in the village school and continued in Hankow, where his father opened a cloth business and later became purser on a river steamer. While in middle school in Hankow, Lin was influenced by the modernizing nationalist ideas that spread through the Chinese student body after the May Fourth movement of 1919. He was also influenced by his elder brother and a cousin who were both active in the newly formed Socialist Youth League, a Communist auxiliary organization.

Lin's political career began when he and some fellow students organized the Social Welfare Society, a small activist student group. He participated directly in student demonstrations of the May Thirtieth movement, which developed in 1925 over the treatment of Chinese by foreigners in Shanghai. Just graduated from middle school, Lin was elected as a Hupei delegate to the National Student Federation meeting in Shanghai to coordinate the actions of the protesting students. While in Shanghai, Lin joined the Socialist Youth League.

In the fall of 1925 Lin went to Canton and entered the Whampoa Military Academy, then a major institution in the alliance between Russia, the Kuomintang (KMT), and the Chinese Communist party (CCP). In the academy, which was headed by Chiang Kai-shek, Lin participated in activities in association with other leftist cadets.

After his graduation with the fourth class of the academy in October 1926, Lin became an officer in the regiment of Yeh T'ing, the only regiment of the revolutionary army then fully under Communist control. He joined the regiment in the Northern Expedition that conquered southern and central China for the revolutionary forces, and in the fighting he quickly rose to company commander's rank by early 1927.

During this period Lin also joined the Communist party. During the spring and summer of 1927 the alliance between the KMT and the Communists was broken off, first by Chiang Kai-shek and then by the other Nationalist leaders. Yeh T'ing's regiment and some other Communist-led forces were ordered into insurrection, and Lin participated in their attempt to capture Nanchang on August 1. This insurrection is now officially considered the first action of the Chinese People's Liberation Army.

After the failure of the uprising, these forces undertook a series of campaigns in southern China that also failed. Lin became an officer in a small part of this force commanded by Chu Teh, who led them through a difficult campaign for survival in the early months of 1928. Even when the force dwindled to less than a thousand men, Lin refused to leave it. In April they arrived in the Ch'ingkan Mountains, where Mao Tse-tung had begun to construct a small guerrilla base. Chu became commander in chief and Mao political commissar of the forces there.


Rise in the Party

Lin was early recognized by Chu as a young man of extraordinary talent and was promoted rapidly. Lin was also one of the earliest supporters of Mao's guerrilla warfare methods, which soon came under attack from the Comintern, the Chinese Communist party leadership, and most of the professionally trained officers in the Communist forces. By the early 1930s Lin was commander of an army and also head of the Communist military academy.

When the Soviet area was made untenable by Chiang Kai-shek's campaign in 1934, Lin participated in the famous 8, 000-mile Long March to northwestern China. After their arrival in Yenan in 1935, Lin was primarily involved in the training of young officers. During this period he married Liu Hsi-ming, a student at the party training school. They had a daughter in 1941, and some sources say Lin also had a son.

At the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War in 1937, Lin was a division commander in the 8th Route Army under Chu Teh. In September his division inflicted the first significant defeat on Japanese forces in the battle of P'inghsinkuan. In the summer of 1938 Lin was seriously wounded in action and was sent to the U.S.S.R. for treatment and recuperation. He remained in the Soviet Union until late 1941, probably studying Soviet military techniques and military medicine. He did not again have a field command until after the end of the Sino-Japanese War. When he returned to Yenan, he was made a member of the Communist liaison mission to the National government in Chungking, a position he held until 1943. From then until the end of the war he was deputy director under Mao at the party school in Yenan.


Fighting against the Nationalists

Lin again received an active field command in 1945, leading the Communist forces that moved into Manchuria at the end of the war. There he consolidated the Communist position, recruiting and organizing a force that eventually reached 700, 000 men. He commanded this army in the fight against the Nationalist troops that attempted to take Manchuria for Chiang Kai-shek.

After initial defeats in the cities in 1946, Lin developed rural bases from which he counterattacked in 1948. The Nationalist forces were totally destroyed at the battle of Chinchow in October and at Mukden, which fell to Lin's army on November 1. With his forces reorganized as the 4th Field Army, Lin moved quickly into northern China. His troops took Kalgan in December and participated in the capture of Tientsin and Peking in January 1949. Elements of Lin's command then entered the Yangtze Valley campaigns and formed the vanguard of the troops that occupied Canton in October.

At this point, with the Nationalists driven out of mainland China to Formosa, the government of the People's Republic was established in Peking. Under the military administration system that remained in force until 1954, Lin controlled six provinces. Units of the 4th Army also served as the vanguard of the Chinese forces that entered the Korean War in 1950.

While Lin's career had been primarily as a military officer, by 1945 he had become a significant figure in the party hierarchy. After 1949 he was a member of the party's government council charged with supervision of the national government. He became a vice-chairman of the National Defense Council in 1954 and a member of the Politburo in 1955. By 1958 he had become the sixth-ranking leader of the CCP, when he was made a vice-chairman of the Central Committee and member of the Standing Committee of the Politburo.


Military Reformer

In September 1959 Gen. P'eng Te-huai was purged as a result of disputes within the party leadership over issues that included the question of professionalism versus Mao's "guerrilla line, " and Lin became the party's top military official by replacing P'eng as minister of defense. In the early 1960s Lin pressed through a series of army reform measures aimed at creating a Maoist military force. These included a de-emphasis on professionalism and technologically advanced weaponry in favor of policies that emphasized the superiority of politically conscious men over weapons.

These reforms stressed the importance of political training in the army, the recruitment of men and officers from the proletariat and the poor peasantry, and the "mass line." Insignia of rank were abolished, and officers (apparently including Lin himself) were required to spend some time serving as privates. These changes in the military came to be presented as creating a model of Maoist thought in practice and served as the basis for a nationwide campaign to "emulate the People's Liberation Army" in spirit and action.

As this campaign developed, Lin's prestige rose continually. In September 1965 he was selected to deliver a major policy address entitled "Long Live the Victory of People's War!" This well-publicized speech generalized from the Maoist strategy in the Chinese Revolution to the world scene, arguing that the "world villages" of the underdeveloped areas would eventually conquer the "world cities" of the developed areas. Although presented in hostile circles as a new Mein Kampf for Chinese world domination, the speech was based on an assumption that these revolutions would develop inevitably and that they must be self-reliant, not dependent on foreign support.

Lin's growing status was marked still more clearly by his role in the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution that began late in 1965. He took a leading part in the cultural revolution. After Liu Shao-ch'i was displaced from his position in the Communist hierarchy in the summer of 1966, Lin emerged as one of the top three leaders of the party. His position was made official in the new constitution of the CCP adopted at the Ninth Congress in 1969: Mao was named the leader of the party, and his "closest comrade-in-arms, Lin Piao, " was identified by name as his second in command and his successor.

In July 1972 Mao announced that Lin was killed in a plane crash in Mongolia on Sept. 13, 1971, while fleeing China in the wake of an attempted coup. Mao said that Lin had plotted to assassinate him as part of a conspiracy aimed at replacing the civilian leadership with a military dictatorship.


Further Reading on Lin Piao

Lin Piao's speech of September 1965 is published in English as Long Live the Victory of People's War! (1965). The only biography in English in Martin Ebon, Lin Piao: The Life and Writings of China's New Ruler (1970). See also Donald W. Klein and Anne B. Clark, Biographic Dictionary of Chinese Communism, 1921-1965 (2 vols., 1971). Background information is in John Gittings, The Rise of the Chinese Army (1967).