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his political diary, Albanian Marxist-Leninist Enver
Hoxha commented that the official Chinese government version of
of Mao Zedong’s
onetime heir, People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Marshal Lin Biao sounded like:
episode of James Bond.”
(E. Hoxha, Reflections on China, vol. II, 1978, p. 645)
the story put out by the Xinhua News Agency with its tale of exploding
oil rigs, artillery attacks, runaway trains and pitched gun battles
out-of-control airplanes which then crash to Earth has all the makings of an Ian Fleming pot boiler. Needless to say, the Albanian statesman, and World
opinion greeted the received version of Lin's death with extreme skepticism. For over thirty years the true events surrounding the fall of one of China's
major twentieth century political figures – commander of the PLA, leader of the Cultural Revolution, Mao's heir apparent – has remained a mystery.
1983 the silence was broken by
the appearance of the book "The Conspiracy and Murder of Mao's Heir",
one Yao Ming-Le.
challenged the Chinese government's version of Lin's last days. Drawing on classified materials, interrogation reports, confessions, and unpublished
memoires, the picture Yao painted of the former PLA Marshal's demise not only surpassed the cloak-and-dagger sensationalism of the official story,
but drew on other literary metaphors beyond that of Fleming. Yao's image of the Lin Biao Affair treads Shakespearean ground and culminates in a
penultimate event that is straight out of Mario Puzo. Two decades since its orignal publication, Yao's book has been reissued by Collins of London.
Although its version of events is not above criticism itself, 'The Conspiracy and Murder of Mao's Heir' - deserves a second look in that it offers an
interesting and quite feasible explanation not only for Lin's fall but for why, so many years after the fact, the details remain a closely guarded secret.
in 1908, Lin Biao attended the Whampoa
Military Academy, which was a nerve center of radical, nationalist, and
anti-imperialist activism in the
1920s. Lin first joined Mao in 1928 and quickly became one of the Communist's most distinguished field commanders in the civil war against the
(Nationalists.)Kuomintang He participated in The Long March and made a name for himself as an authority on guerrilla warfare. A battlefield injury in
1938 caused Lin to retire from active service. He took up the position of President of the Political-Military Academy at Maoist headquarters in the
mountains of Yenan. Between 1939 and 1942 he represented the Chinese Communist Party in the Soviet Union.
World War II, when fighting
broke out again between the Communist and Nationalist forces, Lin led
victorious campaigns in Manchuria and
northern China, taking Beijing in 1949.
Moving his troops southwards, Lin secured the city of Wuhan and Guangzhou (Canton.)
Thereafter he served as head of the South-Central Party Bureau and Military Region, a position he maintained until 1956.
An undisclosed illness kept Lin out of active political involvement throughout the late 1950s. He played no part in the Korean War.
(C. Dietrich, People's China, 1986, pp. 38-39, 80.)
1959 Lin had returned to the political center
stage, rising to the position of membership in the Chinese Communist
Standing Committee and holding the Defense Ministry portfolio.
Lin became a staunch advocate of maintaining the PLA's guerrilla traditions versus the modernization and professionalism urged by PLA
commander Peng Dehuai. In 1962 Lin succeeded Peng as commander of the PLA and immediately began a rectification program among officers
and troops. Lin's reforms stressed political education within the PLA and emphasized revolutionary fervor over equipment and weaponry,
ultimately culminating in the abolition of ranks in the PLA. (Ibid., pp. 59, 62, 80, 148.)
became the main proponent of
the People's War Thesis which argued that the anti-imperialist struggle
was a worldwide movement in which
every national liberation movement must rely on its own masses – a theory which conveniently allowed Vietnam to go unaided in its battle against
US imperialism. (Ibid., p. 171.) In 1965, Lin published the article "Long Live the Victory of People's War" which stated that
. . to make a revolution
and to fight a people's war and be victorious, it is imperative to
adhere to a
policy of self-reliance, rely on the strength
of the masses in one's own country, and prepare to carry on the fight independently even when all material aid from the outside is cut off. . . "
(W. Chai, ed. Essential Works of Chinese Communism, 1972, p. 396.)
worked assiduously to develop
a cult of Mao in the PLA. Lin compiled
some of Mao's writings into the handbook, The Quotations of Chairman Mao,
and ensured that the text was mass produced and distributed; first within the PLA, later throughout the People's Republic.
the Cultural Revolution, the
PLA, under Lin's command, effectively took over the role the Communist
once played in ruling the country.
After removal of former President Liu Shaoqi at the Ninth Communist Party Congress in 1969, Lin rose to near total military power and placed
second in rank behind Mao Zedong in the Party. The Party constitution was amended to specifically name Lin as Mao's successor.
(Dietrich, pp. 179, 181, 185, 198-207.)
much is known.
The Official Story.
the fall of 1970 Lin sent his son, Lin Liguo,
who held rank in the air force, on a secret mission to China's largest
His task: to organize a network
of loyal and trustworthy military officers to be known as the Joint Fleet. This circle was to be the nucleus of a conspiracy to organize a military coup that
would topple Mao Zedong from power and serve as Lin's 18th Brumaire.
plot, code named Project
571 (the Chinese characters for this number contain the phrase "armed
uprising"), the conspiracty was a fiasco from
the get-go. Three attempts were made on Mao's ("B-52" in the plotter's language) life:
an airplane attack on the his residence in Shanghai;
the firing of artillery against his private train en route from Shanghai to Beijing;
the dispatch of an assassin disguised as a courier to his home in Beijing.
When all three failed - the last on the evening of September 12, Lin Biao, his wife, his son, and several other conspirators scrambled to board the
Trident jet plane at an airport in Beijing.
seizure and confession of the
assassin implicated Lin in the plot.
Mao and Premier Zhou Enlai called a late night meeting at the Great Hall of the People to assess the situation.
While they deliberated, the Trident took off.
Although Lin had planned to fly south to gather military support for his coup, he apparently changed his mind once he was airborne and decided to
seek refuge in the Soviet Union. As the Trident approached the Mongolian border, a gun battle broke out inside the plane causing it to crash.
Lin Biao and his party all died in the crash. (Ibid., p. 213-17; Hoxha, pp. 612, 641-51, 733-45.)
accepted the official version
of the events of September 1971. Some
historians have suggested that Mao had become uncomfortable with the
power Lin and the army had acquired and planned a purge. In this scenario, Lin and his high military commanders, sensing Mao's fading support,
attempted a preemptive coup d'etat.
account is far
different. According to Yao, there were
two separate conspiracies. The first, Project 57 1, was organized by
merely called for Mao's assassination.
This was cancelled by Lin Biao in favor of a more elaborate plan code-named Jade Tower Mountain for the cluster of luxurious villas outside Beijing.
There Mao was to be trapped. Lin's scheme called for secret assistance from the Soviet Union in staging a mock attack on China.
This would give him the excuse to declare martial law, take Mao and Zhou into "protective custody," eventually having them killed, and seize power
The main impetus for the plot was development of two factions within the Chinese leadership.
The first led by Zhou wanted reconciliation with the United States and some kind of alignment with US imperialism with the end of "modernization"
of the economy and society.
The second, led by Lin himself, foresaw a rapprochement with Soviet Revisionism and the continuation of Lin's "People's War" policies.
More and more Mao supported the Zhou position – and that meant the end of Lin's power and influence.
announcement that US
Nixon would visit China the next year sent the plotters in
The apparent reconciliation with the United States and a further deterioration of the already soured relationship with the Soviet Union made it
imperative that Jade Tower Mountain be launched as soon as possible. The date chosen was the day Mao returned from a trip south, on or about
Meanwhile, however, Zhou Enlai had apparently tricked Lin's daughter, Lin Liheng, into revealing her brother's conspiracy if not that of her father.
Zhou alerted Mao to the danger and the two set a trap for Lin.
Zhou Enlai personally verified that the charred bodies were indeed those of Lin Biao and Ye Qun, suggesting to Mao that a proper explanation for
the defense minister's disappearance be concocted so that Lin would not end up "looking like a hero." Mao told the Premier to handle the details
of the cover-up as quickly as possible.
In Yao's account of the conspiracy, it was Lin Liguo who, on learning of his father's death, fled in the Trident. When pursuing Chinese fighters launched
a successful missile attack, the plane crashed just over the border in Mongolia.
Yao Ming Le's version
of the Lin Biao Affair is as difficult to prove as the official story
difficult to accept.
It does however, have the virtue of explaining the reasons for the rift between Mao and Lin in solid political terms (not merely based on "jealousy"
or "ambition") and points to the logical consequence of Mao and Zhou's embrace of the United States.
Moreover, it provides a rationale as to why China's present rulers, the direct heirs of Zhou's protégé Deng Xiaoping and the beneficiaries of
Zhou's pro-Us imperialist policy, would wish to keep truth about Lin Biao's last days hidden and buried.
the truth may never be
known, Yao Ming-Le's The Conspiracy and Murder of Mao's Heir is
compelling reading and offers much potential
insight and food for thought into one of contemporary history's turning points.