Lin Biao was the son of a prosperous merchant family in Huanggang, Hubei. His name at birth was "Lin Yurong". Lin's father opened a small handicrafts factory in the mid-late 1910s, but was forced to close the factory due to "heavy taxes imposed by local militarists". After closing the factory, Lin's father worked as a purser aboard a river steamship. Lin entered primary school in 1917, and moved to Shanghai in 1919 to continue his education. As a child, Lin was much more interested in participating in student movements than in pursuing his formal education. Lin transferred to Wuchang Gongjin High School (武昌共进中学) at 15. Lin joined a satellite organization of the Communist Youth League before he graduated high school in 1925. Later in 1925 he participated in the May Thirtieth Movement and enrolled in the newly established Whampoa (Huangpu) Military Academy in Guangzhou.
As a young cadet, Lin admired the personality of Chiang Kai-shek (Jiang Jieshi), who was then the Principal of the Academy. At Whampoa, Lin also studied under Zhou Enlai, who was eight years older than Lin. Lin had no contact with Zhou after their time in Whampoa, until they met again in Yan'an in the late 1930s. Lin's relationship with Zhou was never especially close, but they rarely opposed each other directly.
After graduating from Whampoa in 1926, Lin was assigned to a regiment commanded by Ye Ting. Less than a year after graduating from Whampoa, Lin 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. It was during the Northward Expedition that Lin joined the Communist Party. By 1927 Lin was a colonel.
When he was 20 Lin married a girl from the countryside with the family name "Ong". This marriage was arranged by Lin's parents, and the couple never became close. When Lin left the Kuomintang to become a communist revolutionary, Ong did not accompany Lin, and their marriage effectively ended.
Chinese Civil War
After the Kuomintang-Communist split, Lin's commander, Ye Ting, joined forces with He Long and participated in the Nanchang Uprising on August 1, 1927. During the campaign Lin worked as a company commander under a regiment led by Chen Yi. Following the failure of the revolt, Lin escaped to the remote Communist base areas, and joined Mao Zedong and Zhu De in the Jiangxi–Fujian Soviet in 1928. After joining forces with Mao, Lin became one of Mao's closest supporters.
Lin became one of the most senior military field commanders within the Jiangxi Soviet. He commanded the First Army Group, and achieved a degree of power comparable to that of Peng Dehuai, who commanded the Third Army Group. According to Comintern representative Otto Braun, Lin was "politically... a blank sheet on which Mao could write as he pleased" during this period. After Mao was removed from power in 1932 by his rivals (the 28 Bolsheviks), Lin frequently attended strategic meetings in Mao's name and openly attacked the plans of Mao's enemies.
Within the Jiangxi Soviet, Lin's First Army Group was the best-equipped and arguably most successful force within the Red Army. Lin's First Army became known for its mobility, and for its ability to execute successful flanking maneuvers. Between 1930 and 1933, Lin's forces captured twice the number of prisoners of war and military equipment as the Third and Fifth Army Groups combined. The successes of Lin's forces are due partially to the division of labour within the Red Army: Lin's forces were more offensive and unorthodox than other groups, allowing Lin to capitalize on other Red Army commanders' successes.
During the Communists' defense against Chiang's 1933–34 Fifth Encirclement Campaign, Lin advocated a strategy of protracted guerilla warfare, and opposed the positional warfare advocated by Braun and his supporters. Lin believed that the best way to destroy enemy soldiers was not to pursue them or defend strategic points, but to weaken the enemy through feints, ambushes, encirclements, and surprise attacks. Lin's views generally conformed with the tactics advocated by Mao.
After Chiang's forces successfully occupied several strategic locations within the Jiangxi Soviet, in 1934, Lin was one of the first Red Army commanders to publicly advocate the abandonment of the Jiangxi Soviet, but he was opposed by most Red Army commanders, especially Braun and Peng Dehuai. After the Communists finally resolved to abandon their base, later in 1934, Lin continued his position as one of the most successful commanders in the Red Army during the Long March. Under the direction of Mao and Zhou, the Red Army finally arrived at the remote Communist base of Yan'an, Shaanxi, in December 1936.
Lin and Peng Dehuai were generally considered the Red Army's best battlefield commanders, and were not rivals during the Long March. Both of them had supported Mao's rise to de facto leadership at the Zunyi Conference in January 1935. Lin may have become privately dissatisfied with Mao's strategy of constant evasion by the end of the Long March, but continued to support Mao publicly.
The American journalist Edgar Snow met Lin Biao in the Communist base of Shaanxi in 1936, and wrote about Lin in his book, Red Star Over China. Snow's account focused more on the role of Peng than Lin, evidently having had long conversations with, and devoting two whole chapters to, Peng (more than any individual apart from Mao). But he says of Lin:
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.
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 outmanoeuvered 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 (Nanjing) military journals, and also in Japan and Soviet Russia.
(Within a year of Snow's reporting this, Lin was seriously wounded).
Lin and Mao generally had a close personal relationship, but some accounts claim that Lin sometimes made disparaging comments about Mao in private, and that Lin's support of Mao was largely for the pursuit of power. After arriving in Yan'an, Lin became the principal of the newly founded Chinese People's Anti-Japanese Military and Political University. In 1937, Lin married one of the students there, a girl named Liu Ximin, who had earned the nickname "University Flower".
Second Sino–Japanese War (1937–1945)
Lin Biao with wife Ye Qun
and their children
In August 1937, Lin was named commander-in-chief of the 115th Division of the Communist 8th Route Army and ordered to aid Yan Xishan's forces in repelling the Japanese invasion of Shanxi. In this capacity, Lin orchestrated the ambush at Pingxingguan in September 1937, which was one of the few battlefield successes for the Chinese in the early period of the Second Sino-Japanese War (known is China as the "War of Resistance Against Japan").
In 1938, while he was still leading Chinese forces in Shanxi, Japanese soldiers who had joined the Communists and were serving under Lin's command presented Lin with a Japanese uniform and katana, which they had captured in battle. Lin then put the uniform and katana on, jumped onto a horse, and rode away from the army. While riding, Lin was spotted alone by a sharpshooter in Yan's army. The soldier was surprised to see a Japanese officer riding a horse in the desolate hills alone. He took aim at Lin and severely injured him. The bullet grazed Lin's head, penetrating deep enough to leave a permanent impression on his skull. After being shot in the head, Lin fell from his horse and injured his back.
Recovering from his wounds and ill with tuberculosis, Lin left for Moscow at the end of 1938, where he served as the representative of the Communist Party of China to the Executive Committee of the Communist International. He remained in Moscow until February 1942, working on Comintern affairs and writing for its publication. Lin was accompanied by his wife, Liu Ximin, but their relationship deteriorated in Moscow, and Lin eventually returned to Yan'an without her.
While in Moscow, Lin became infatuated with Zhou Enlai's adopted daughter, Sun Weishi, who was studying in Moscow from 1938 to 1946. Before returning to China, in 1942, Lin proposed to Sun and promised to divorce his wife, from whom Lin had become estranged. Sun was not able to accept Lin's proposal, but promised to consider marrying Lin after completing her studies. Lin divorced Liu Ximin after returning to China, and married another woman, Ye Qun, in 1943. The relationship between Sun and Ye was notably bad. After returning to Yan'an, Lin was involved in troop training and indoctrination assignments.
Lin with high-ranking officers under his command (Harbin, 1946)
Lin as commander-in-chief of the Manchurian Field Army (~1947-1948)
Lin was absent for most of the fighting during World War II, but was elected the sixth-ranking Central Committee member in 1945 based on his earlier battlefield reputation. After the Japanese surrender, the Communists moved large numbers of troops to Manchuria (Northeast China), and Lin Biao relocated to Manchuria to command the new "Communist Northeast Military District". The Soviets transferred captured Japanese military equipment to the Communists, making Lin's army one of the most well-equipped Communist forces in China. By the time that units from the Kuomintang (Nationalists) were able to arrive in the major cities of Manchuria, Lin's forces were already in firm control of most of the countryside and surrounding areas.
By the end of 1945, Lin had 280,000 troops in Manchuria under his command, but according to Kuomintang estimates only 100,000 of these were regular forces with access to adequate equipment. The KMT also estimated that Lin also had access to 100,000 irregular auxiliaries, whose membership was drawn mainly from unemployed factory workers. Lin avoided decisive confrontations throughout 1945, and he was able to preserve the strength of his army despite criticism from his peers in the Party and the PLA.
For the sake of bargaining with the Kuomintang in peace negotiations in 1946, Mao ordered Lin to assemble his army to take and defend key cities, which was against the previous strategy of the Red Army. Lin disagreed with this position, but was ordered by Mao to draw the KMT into a decisive battle and "not give an inch of land" around Siping, Jilin. In April 15, Lin orchestrated an ambush and forced KMT forces there to withdraw with heavy casualties. When the local KMT commander, Du Yuming, launched a counterattack on April 18, Mao ordered the troops there to hold the city indefinitely. The fighting continued until Mao finally allowed Lin to withdraw on May 19, which Lin did immediately, barely saving his army from encirclement and destruction.
Du pursued Lin's forces to the south bank of the Songhua River, where they halted due to Du's concerns about his army becoming overextended. According to Communist sources, Lin's army lost 15,000 soldiers in the fighting and withdrawal, but Nationalist sources claim that 25,000 soldiers also deserted or surrendered, and that Lin's force of 100,000 irregular auxiliaries suffered from mass desertion during the retreat. On June 10, the two forces agreed to a ceasefire brokered by George Marshall, and fighting temporarily ceased. Mao ordered Lin to counterattack that winter, but Lin refused, replying that his forces were exhausted and not logistically prepared to do so.
When Du led the majority of his forces to attack Communist forces on the Korean border in January 1947, Lin finally ordered 20,000 of his soldiers to cross the Songhua River, where they staged guerrilla raids, ambushed relief forces, attacked isolated garrisons, and avoided decisive confrontations with strong units Du sent to defeat them. While they did so, they looted large quantities of supplies and destroyed the infrastructure of the KMT-held territories that they passed through, including bridges, railroads, fortifications, electrical lines, and boats. When Du sent his forces back south, they were ambushed and defeated. When Du requested reinforcements from Chiang Kai-shek, his request was rejected.
On April 8, Lin moved his headquarters from Harbin to Shuangcheng in order to be closer to the front. On May 5, he held a conference with his subordinates and announced that his armies would change tactics, engage in a large-scale counterattack, and seek to defeat Du's forces in a decisive battle. On May 8, Lin launched the first of his "three great campaigns", the Summer Offensive, intending to engage a large garrison at
Huaide while a second force positioned itself to ambush the force that would predictably be sent to relieve it. On May 17, they won a major victory and forced the survivors to retreat to Changchun and Siping. By the end of May 1947, Lin's forces had taken control of most of the countryside (everything except for the rail lines and several major cities), infiltrated and destroyed most KMT forces in Manchuria, and re-established contact with isolated Communist forces in southern Liaoning province.
After the victory of the Summer Offensive, Lin's forces gained the initiative and Kuomintang defensive strategy became static and reactionary. Lin ordered his forces to besiege Siping, but they suffered very high casualties and made little progress, partially due to the defenders' strong entrenched position and air support, and due to the attackers' poor artillery support (Lin only had seventy pieces of artillery around Siping). Lin's forces broke into the city twice and engaged in street-to-street fighting, but were driven back both times with heavy casualties. By June 19, Lin's assault troops had become increasingly exhausted, and Lin began to rotate them to prevent them from becoming completely ineffective. On June 24, Nationalist reinforcements arrived from the south to lift the siege. Lin recognized that he did not have enough manpower left to defeat them, and on July 1, he ordered his forces to retreat back to the north of the Songhua River.
The Communists suffered over 30,000 losses at Siping, and may have suffered a desertion rate of over 20% during the withdrawal, while the Nationalist garrison at Siping fell from 20,000 to slightly over 3,000 before the siege was broken. Lin volunteered to write a self-criticism after the defeat. He also criticized his commander at Siping, Li Tianyou, for demonstrating poor tactics and for lacking "revolutionary spirit". Despite the army's setbacks he reorganized the army, combining surviving regiments and raising local militia forces to the status of regular units. By the fall of 1947, he had 510,000 soldiers under his command, approximately equal to Nationalist forces in the region.
Before Du's replacement, Chen Cheng, could cross north and begin an offensive, Lin moved his army south and began the Autumn Offensive, in which his forces destroyed rail lines and other infrastructure, attacked isolated Nationalist units, and attempted to provoke and ambush strong Nationalist forces. Chen's forces responded to the campaign by withdrawing into their city garrisons. The Communists were not able to provoke a decisive confrontation, and the Autumn Offensive ended in a stalemate.
Chen's forces remained static and reactionary, at the end of 1947, Lin led his armies back south in his final Liaoshen Campaign, the Winter Offensive. His initial plan was to repeat the goal of his last offensive, to besiege Jilin City and ambush its relief force, but after reviewing Kuomintang troop dispositions he determined that southern Manchuria would be an easier target. On December 15, Lin's forces attacked
Fakui, Zhangwu, and Xinlitun. Chen sent reinforcements to relieve Fakui, and when the Communist ambush failed, Lin ordered his forces to withdraw and join in the siege of Zhangwu. When Chen did not intervene and the town fell on December 28, Lin assumed the main part of the campaign was over and he dispersed his forces to rest and attack secondary targets.
Chen saw Lin's withdrawal as an opportunity to seize the offensive. He ordered his forces to attack targets in northern Liaoning on January 1, 1948, and on January 3, Lin successfully encircled the isolated Nationalist 5th Corps. Its commander,
Chen Linda, realized that he was being surrounded and requested reinforcements, but Chen Cheng only responded that he would "allow" Chen Linda to withdraw. The attempted breakout failed, and the 5th Corps was destroyed on January 7. After this defeat, Chen Cheng was replaced with Wei Lihuang ten days later, but Wei was not able to prevent the Communists from capturing Liaoyang on February 6, destroying the 54th division, and severing an important railroad that linked Wei's forces from their ports on the Bohai Sea.
Lin continued his advance, defeating all garrisons in western Manchuria or inducing them to defect by late February. On February 26 Lin reorganized his forces as the Northeastern Field Army and began preparations to return and take Siping, whose garrison had been transferred elsewhere by Chen Cheng and never re-strengthened. Lin began the general assault on the city on March 13, and took the town one day later. The capture of Siping ended Lin's Winter Offensive. The KMT nearly lost all of Manchuria by the end of the campaign and suffered 156,000 casualties, most of which survived as prisoners of war that were indoctrinated and recruited into Lin's forces. By the end of winter 1948 the Kuomintang had lost all of its territory in the Northeast, except for Changchun, Shenyang, and an area connecting the rail line from Beiping to those cities.
Following Lin's Winter campaign, Mao wanted him to attack targets farther south, but Lin disagreed because he did not want to leave a strong enemy at his back, and he believed the defeat of a strong city would force Chiang to abandon the Northeast. By May 25, 1948, the Northeastern Field Army had completely encircled Changchun, including its airfield, and for the rest of the siege the Nationalist commander,
Zheng Tongguo, depended entirely on supplies airdropped into the city. On May 19, Lin submitted a report to Mao in which he expected heavy casualties. By July 20 the siege was at a stalemate, and Lin deferred to Mao, allowing some of his army to attack Jinzhou farther south, beginning the Liaoshen Campaign. When Chiang airlifted reinforcements to defend Jinzhou, Lin ordered his army to abandon the siege and return to Changchun, but Mao disagreed and overruled him, and Lin was ordered to engage the defenders in a decisive confrontation. On October 14, the Northeast Field Army began its assault on Jinzhou with 250,000 men and the bulk of Lin's artillery and armour. After nearly 24 hours of fighting, Lin's forces were victorious, suffering 24,000 casualties but capturing the enemy commander, Fan Hanjie, and 90,000 enemy soldiers.
After hearing the news about the defeat at Jinzou, a KMT regiment from Yunnan and its commander,
Zeng Zesheng, defected and abandoned its position on the outskirts of Changchun on October 14. This doomed the remaining Nationalist forces in the city, and Zheng Tongguo was forced to surrender two days later. Chiang ordered an army of 500,000 men to travel north and take Jinzhou, but Lin directed nearly all of his forces to stop them, and they began to encircle it on October 21. After a week of fighting, the Nationalist army was destroyed on October 28. Remaining KMT garrisons in the Northeast attempted to break out of the region and flee south, but most were unsuccessful. After Changchun, the only major KMT garrison in the Northeast was Shenyang, where 140,000 KMT soldiers were eventually forced to surrender. By the end of 1948 all of Northeast China was under Communist control.
Defeating the Kuomintang
After taking control of the Manchurian provinces, Lin then swept into North China. Forces under Lin were responsible for winning two of the three major military victories responsible for the defeat of the Kuomintang. Lin suffered from ongoing periods of serious illness throughout the campaign. Following the victory in Manchuria, Lin commanded over a million soldiers, encircling Chiang's main forces in northern China during the Pingjin Campaign, taking Beijing and Tianjin within a period of two months. Tianjin was taken by force, and on January 22, 1949 General Fu Zuoyi and his army of 400,000 men agreed to surrender Beijing without a battle, and the PLA occupied the city on January 31. The Pingjin Campaign saw Lin remove a total of approximately 520,000 enemy troops from the enemy's battle lines. Many of those who surrendered later joined the PLA.
After taking Beijing, the Communists attempted to negotiate for the surrender of the remaining KMT forces. When these negotiations failed, Lin resumed his attacks on the KMT in the southeast. After taking Beijing, Lin's army numbered 1.5 million soldiers. He crossed the
Huai river in late 1948 and decisively defeated the defending KMT army in the Huaihai Campaign, the last of Lin's "Three Big Campaigns". Lin's armies continued to defeat KMT armies farther south, finally occupying all KMT positions on mainland China by the end of 1949. The last position occupied by Lin's forces was the tropical island of Hainan.
Lin Biao was considered one of the Communists' most brilliant generals after the founding of the People's Republic of China, in 1949. Lin was the youngest of the "Ten Marshals" named in 1955, a title that recognized Lin's substantial military contributions.