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Why a mysterious plane crash in 1971 still haunts Chinese politics



The Chinese government has made progress in containing the coronavirus, which has infected tens of thousands of people and killed more than 4,000 people in the country while spreading around the world. At the same time, Beijing is locked in an increasingly heated diplomatic confrontation with Washington. Nikkei’s China bureau chief Tetsushi Takahashi files dispatches on what he sees.

Monday September 14

The “Lin Biao incident” of September 13, 1971, during the Cultural Revolution, is arguably the darkest moment in contemporary Chinese history.

In China, most simply call it “the incident of September 13”. Lin was the vice chairman of the Chinese Communist Party. But in the early hours of that September day, his plane crashed into a grassy field in Mongolia, killing all nine people on board.

Lin is said to have fled to the Soviet Union after a failed coup attempt, which was to involve the assassination of Supreme Leader Mao Zedong.

Lin’s death remains shrouded in mystery. He was known as Mao’s “close comrade in arms” and was named as his successor at the National Party Congress in April 1969. Why did he plot to assassinate Mao two years later? These events are still one of the party’s biggest taboos.

About 2 km northwest of the Zhongnanhai area of ​​Beijing, where the party is based, is a place called Maojiawan. Lin lived there for almost 20 years, starting in the 1950s.

I visited Maojiawan on Saturday, but couldn’t enter because it was surrounded by high walls. When I stood in front of the door, probably once used by Lin to come and go, a middle-aged man came to talk to me.

“Are you looking for Lin Biao’s house?” He asked. There seem to be quite a few curious visitors like me.

The man said he was from northeast China. Lin served as commander-in-chief in the region in the late 1940s, during the Communist Party’s civil war with the Nationalist Party.

The man, who said his grandfather fought as a Communist soldier under Lin’s command, made no secret of his respect for the late leader. “Commander-in-Chief Lin was a great figure,” he said. “It is a historical fact and cannot be changed.”

Lin is still highly regarded for his military prowess, having led the Communist forces to many victories. At the Military Museum of the Chinese People’s Revolution in Beijing, you can see many photographs of Lin leading the troops at the front.

Mao and Lin met in the second half of the 1920s at Jinggang Mountain in Jiangxi Province, the Communist Party’s first revolutionary base, and then continued to work together. It was Lin who compiled the book “Quotes from Chairman Mao Tse-tung” and led the Cultural Revolution, which broke out in 1966. The Supreme Leader and his designated successor seemed to have full confidence in each other. .

Decades later, the cause of Mao and Lin’s apparent estrangement is one to guess.

In general, powerful people often come to fear that they will lose their authority once their successor is chosen. Mao’s suspicions that Lin posed a threat may have gradually increased.

Current President Xi Jinping, also secretary general of the Communist Party, has not yet revealed who will succeed him. Xi is generally expected to enter a third term at the party’s next national convention in fall 2022, rather than retire.

Looking at the walls around Maojiawan, where Lin lived, I wondered if the lessons from Lin Biao’s incident had an impact on Xi’s judgment.

Friday September 11: Xi’s ‘Clean Plate’ campaign evokes memories of Mao

Wednesday was the 44th anniversary of Mao Zedong’s death. The founding father of modern China is still loved by many citizens.

When I passed Tiananmen Square before noon that day, I saw many people come out of Chairman Mao Memorial Hall, also known as Mao Zedong’s Mausoleum, where his body is embalmed and enshrined.

The room is usually only open in the morning, but visitors were also allowed in the afternoon. They had been asked to book their visit the day before.

It was Mao who started the infamous Cultural Revolution. Why, then, do many Chinese still worship him? Many say that everyone was poor during the Mao era. The chief himself is said to have led a simple life until his death. For those who are unhappy with China’s widening wealth gap, it symbolizes a more equal society.

“Eat more when you’re busy, but eat less when you’re not busy” – Mao often urged people to save on food from the 1950s to the 1960s. China was on the verge of famine by then. As a leader, it was up to him to set an example.

Following in Mao’s footsteps, President Xi Jinping abruptly ordered the public in mid-August to stop wasting food. The “Clean Plate” campaign started immediately across the country. All over Beijing, posters now warn of the remains.

When I went to Quanjude, a chain of Peking duck restaurants, staff in black uniforms were watching over the tables. They wore lapel pins that said “no food waste monitors”.

“Our job is to tell customers not to order more than they can eat,” one said. “We encourage customers to order a moderate amount of food and to pack leftovers.”

Da bao is a Chinese custom to bring home leftovers from restaurants. The practice had become less common as China got richer, but a single order from Xi appears to have revived it.

But why was his warning suddenly necessary? “Our country continues to have a good harvest, but we must still have a sense of urgency for food security,” said the chairman of China’s state-run Xinhua News Agency.

Xi must be mindful of growing tensions with the United States. I can’t help but think that the Clean Plate campaign is a way to bring the nation together to face the crisis, recalling the time when the country was impoverished.

Monday September 7: Surrounded by the “ Red Army ” on the “ revolutionary holy place ” of China

Last weekend, I finally got to visit a place I couldn’t wait to see: Jinggangshan in Jiangxi Province. It was in these mountains that Mao Zedong first organized the peasants and established a stronghold for armed struggle in the late 1920s.

I had planned to make the trip in February but was forced to postpone it due to the coronavirus pandemic. Now that the epidemic is largely under control in China, people are allowed to travel almost freely within the country.

My trip to the Chinese Communist Party’s “revolutionary holy site” was my first trip outside of Beijing in eight months. When I arrived, I was surprised to see many tourists.

In fact, “tourists” is not quite the right word. Most of them appeared to participate in training trips organized by organizations and companies linked to the parties.

They got off big buses, one after another, in groups of dozens. They wore uniforms of the Red Army, the predecessor of the People’s Liberation Army. It was a rather strange scene.

When I went to the Jinggangshan Revolutionary Museum, I found a long line at the entrance for group visitors. However, no one was waiting at the door for individuals. When I presented my passport, the attendant looked surprised and spoke to his boss. “You are the first foreign national to come here since the start of the coronavirus epidemic,” the attendant told me.

He confirmed that I hadn’t traveled outside of China since mid-January and finally let me in.

In the fall of 1927, following an unsuccessful armed uprising in Hunan Province, Mao led the remaining troops and fled into the mountains. He recruited poor peasants and launched a guerrilla war, descending from heights and attacking the landowners.

The Central Committee of the Communist Party aimed to seize power by organizing workers in urban areas. But that idea fell into a dead end in what was still an underdeveloped agricultural country.

The Communists were pushed into a corner by the Nationalist Party in the cities and threatened with collapse. But Mao saved the besieged movement from its crisis of life and death by adopting a strategy of “besieging the towns of farming villages.” His troops grew in strength and routed the Nationalist Army some 20 years later, resulting in the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949.

Without this change in strategy by Mao, which dates back to Jinggangshan, the Communist Party would not have taken power. Successive supreme rulers have insisted on visiting the region for this reason.

President and General Secretary of the Communist Party Xi Jinping visited in February 2016 and described the place as “a mountain of revolution”, “a mountain of fighting”, “a mountain of heroes” and “a mountain of glory. “.

Political experts often point out that Xi’s Belt and Road Initiative – which calls for the creation of a massive economic zone connecting China to Europe by land and sea – is modeled on Mao’s strategy of ” besiege the towns of agricultural villages ”. They see the BIS as a strategy to fight the United States by strengthening China’s economic strength and bringing emerging countries to its side.

Looking at the groups in their Red Army uniforms, I thought that modern China had inherited the DNA from Mao.

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