Mao's treatment of opponents

Chris Burford cburford at
Sun Sep 3 08:33:02 MDT 1995

Mao's treatent of opponents


One of the striking differences
between inner party conflicts in China and in Russia, was that
in the Chinese case political opponents tended to come out
bruised but alive. Mao did not have Deng or Lui shot.


Louis: Paul is absolutely correct about the relatively low level of
repression in People's China. I think Mao's role as revolutionary, just as
Ho Chi Minh's, is something that has to be fully evolved by Marxism. I think
neither the hagiography by people like William Hinton, nor the standard
Trotskyite denunciations of Chinese "Stalinism" do justice to this

Chris B:

Mao's doctor's biography, which is no eulogy (warts, venereal
diseases and all) describes the events of the defection of Lin Biao in
dramatic detail.

"Mao's face collapsed when Zhou Enlai told him that Lin Biao had fled.
But he quickly regained his composure and listened silently. His face
was now impassive as Zhou continued to talk. If Mao feared for his
own safety, he never let it show.

Zhou suggested that Mao move immediately to the Great Hall of the
People. Lin Biao's intentions were still unclear, but he had many
military supporters in Beijing. If they were planning a coup, an
armed attack might be imminent."

"At about twelve-fifty in the morning of September 13th 1971, less than
an hour after we had arrived, deputy commander Zhang Hong called.
Zhang and his aides had pursued Lin Biao's Red Flag limousine to the
Shanhaiguan airport. They had opened fire on the armoured limousine, but
to no effect. The back window was bulletproof. On the way, the limousine
had halted briefly, and Lin Biao's secretary, Li Wenpu, was shoved to the
ground and fired upon by someone inside the limousine. Li Wenpu was
later sent to the 305 Hospital with a bullet wound in his right arm,
but Wang Dongxing ordered him isolated and later moved him to an
unknown place.

The limousine carrying Lin Biao was too fast for their military jeep.
Zhang's forces arrived at the airport just as the plane was taxiing
down the runway.

Zhou Enlai suggested to Mao that they order a missile attack against the

Mao refused. "Rain will fall from the skies. Widows will remarry.
What can we do? Lin Biao wants to flee. Let him. Don't shoot," he said.

We waited.

There was not need to shoot. We soon learned that the plane had taken
off in such haste that it had not been properly fueled."

"Three days later, on September 16th, the ambassador informed Zhou Enlai
that dental records had positively identified Lin Biao as one of the dead.
'That's what you get for running away,' Mao said when he received the
news. "

Although Mao's doctor, Zhisui Li, reports Zhou Enlai and another senior
leader as pleased, there is no other report of any exultation, anger or
vindictiveness on Mao's part.

The doctor however describes Mao's health taking a marked turn for the

"When the immediate crisis was over, the arrests had been made, and Mao
knew that he was safe, he became depressed. He took to his bed and lay
there all day, saying and doing little. When he did get up, he seemed to
have aged. ...

On November 20, 1971, little more than two months after
Lin Biao's death, when the affair was still officially secret, people were
shocked to see the television broadcast of Mao's meeting with the
North Vietnamese premier, Pham Van Dong, in Mao's haven in the Great Hall
of the People. ...

As always when adversity sent him to bed, Mao was thinking through a new
political strategy. The party had been decimated since he launched the
Cultural Revolution in the spring of 1966, more than five years before,
and many high-ranking official were dead. Others were in exile. Many
who had been purged had been accused of disloyalty to Mao. But no one had
been as disloyal as Mao's closest comrade in arms, and many of the leaders
Mao had purged had warned him against Lin Biao, arguing that he was unfit
for leadership. They had opposed the hyperbole of Lin's cult of the
personality, his simplistic insistence on men over machines, his
opposition to modernization, his inane mouthing of slogans.

After lying in bed for nearly two months, Mao was ready for a
reconciliation. He wanted the men he had purged to return.

Chen Yi's funeral [Jan 10 1972] was the first hint I had that Mao
was planning to rehabilitate the men he had overthrown."

At this Mao cries with Chen's widow.  Mao's doctor says he was acting.

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