Lin then joined Communist leaders Zhu De (Chu Teh) and Mao Zedong (Mao Tse-tung) in the 1927–1928 Jiangxi Soviet, commanding Communist troops who resisted the GMD's protracted 1930–1936 "bandit (Communist) suppression campaigns." In 1934 and 1935, Lin led Communist I Corps in its breakout from GMD encirclement in Jiangxi on the Long March to Yan'an (Yenan), in Shaanxi (Shensi) Province.
Appointed commander of the Eighth Route Army's 115th Division in 1937, Lin gradually expanded his forces into what became the Fourth Field Army after the Communist-Nationalist anti-Japanese rapprochement. In September 1937, his troops ambushed a Japanese regiment, and Lin featured prominently in the unsuccessful autumn 1940 "Hundred Regiments" Offensive. From then until Japan surrendered in August 1945, Lin concentrated on building up Communist bases and forces behind Japanese lines in northern China, facilitating the Communist position in that region during the postwar conflict between GMD and Communist forces.
Immediately after the war ended, Lin entered Manchuria with 100,000 men. Although GMD troops forced him to retreat northward between April and June 1946, he regrouped; when he resumed the attack in May 1947, he had expanded his army to 500,000 men. Sweeping south throughout China, Lin's army captured several major cities: Shenyang (Mukden) in Liaoning in November 1948, Beijing (Peking) in Hebei in January 1949, and Guangzhou in October 1949.
From November 1950 to April 1951, Lin's Fourth Army spearheaded the Chinese forces that entered the Korean War. In 1955, he became 1 of the 10 marshals of the Chinese People's Liberation Army and in 1959 minister of defense. In 1969, Communist Party Chairman Mao named Lin—his supporter from 1966 to 1969 during the Cultural Revolution—as his heir. But for reasons that remain decidedly obscure, Mao apparently broke with him in 1971. Subsequently, Lin was alleged to have mounted an unsuccessful coup or assassination attempt against Mao, and on 13 September 1971, he died with his family in an airplane crash near the Mongolian frontier while fleeing for asylum to the Soviet Union.
Chassin, Lionel Max. The Communist Conquest of China: A History of the Civil War, 1945–1949. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1965.; Fairbank, John K., and Albert Feuerwerker, eds. The Cambridge History of China. Vol. 13, Republican China, 1912–1949, Part 2. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986.; Ginneken, Jaap van. The Rise and Fall of Lin Piao. London: Penguin, 1976.; Teiwes, Frederick C., and Warren Sun. The Tragedy of Lin Biao: Riding the Tiger during the Cultural Revolution, 1966–71. London: Hurst, 1996.; Westad, Odd Arne. Decisive Encounters: The Chinese Civil War, 1946–1950. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2003.