Learning Through Practice

Lin Biao and the Transition to Conventional Combined Operations in China’s Northeast, 1946-1948

In: Journal of Chinese Military History
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  • 1 Military History Center, Department of History, University of North Texas

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Abstract

American scholars of Chinese history have generally explained the outcome of China’s civil war (1945-1949) by reference to social, economic, and political factors rather than by looking at the conduct of the war itself. Recently, military historians have begun to shift the focus to Communist strategy and operations. However, the question of how the Chinese Communist forces made the transition from guerrilla to conventional warfare has still not received sufficient attention. Using Mao Zedong’s theories of guerrilla warfare and Peter Senge’s model of the “learning organization” to analyze Lin Biao’s conduct of the war against the Nationalists in China’s Northeast (Manchuria), we can better understand how the Northeast People’s Liberation Army transformed itself from a force characterized by “guerrilla-ism” to the powerful army capable of defeating Jiang Jieshi’s best troops. The Communists performed poorly when they first encountered American-trained Nationalist units in the Northeast. Lin Biao and his staff responded to defeat by devising principles of tactics which they applied in a series of campaigns beginning with the “Three Expeditions/Four Defenses” (winter 1946-47). The Communist forces continued to derive lessons from their experience and to incorporate those lessons into programs of education and training. As a result, they made great strides forward in terms of the coordination of infantry, artillery, and armor in order to be able to pull off a conventional combined arms operation on the scale of the Liao-Shen Campaign. The Communist forces would bring these strengths with them when they entered the Korean War in 1950.

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  • 1

    Fairbank, Reischauer, and Craig 1989, 939.

  • 2

    Acheson 1949, XIV; Chang 1990, 15.

  • 3

    The classics in this area are Tang 1963, Pepper 1978, and Eastman 1984. See also Lutze 2007 and Yick 1995. With respect to the civil war in the Northeast, Levine 1987 includes one chapter on the military dimension of the struggle, but the bulk of the book is devoted to political, economic, and social issues. My purpose here is not to detract from the significant contributions that these scholars have made, but simply to draw attention to the military aspect of the civil war.

  • 5

    Fairbank, Reischauer, and Craig 1989, 937-40; Spence 1999, 469-73.

  • 6

    See Bjorge 2004, Cheng 2005 and 2009, Lew 2009, Westad 2003, and Xiang 1998.

  • 7

    He 1987, 430.

  • 9

    For example, see Marlowe 2009.

  • 10

    Mao 1938, 172.

  • 11

    Mao 2000, 42.

  • 12

    Mao 1938, 136-37.

  • 13

    Mao 1938, 138-39.

  • 14

    Mao 1938, 174.

  • 15

    Mao 1938, 182.

  • 16

    Mao 1947, 161.

  • 17

    Tang 2010, 225.

  • 18

    Senge 1990. The idea of using Senge’s model of the “learning organization” as a tool of analysis was suggested by Miller 2011.

  • 19

    Senge 1990, 10.

  • 20

    Senge 1990, 5-10.

  • 21

    Senge 1990, 12.

  • 22

    Senge 1990, 6-7.

  • 23

    Senge 1990, 14.

  • 29

    Qiu 2011, 161.

  • 35

    Mao 1936, 233-39.

  • 36

    O’Dowd 2007, 145.

  • 37

    O’Dowd 2007, 145.

  • 38

    George 1967, 3; Appleman 1989, 353; Fehrenbach 1963, 119.

  • 40

    Sanjun daxue 1989, 645; Wang 2000, 675; Ding and Ge 1987, 87.

  • 41

    Li 2011, vol. 1, 187.

  • 42

    Sanjun daxue 1989, 644-45, 648.

  • 45

    Lin Biao, quoted in Liu 1997, 306. See also Lin, “Jizhong juedui youshi bingli jiandi yige tuan de zhanshu zhishi” [Tactical directive on concentrating absolute force advantage to annihilate an enemy regiment] (25 October 1946), in lbjl, doc. # 13.

  • 46

    Lin Biao, quoted in Liu 1997, 307.

  • 49

    Li 2011, vol. 1, 190-91; Liu 1997, 315.

  • 51

    Zhang 1991, 238-39.

  • 52

    Han 1988, 94; Xiao 1988, 257.

  • 54

    Zhengzhi xueyuan 1984, 201-2.

  • 56

    Liu 1997, 336-37.

  • 60

    Liu 1997, 336.

  • 76

    Qiu 2011, 162.

  • 84

    Zhang 2010, 74. The following discussion of “Speak Bitterness” draws on Zhang and on Wu 2006, vol. 2, 401.

  • 86

    Luo Ronghuan zhuan bianxiezu 2006, 258-59; “Dongzong zhengzhibu guanyu 3 zong kaizhan suku yundong de jingyan xiang junwei zongzheng de baogao” [The Northeast Political Office’s report to the Central Military Commission’s political office concerning the experience of the Third Column’s speak bitterness campaign] (28 September 1947), in zrjd disanji, 6, xia, 742-44.

  • 87

    Liang 1988, 281.

  • 88

    Wu 2006, 402-3.

  • 89

    Qiu 2011, vol. 1, 160-61.

  • 90

    Zhang 2010, 77.

  • 92

    Senge 1990, 5-10.

  • 93

    Wu 2006, vol. 2, 403-4.

  • 94

    Wu 2006, vol. 2, 403-4.

  • 96

    Wu 2006, 404; Zhongguo renmin jiefangjun disishiyijun silingbu 1956, 134; “Disanshijiujun zhanshi—Liaoshen zhanyi bufen,” 2.

  • 101

    Liu 1948, 162.

  • 102

    Liu 1948, 160; “Shitian junshi lianbing jingyan” [Experiences of ten days of military training], Dongbei ribao, 28 May 1948, 1; “Erxian bingtuan jinzhong jixun” [Second line troops in intense training], Dongbei ribao, 28 May 1948, 1; “Zhankai junshi lianbing yundong,” Dongbei ribao, 18 May 1948, 1.

  • 103

    Wu 2006, vol. 2, 403; “Shitian junshi lianbing jingyan”, Dongbei ribao, 28 May 1948, 1.

  • 104

    Liu 1948, 162.

  • 121

    Westad 2003, 120, 123.

  • 122

    Paine 2012, 246, 253; Tanner 2010, 158; Westad 2003, 196.

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