Close Calls: 5 Unsuccessful Assassination Plots and Coups
Close Calls: 5 Unsuccessful Assassination Plots and Coups

Close Calls: 5 Unsuccessful Assassination Plots and Coups

Patrick Lynch - May 28, 2017

Close Calls: 5 Unsuccessful Assassination Plots and Coups

Project 571 – The Plot to Oust Chairman Mao in 1971

This failed plot was given the name Project 571 because the numbers 5, 7, and 1 sound like ‘armed uprising’ in Chinese. The plan involved overthrowing the leader of China, Mao Zedong, better known as Chairman Mao, and was planned by supporters of Lin Biao, the Communist Party of China’s vice-chairman. In the aftermath of the plot, the Chinese government claimed that Biao was at the head of the conspiracy. In reality, the leader of the coup was probably his son, Lin Liguo.

The original claim was that by 1970, Biao believed Mao no longer trusted him, and he had a desire to become supreme leader of China. The official narrative suggests that Biao and his wife began planning the murder attempt in February 1971. The following month, Liguo held a secret meeting with his closest supporters at a Shanghai air base, and it was here that he drafted Project 571.

The first official Outline was created by Yu Xinye on March 23/24. In it, the group had eight different ways to kill Mao including blowing up a railway bridge as his train crossed it and shooting him with a handgun. Mao was apparently oblivious to the attempt on his life, but in August 1971, he scheduled a meeting to discuss the political future of Biao and met other important members of his cabinet in Beijing. On September 5, Biao reportedly heard that Mao was planning to execute him so he sped up the plot and on September 8, he gave the order to carry out Project 571.

The group decided to sabotage Mao’s train, but their plans were ruined when Mao changed his route on September 11. There was apparently multiple attempts on Mao’s life that day, but his bodyguards saved him. He arrived safely in Beijing the following day, and Project 571 was a complete failure. Biao’s group knew all was lost, so they made plans to flee. Their first idea was to travel to Guangzhou to coordinate another attack on Mao with the Soviet Union. Once they found out that the Chinese Prime Minister, Zhou Enlai, was investigating the incident, they elected to flee to the Soviet Union instead.

On September 13, the major players in Project 571, including Baio and his son, boarded a small plane. However, in their haste, they did not ensure the plane was filled with enough fuel. The plane ran out of fuel over Mongolia and crashed, killing all nine people on board. Meanwhile, Chairman Mao was carrying out a purge on his armed forces. Everyone identified as being close to Baio or his family was purged in a matter of weeks. Within a month, an estimated 1,000 military officials had been purged. Mao circulated copies of Project 571 amongst the Communist Party; contradicting his earlier declaration that everyone within the Party was fully supportive of him.

Most scholars don’t believe that Baio was created Project 571 because the writers seemingly lacked the ability to mobilize large forces and did not possess much military knowledge. The military plans were of a fairly low standard; a black mark against the idea that Baio created the plan. He was one of China’s most successful generals and would have created something a lot more complex. In the plan, the writer said that he would rely on the Air Force. Baio had a lot of support from ground forces so there is no way he would have relied on aerial attacks.

Finally, Baio was close to Mao and shared his ideology. While there is a suggestion that the two had a falling out, it is unlikely that he would risk everything on a coup that had little chance of succeeding. In the Chinese Civil War, Baio was an expert in delaying combat until he knew his chances of victory were high. In all likelihood, his son was involved in Project 571 and doomed his father in the process.