In 2003, the crash report, including grisly photos of burned victims, was leaked from Mongolian intelligence archives. Contrary to the official Chinese explanation, the report (which was made available to me) showed that the plane had plenty of fuel when it crashed. No attempt had been made to land the plane, and weather conditions were fine. Mongolian investigators concluded that the pilot made an error. But they had no access to the plane’s black box; the Soviet military took it, along with one of the plane engines. The Soviets later came back and took the heads of the two victims with golden teeth, which, it turned out, belonged to Lin Biao and his wife.
These heads are said to remain at the archives of Russia’s Federal Security Service. Moscow has not released its findings about the crash, and China has remained silent. Although we know precious little about Lin Biao’s death, we know enough to conclude that at least part of Beijing’s explanation is a fabrication. In the absence of archival openness and amid repression of free historical inquiry, these kinds of myths and fabrications underpin the official discourse on history in China — hence, the need to repulse the infiltration of foreign books. Despite the best efforts of committed Chinese historians who defy government restrictions (and risk jail terms) to learn more, the government still has an iron grip on the past.