The Long March: A monumental mile of history

By Li Xia
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China Pictorial, October 25, 2016
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Eighty years ago, the Chinese Workers' and Peasants' Red Army arrived at their destination in northern Shaanxi Province after a journey of 12,500 kilometers. The military maneuver carried out by the army under the leadership of the Communist Party of China (CPC) from October 1934 to October 1936 would come to be known as the Long March.

A unit of the First Front Army of the Chinese Workers' and Peasants' Red Army poses for a photo after arriving in northern Shaanxi Province. In October 1935, the First Front Army completed the Long March after breaking sieges by the Kuomintang troops and overcoming various natural barriers. CFB

A unit of the First Front Army of the Chinese Workers' and Peasants' Red Army poses for a photo after arriving in northern Shaanxi Province. In October 1935, the First Front Army completed the Long March after breaking sieges by the Kuomintang troops and overcoming various natural barriers. CFB 

The CPC and its army set out on the march westward and then veered north, enduring unbearable difficulty and suffering: Lacking food, they subsisted on grass roots and tree bark. Many wore straw shoes and could barely cover themselves in the chilly winter. They crossed two dozen snow-capped mountains, enduring thin air in places few had ever traveled at altitudes of more than 4,000 meters. Of all the swamps that the Red Army crossed, Songpan Marsh in eastern Qinghai-Tibet Plateau was the most dangerous. Spanning 15,200 square kilometers, it consists of numerous muddy ponds and trenches.

"I had difficulty breathing as the air became thinner and thinner, leaving me barely able to talk," recalled late CPC leader Dong Biwu of the experience of crossing a snow-crowned mountain during the Long March. "It was so cold that the steam I exhaled froze immediately and my hands and lips turned purple. Some people and cattle slipped into the icy river and disappeared forever. Those who sat down for a rest were quickly numbed by the cold."

Along with harsh natural conditions, the Red Army was also besieged by Kuomintang forces. Stories of the Red Army taking the Luding Bridge evidence the fierceness of the battle. To stop the Red Army, Kuomintang troops removed the planks on the suspension bridge over the Dadu River, leaving only 13 iron chains. Eventually, 22 Red Army soldiers risked their lives to capture the bridge after a fierce battle. The Long March was a miracle of human history and a glorious epic written by the CPC and the Red Army.

After successfully leading the Red Army to northern Shaanxi, where support from the people was strong, the CPC defeated Japanese invaders and the Kuomintang one after the other and founded the People's Republic of China in 1949. The marvelous Long March laid an important foundation for the victory.

After its founding in 1921, the CPC once joined hands with the Kuomintang to launch the Great Revolution aiming to overthrow rule of feudal warlords. The Great Revolution ultimately failed, as did CPC-Kuomintang cooperation. The CPC then independently led the Land Revolution and organized armed operations against the corrupt, counter-revolutionary Kuomintang government. As a result, the Red Army and its revolutionary bases continued to expand. At its peak in 1933, the CPC-controlled Central Soviet Area that developed from revolutionary bases in southern Jiangxi Province and western Fujian Province covered 60 counties: population of 4.35 million and territory of about 84,000 square kilometers.

In 1931, the Japanese army staged the September 18 Incident as part of a move to occupy northeastern China. To save the nation, the CPC began to commit to resisting Japanese aggression. However, the Kuomintang government assembled forces to besiege the Central Soviet Area, attempting to eliminate the CPC and its army. Some CPC leaders made the mistake of steadfastly sticking to leftist dogmatism, resulting in the failure of the fifth campaign against "encirclement and suppression" by Kuomintang troops. The Red Army was forced to set out on the Long March to retreat to areas where the Kuomintang was weak, nearer the anti-Japanese fronts, so the CPC could conserve its forces to defend against Japanese aggression.

As Deng Xiaoping said, the Red Army "was forced to begin the Long March." Although the Long March was a military retreat caused by the leftist dogmatic errors of some CPC leaders and besiegement by Kuomintang troops, the ultimate goal was to resist Japanese aggression and save the nation. During the Long March, the CPC publicized information to make the public more aware of resistance efforts against the Japanese invaders and mobilized people to join the Red Army. Even in remote, secluded areas, the army's efforts to resist Japanese aggression won respect and support from local residents.

Wherever they arrived, the Red Army helped the poor overthrow local despots, distribute the land, and abolish heavy taxes. A popular ballad goes, "supporting the Red Army to win the war is the only way for workers and peasants to be liberated." Slogans such as "Poor starving people, come join the Red Army" and "The Red Army is the savior of the poor" were found in villages the Red Army passed during the Long March.

When the Red Army arrived in Bijie City, Guizhou Province, CPC leaders met Zhou Suyuan, a local dignitary, and explained Marxist theories and the attitudes of the CPC. Zhou later became commander of the CPC-led Guizhou Anti-Japanese and National Salvation Army and joined the Long March to northern Shaanxi. When the Red Army passed regions inhabited by ethnic minorities, its General Political Department issued an order requiring all officers to unconditionally obey customs and rules of local ethnic minorities and clarify those customs and rules to all soldiers, rigidly oppose prejudices of Han supremacy concepts and mobilize all soldiers to publicize the goals of the Red Army to people from all ethnic minorities, especially ideas on ethnic autonomy and equality. The Red Army rigorously implemented the CPC's policies on ethnic equality and religion, which enabled it to win trust and support from local Tibetan people including eight eminent monks at the Guihua Monastery in Zhongdian, Yunnan Province. The monastery donated 5,000 kilograms of grain to the Red Army.

In Red Star Over China, American journalist Edgar Snow wrote: "The highest-ranking commanders eat and dress the same as ordinary soldiers… The Communist Party has no high-paid or corrupt officials and generals, but in other Chinese military organizations, officials embezzle much of the funds intended for the military." Despite the difficulties of the Long March, the ideals, courage, wisdom and action of the CPC inspired people along the route, and many of them joined the Red Army. For instance, in February 1935, more than 3,000 people joined in Zhaxi, Yunnan, and another 6,000 people from Sichuan Province's Jiangyou and Zhongba joined the Red Army between April and May 1935. Preliminary statistics show that a total of 43,000 people living along the route of the Long March joined the Red Army from November 1934 to September 1936.

Chairman Mao Zedong once said, "The Long March is the first of its kind in the annals of history. It is a manifesto, a publicity force, and a seeding-machine. Who made the Long March a victory? The Communist Party. Without the Communist Party, a march of this kind would have been inconceivable."

The CPC overcame setbacks by conquering many with few and defeating the strong with the weak. The key to the victory of the Long March is that the CPC followed the call of the times, upheld its ideals, responded to the hopes of the people, and maintained the spirit of selflessness. This is the precious legacy that the Long March left to the CPC, which gradually facilitated the creation of huge wealth over the course of China's revolution and subsequent economic development. Just as Chinese President Xi Jinping commented, "The Long March was a great expedition seeking ideals and faith, testing truth, and breaking new ground."

On October 21, 2016, the CPC Central Committee held a gathering to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the victory of the Long March. In his speech at the gathering, President Xi remarked, "The great spirit of the Long March is the precious spiritual wealth that cost the Party and the people a hefty price of painful struggle. Across each generation, we must keep in mind, learn, and promote the great spirit of the Long March, preserving its strong spiritual strength that continues to motivate the Party, the state, the people, the military, and the nation to stride toward a brighter future." By upholding the spirit of the Long March, the Chinese people are confident about their own development and prepared to shoulder responsibilities of all mankind and its future. This is why the CPC cherishes the legacy of the Long March.

(Some historical points in this article are from the Theme Exhibition on the 80th Anniversary of the Victory of the Long March of the Chinese Workers' and Peasants' Red Army)

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