The Long March: The True History of Communist China's Founding Myth
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The Long March is Communist China’s founding myth, the heroic tale that every Chinese child learns in school. Seventy years after the historical march took place, Sun Shuyun set out to retrace the Marchers’ steps and unexpectedly discovered the true history behind the legend. The Long March is the stunning narrative of her extraordinary expedition.
The facts are these: in 1934, in the midst of a brutal civil war, the Communist party and its 200,000 soldiers were forced from their bases by Chiang Kaishek and his Nationalist troops. After that, truth and legend begin to blur: led by Mao Zedong, the Communists set off on a strategic retreat to the distant barren north of China, thousands of miles away. Only one in five Marchers reached their destination, where, the legend goes, they gathered strength and returned to launch the new China in the heat of revolution.
As Sun Shuyun journeys to remote villages along the Marchers’ route, she interviews the aged survivors and visits little-known local archives. She uncovers shocking stories of starvation, disease, and desertion, of ruthless purges ordered by party leaders, of the mistreatment of women, and of thousands of futile deaths. Many who survived the March report that their suffering continued long after the “triumph” of the revolution, recounting tales of persecution and ostracism that culminated in the horrific years of the Cultural Revolution.
What emerges from Sun’s research, her interviews, and her own memories of growing up in China is a moving portrait of China past and present. Sun finds that the forces at work during the days of the revolution—the barren, unforgiving landscape; the unifying power of outside threats from foreign countries; Mao’s brilliant political instincts and his use of terror, propaganda, and ruthless purges to consolidate power and control the population—are the very forces that made China what it is today.
The Long March is a gripping retelling of an amazing historical adventure, an eye-opening account of how Mao manipulated the event for his own purposes, and a beautiful document of a country balanced between legend and the truth.
training week or on the way to the front. An older man from his village slipped away when he asked permission to relieve himself in the woods. From then on, they all had to do it in public, but people continued to run away. Of the 800 who trained with him, barely a third made it to the front. Then it became harder to leave. There was one person in every platoon whose job it was to look out for “softies,” and it was old Liu in his. A strong man who was never short of a joke, Liu was almost like a
disappearing in droves.” Party archives and documents from the period confirm Huang’s story. In November and December 1933, out of at least 60,000 troops, there were 28,000 deserters in the Jiangxi Soviet—Ruijin alone had 4,300. The political commissar of the 5th Corps wrote in his diary that in September 1934 his 13th Division lost 1,800, or one-third of its men, due to desertion and illness. Even worse were the militias, who had been forced to help the soldiers dig trenches, move ammunition,
provincial Communists: “The entire Party [there] is under the leadership of rich peasants … Without a thorough purge of their leaders … there is no way the Party can be saved.” On December 7, 1930, Mao sent Li Shaojiu, Chairman of the Purge Committee he had set up in his army, to Futian Village; Li arrested almost the entire Jiangxi Communist Committee, 120 members in all. They were held under suspicion of being members of the Anti-Bolshevik Clique, a defunct Nationalist organization. For the
learned about the Long March in school. Still, I had no idea they passed through my village. And they had the toughest battle of the entire March on my own doorstep.” He was not the only one who did not know. When the Propaganda Ministry in Beijing decided to make a film to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the Long March, it gave the program on the Xiang River battle to Hunan, the province next to Jiangxi. They said they had not heard of it. It was passed to Guangxi Province, but the
became known. From Beijing I took the train, eighteen hours due south, and then after two hours more by bus through green-clad mountains and hills I found myself in Taihe in southern Jiangxi. It was a big town, with a grand new avenue, beautifully surfaced and complete with modern lighting—not many buildings yet, but looking for twenty-first-century growth. I wondered if I would have trouble finding Wang—after all, Taihe had a population of half a million people and all I had was her biography,