aordinary adventure against impossible odds. Yet, it was completely unnecessary. The Fifth Extermination Campaign was a failure. Also, there were at least two ways for them to establish themselves in Shanghai without marching all the way to Yenan. Even though the Long March helped the Communist Revolution, they did not have to undertake a mission which would kill so many of their people. It is true that if the Long March had not taken place, China might not be a Communist nation, and a capitalist society would be a good thing for China. This march, no matter how wonderful it seems, was a huge mistake in history.Order now
The Fifth Extermination Campaign was launched in October 1933. The Nationalists had many more men and arms than the other four campaigns, which explains why all the other campaigns failed. This campaign had a strategy of caution and patience as they marched on Kiangsi and met the Red Army. While diversionary troops sacrificed themselves in delaying actions elsewhere on the front, the main body of Communist forces broke through a comparatively weak point in the Nationalists’ encirclement and escaped toward southwestern Kiangsi.
Around five o’clock in the evening, Mao and about twenty others left Yutu by the North Gate, and then turned to the left towards the river, which was all yellow, roaring and foaming, as though calling on the enemies to advance. Soon the sun set, and the gusts bitter cold wind chilled us. The Chairman wore a gray cloth uniform and an eight-cornered military cap, with no overcoat. He walked with enormous strides around the river bank.
‘When we were some miles beyond Yutu, we saw flashing lights and heard strange sounds coming from the distance. Chuang Fu-wu, the male nurse, was puzzled, and asked what was happening.
“’They’re our troops,” the Chairman said.
‘I was puzzled, for I remembered I had not seen a single soldier on the road from Yutu, and how could so many soldiers have appeared from nowhere?
‘We found a bridge made of barges spanning the river, and the Red Army was crossing over, waving myriads of torches so that they resembled fire dragons. Their laughter mingled with songs and shouts, echoing backward and forward along the line.
“’How is it there are so many?” I asked the Chairman.
“’Oh, that’s not many,” he replied. “There are far, far more ahead of us.”
‘So we walked over to the floating bridge, crowded with Calvary and foot soldiers, porters and peasants who had come to say good-bye. The Chairman would step aside to let them pass. At midnight some peasants shouted,”They are going to capture Kupo and Hsingtien soon!” and when daylight came the news was confirmed. We were very pleased, because both t these towns had salt wells, and salt was lacking where we had come from. We had won the first victories of the Long March.”12
No one knew where they were going. They set out in 1934, but they did not know that they would be in Yenan (which was 6,000 miles away) by the end of 1935.
“If you mean, did we have any exact plans, the answer is that we had none. We intended to break out of the encirclement and join up with the other soviets. Beyond that, there was only a very deliberate desire to put ourselves in a position where we could fight the Japanese.” Mao said.3
The Zunyi Conference was held in January 1935. Policies of twenty-eight Bolsheviks were repudiated, and Mao Tse-tung was installed as effective leader of the Party.
“Mao was not so powerless before the Conference, nor did he become so powerful after it.”4
When the Communists reached the Wu River in Kweichow they found themselves surrounded by Nationalists. They had already crossed the river, but the enemy waited on both banks, waiting to spring forth. At that time, the Communists had a firm belief in the power of one man to win a battle. They sent one soldier out at night after they had silenced the guns with mortars. The swimmer acquired a boat hidden against the shore and brought it back. The boat was sent backward and forward with the Red Army all through the night and a beachhead was established. It was at that point that the boats were all captured, the Red Army surprised the Nationalists, and had a glorious victory.
Further along the march, the Red Army decided to capture Tsunyi to make it a base of operations against the province of Szechuan. Under rain and mist, they overran an enemy outpost in a village ten miles south of the town in which they killed nearly all defenders. From the survivors they found out the plans of the Kuomintang. At night, during heavy rain, a party of Red Army soldiers in borrowed Kuomintang uniforms crept up to the town, claiming to be survivors from the battle in the village and begged to be let in. Then a voice from the gate tower ordered the heavy wooden gates to be opened. They were let in, and by the end of the night, they had slaughtered every man, women, and child in the town. It was the first large town to be captured on the march.
The Meeting of the Political Bureau was held at Tsunyi. It was to decide the course of the march, strategy, tactics, the nature of command, and the nature of their aims. Mao dominated the meeting. In his view they had reached a state of crisis. It was necessary to reconsider the whole basis of Chinese Communist philosophy. As he saw it, they were still dominated by the philosophy of Li Lisan.
During the Long March, Mao Tse-tung worked at night pouring over newspapers, books, and captured documents, making important passages in red pencil. He kept everything he had in a knapsack which he carried over his shoulder. It was divided into nine compartments: one for maps, one for newspapers, one for books, etc. He regarded his knapsack as his most valuable possession so he liked to have it in view. During these times he came up with three major disciplines:
“Obey orders in all your actions”
“Do not take a single needle or piece of thread from the masses”
“Turn in everything captured”5
The Yangtse River, in Yunnan, is known as the Gold Sand River. The Kuomintang had removed all the ferryboats to the northern shore, while the Communists made a forced march in three columns across the plain until they reached the river. A fourth column was sent moving backward and forward between Kunming and the river to distract the enemy. The enemy was in no hurry. The first column covered forty-five miles in a single day. They found a boat tethered on the south side of the river and they boarded it disguised as civilians. When they reached the river crossing at Chouping, the Reds found a tax officer and said that they were Kuomintang troops in disguise. They ordered him to send the boats over to the south bank with food and fuel. They also got invited to dinner with the local landlords. That night, the Red Army troops were ferried over to the north bank where they camped the night. They were attended by the landlords who provided them comfort and offered them a feast.
Tungchow was ten miles from Chouping guarded by two battalions of Kuomintang troops. They were sleeping with their weapons scattered all around them when the Red Army attacked. The arms, of course, were captured including some good machine guns. It was considered the Red Army’s easiest victory.
It was May, and they were quite near Tibet, in the province of Spate. There were few trees, little vegetation, and almost no houses. Here and there they would come upon a gray palace surrounded by stockades. Their food was running out and they had to depend on their Lolo guides who led them along the mountain trails to Anshunch’ang, which overhangs the Tatu River. The Red Army found three boats and sent 500 men over the river. Unfortunately, two of the boats sunk, so it was decided not to send anymore. The men on the other side of the river were ordered to continue the march to Lutingch’iao, while the rest of the army would follow the trail along the gorges. It was hoped that those on the other side would be able to reduce the regiment holding the bridge at Lutingch’iao before the main forces came up. Although, the Mienninghsien Gorges proved to be quite dangerous. The trails were five feet wide along the cliffs, and to surprise the enemy, they made forced night marches. Since there was no moon they were compelled to light flares, and news of their advance soon became known. Many people fell off the cliffs in the dark.
The Lutingch’iao Bridge was built in 1701 under the orders of the Emperor Kang Hsi. It was made up of thirteen immense chains, each over 300 feet long, made of charcoal-smelted iron, and secured to the cliffs. On nine of these, loose planks were laid with two chains serving as railings. Each link in the chain is as big as a rice bowl. At the head of the bridge was a stone slab bearing the lines:
“Towering mountains flank the Lutingch’iao.
Their summits rise a thousand li to the clouds.” 6
Below the bridge were roaring torrents of water tumbling down horrible cliffs with ugly boulders rising from the river bed. On the other side of the bridge was the town of Lusting, which was half on the shore and half spreading up the slope on the opposite mountain. It was a walled town defended by two Kuomintang regiments. They had built forts along the slope with machine-gun emplacements close to the bridge. When the Red Army arrived on the small cliff edge they found that the Kuomintang troops had already heard news of their coming, and most of the planks had been removed. This was the only bridge on that part of the river. If they failed to capture it, they could only go back from whence they came. They called for volunteers who would have to crawl along the chains with only pistols and hand grenades with the Kuomintang machine-guns shooting at them. To divert attention from these volunteers, the Red Army attacked another part of the enemy’s force with machine-guns. The men who had crossed over by boat earlier, were nowhere to be seen. One by one the volunteers making their way across the bridge fell down into the ravine, either because they were shot or because of the wind. Nothing could be done for them. In the end one soldier made it to the planks on the other side, threw a hand grenade and got Kuomintang troops away from the bridge. Fifteen or sixteen soldiers were then able to reach the burning planks. Almost at the same moment the soldiers who had crossed earlier at Anshunch’ang came into sight and the battle was soon won by the Red Army. It was May 30, 1935.
During the crossing of the Great Snow Mountain, Mao was sick and suffered from fever. During part of the journey he had to be carried. The hardships were beginning to tell. It was absolutely necessary that the mountain be crossed in a single morning. If they did not, they would face violent storms through which they would not survive. At least half the pack animals were lost on the mountain, and some who were too weak to go on because of the thin air, were killed by hailstorms later. The Great Snow Mountain is believed to be 16,300 feet, but the Red Army was convinced that it was much larger. When they reached the bottom, they had to rest for almost a month to get their strength back.
People who survived the Long March still remember the Grasslands with horror. There were long plains of black and yellow grass, and poisonous mud which made their legs swell with red blisters. The marshes would suddenly give place to create slow moving. The rivers were nearly foul. There were deep mud holes and earth soft underfoot. There was nothing but plain and swamp which explained why there were so few trees. The grass was a foot high and a thick haze over most of the swamp made it impossible to see ahead. The mosquitoes were the size of horse-leeches. No houses or villages could be seen. It rained every night making sleep impossible. The grass was too wet to burn or cook food so the few sticks of wood they had were used within two days. Also, no rice was available so they lived on green wheat carried in sausage-like bags on their shoulders, and dug up what seemed to be turnips but proved to be poisonous. The water made them ill, winds beat them, hailstorms were followed by snow, and the Kuomintang had ambushes around every corner. At night it was deathly cold. They made shelters of clumps of grass knotted together, but the cold was still unbearable. They had lost all their medical supplies, so those who were ill had to be left behind to die. Columns became lost from each other. Soon ropes were laid down to guide them through the marshes but they soon vanished into quicksand. Men died of cold, thirst, starvation, drowning in quicksands, along with many other ailments. They lost there few remaining pack animals after the Great Snow Mountain. Occasionally, they came upon ancient forests in which they could rest, search for mushrooms, light fires, and try to get their health back. Mao said:
“Chu Teh crossed it three times, and I found the greatest difficulty in crossing it once.”7
The Long March finally came to an end. Success had been achieved at a frightful cost. 100,000 had set out from Kiangsi and fewer than 20,000 remained. Many of the survivors were recruits who had joined the Red Army during the march. Many of the leaders were killed. Those who survived the Long March bore traces of their suffering for years afterward. They had crossed eighteen mountain ranges and twenty-four rivers, fought 14 major battles, and traversed 12 major provinces- Kiangsi, Kwangtung, Hunan, Kwangsi, Kweichow, Yunnan, Szechuan, Sikang, Kansu, Shensi, Honan, and Hupeh (many larger than most European countries). Mao believed that the march had proved the superiority of guerrilla tactics. The Red Army had certainly proved that through many things, including their mobility. A legend had been created. Mao was perfectly conscious of the power of legends. When the Red Army reached Shanghai, the survivors could tell themselves that patience and intellect had won all their battles. They had hardly reached northern Shensi which was even poorer and more isolated than Kiangsi. When they went to establish another Soviet, a new phase began. Edgar Snow described it as “The biggest armed propaganda in history”. 8 Dick Wilson wrote of the march’s four legacies: “discipline and group loyalty” (the guerrilla ethic), “the achievement of victory over tremendous odds”, “independence from Russia”, and “the supremacy of Mao”. 9 When old, Mao Tse-tung sadly spoke of the tremendous burden of surviving an ordeal in which so many of his comrades had died, and the obligation he felt to preserve the revolution for which they had struggled (an impulse which contributed to the Cultural Revolution).
After an ordeal of such importance, one has to assume that there were major psychological effects. For Mao, the Long March reinforced his faith that men with the proper will, and spirit could conquer all obstacles and mold historical reality in accordance with their ideas and ideals. For survivors, it gave rise to a renewed sense of hope and a deepened sense of mission. There were also Maoist virtues that came out of the Long March: unending struggle, heroic sacrifice, diligence, courage, unselfishness, all of these known as “the Yenan spirit”. This psychological legacy went into the making of Yenan Communism.
What is also important to point out, is the political significance of the Long March. It was a testimony not only to the validity of the mission, but also to the policies and wisdom of the leader. Out of this the Cult of Mao Tse-tung was formed. Mao was a prophet who had led the survivors through the wilderness. In 1937, Edgar Snow reported that Mao had acquired a reputation of “a charmed life”. 10 Contemporary Chinese accounts present the Long March as a great victory which guaranteed the inevitable victory of the revolution. Finally, Mao’s appraisal of Communist fortunes at the conclusion of the Long March bleak and accurate.
The Long March was the prelude to the Chinese Communist Revolution. Mao Tse-tung had achieved effective control of the Chinese Communist Party, and political domination in defiance of Stalin. After the establishment of the People’s republic in 1949, people who survived the Long March became the leaders of New China.
“The Long March is the first of its kind ever recorded in history. Since P’an Ku divided heaven from earth and the Three Sovereigns and the Five Emperors reigned, has there ever been in history a long march like ours? For twelve months we were under daily reconnaissance and bombing from air by scores of planes; we were encircled, pursued, obstructed, and intercepted on the ground by a big force of several hundred thousand men; we encountered untold difficulties and great obstacles on the way, but by keeping our two feet going we swept across a distance of more than twenty thousand ‘li’ through the length and breadth of eleven provinces. Has there ever in history been a long march like ours?”11
Bianco, Lucien. Origins of the Chinese Revolution. Stanford University Press, Stanford, California. London: Oxford University Press. 1971.
Meisner, Maurice. Mao’s China: A History of the People’s Republic. The Free Press. 866 Third Avenue, New York, New York. 10022. London: Collier Macmillan Publishers. 1977.
Payne, Robert. Mao Tse-Tung. Weybright and Talley, Inc. 3 East 54th Street New York, New York, 10022. 1950.
Roberts, J. A. G.. Modern China. Sutton Publishing Limited, Phoenix. 1998