China’s reality check on Long March

John M. Glionna – The Los Angeles Times

Research suggests the epic trek by Mao’s Red Army was more of a great flight than a strategic retreat. But survivors don’t buy that or other ‘new thinking.’
Copyright The Los Angeles Times
January 16, 2008
BEIJING — In his dreams, Tu Tongjin is back on the battlefield, a terror-stricken young medic wandering the Chinese countryside with Mao Tse-tung and his fledgling Red Army.
He is marching again, always marching. All around him are the bodies, including those of the 40,000 killed in one battle alone. He’s starving, eating only grass. He feels the nagging cold and desperation of being hounded by death and pursued by a relentless enemy army.
“What I remember most,” the 94-year-old says, “is the chaos.”
Tu is a survivor of the Long March, the epic trek by Red Army soldiers who fled southern China in the face of certain defeat at the hands of Chiang Kai-shek and his Kuomintang forces.
Between 1934 and 1936, more than 300,000 men and women, divided into several armies, trudged inland through a brutal terrain of frigid mountain passes, freezing rivers and marshes in search of a sanctuary to continue their nascent Communist revolution. Only one in 10 survived. Now, seven decades later, fewer than 500 are still alive.
For generations, their sacrifices have been considered legend, a Chinese version of America’s Valley Forge, where sheer grit and dedication drove a young revolutionary army to overcome unthinkable odds and help give birth to a nation.
An integral chapter of Mao’s legacy, the plot line has rarely been questioned by older Chinese. Today, however, younger Chinese increasingly view march veterans as willing puppets of the Communist propaganda machine.
“I know people like my father have been used to further the government agenda,” said Tu’s 50-year-old son, Mike Tu, who lives in Ohio. “It hurts. I think it diminishes the great sacrifices these people made.”
Several controversial new histories have also cast light on the watershed event, many of them critical of Mao. Historians now put the distance of the march at 6,000 miles, not the 8,000 Mao had long boasted. Some question whether it lasted into 1936 as legend goes.
New research also shows that desertion among Red Army troops was common and that peasants often didn’t want to join. The army traded opium for supplies, and women were forced to leave their newborns behind with peasant families because a crying infant could endanger troops.
Click to read more

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *