All nations can learn from the Long March

By Sun Wei in London Source:Global Times Published: 2016/10/24 22:28:39

Students perform on the street in commemoration of the 80th anniversary of the conclusion of the Long March in Shenyang, Liaoning Province. Photo: CFP

Students perform on the street in commemoration of the 80th anniversary of the conclusion of the Long March in Shenyang, Liaoning Province. Photo: CFP

October 22 marks the 80th anniversary of the triumphant Long March (1934-36), a strategic retreat undertaken by Red Army.

Chinese President Xi Jinping gave an hour-long speech to commemorate the anniversary on Friday morning in Beijing.

"The Long March is the glory of the people's army, and the honorable people's army must always carry forward the great spirit and fine tradition of the Red Army in the Long March," President Xi said, calling for a revival of the spirit of the Long March in the face of domestic and international challenges.

Eighty years ago, facing annihilation at the hands of the Kuomintang, around 80,000 Red Army soldiers and leaders broke through encircling forces and embarked on a grueling escape.

During the Long March, soldiers had to deal with airstrikes and fight against hundreds of thousands of enemy soldiers who were after them every day. Some of them marched as far as 12,500 kilometers.

The historical significance of the march has gone beyond China, extending to the international community. Former US National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski said the Long March of the Red Army from 1934 to 1936 is a great statement of the determination of the Chinese people fighting for change and a historically important milestone. He retraced part of the route of the Long March with his family when visiting China in July 1981.

American journalist Edgar Snow praised the bravery and endurance of the Red Army in his book Red Star over China (1937).

The British Guardian newspaper compared the importance of the Long March to that of the evacuation of Dunkirk, both of which were spun from a defeat into a triumph.

A predominant politician of Vietnam even adopted a pseudonym Truong Chinh, which was the Vietnamese cognate for Chinese name for Long March.

A military epic

Professor Rana Mitter, director of the University of Oxford China Center, told the Global Times that he first heard about the Long March when he started to learn Chinese history more than 20 years ago.

"It is a very important event in the formation of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)," Mitter told the Global Times, especially because it helped Mao Zedong emerge as the leader of the CCP.

Many believed that the Long March was a legend. Just to look at the facts and numbers will tell you how tough and devastating the journey was.

Around 80,000 marchers joined the journey, which covered more than 4,000 miles and crossed 24 rivers and 18 snow-capped mountain ranges. When the march finished two years later, approximately nine out of 10 had deserted or died when the last units reached Yan'an in the northern province of Shaanxi.

In fact, there was not only one march, there were several. Different parts of the Red Army marched in separate formations.

"It's important to understand that the march is a significant turning point," Mitter said, adding that CCP was under great threat of being eliminated by the Kuomintang Party.

"Undertaking the march turned out to be an important movement in terms of consolidating the Party, and allowing it to grow again," Mitter added.

At that point, the interior of China was controlled by different warlords. The CCP was able to take advantage of a relatively disunited China to travel through areas, many of which were controlled by warlords who were not friendly to Chiang Kai-shek.

It was a very difficult achievement, with the marchers enduring a great deal of difficulty, showing courage and commitment. A large number of them deserted or were captured or killed.

However costly, the Long March gave the CCP the isolation it needed, allowing its army to recuperate and rebuild in the north of China.

Spiritual heritage

The spirit of the Long March is not only a national spirit, but also an asset shared by the whole world.

American writer and historian Harrison E. Salisbury, said in his book The Long March: The Untold Story that the Long March represented "a great human epic which tested the will, courage, and strength of the men and women of the Chinese Red Army."

Field Marshal Lord Montgomery called the Long March "an amazing feat of endurance." Gen. Samuel B. Griffith, the American military historian, described it as "an even more majestic achievement" than the retreat of the 10,000 conducted by Xenophon in 401-400 BC.

The Long March now has become a phrase known around the world. People tend to use the term to describe the continuing possibilities of human endurance and determination.   

However, there have been some controversies and conflicting accounts in recent years about some battles during the Long March. For example, the Battle of Luding Bridge of 1935 was recorded in official history as a brilliant commando operation, but many modern historians have questioned whether it was quite as dramatic as it was claimed.

"There are many controversies about history. Most of the witnesses have died; there is still difficulty in getting hold of the full historical documentation. It's fair to say that historians will debate this for quite a long time," Mitter commented.

Xu Lin, president of the China-US Cultural Association Foundation, told the Global Times that the younger Chinese generation still needs the heroic spirit of the Red Army. The values of caring, courage, hard work and commitment are the best guidelines for them. Immigrants abroad also need the spirit to realize their dreams, Xu added.


Newspaper headline: Marching through history


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