With the 1927 split between the Kuomintang and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), the CCP began to engage in armed struggle against the Chiang regime. The Red Army was established in 1927, and after a series of uprisings and internal political struggles, the CCP announced the establishment in 1931 of the Chinese Soviet Republic under the chairmanship of Mao in Jiangxi Province in south-central China.
In 1934, after suffering a string of defeats and a series of deadly annihilation campaigns by Chiang’s armies, the fledgling Communist Party and three Red Armies found themselves pinned down in the mountains of Jiangxi Province in southern China. After the Nationalist launched a powerful offensive, Mao made a decision for the Communists and Red Armies to break out of Jiangxi and flee their southern bases and retreat and meet up with Communist forces in Shaanxi, Gansu and Ningxia in northern China. This retreat became known as the Long March even though is was not one march, but several marches made up of different contingents of Communist armies on their way to the north. During the event Mao consolidated his hold over the CCP. In 1935 he became chairman, a position he held until his death in 1976.
The Long March is portrayed as China’s version of Valley Forge, where a group endured extreme hardship and overcame impossible odds to succeed in a final victory and help found a nation. In reality it wasn’t a march , or even strategic retreat: the soldiers ran for their lives, trying just to stay alive, pursued not only by the Kuomintnag but also by the militias and armies of local landlords. Forced to evacuate their camps and homes, the participants were mostly Communist soldiers and government. There were only 35 women, the spouses of high leaders. During the Long March, Mao finally gained unchallenged command of the CCP, ousting his rivals and reasserting guerrilla strategy.
The Long March is said to have lasted 368 days and covered 9,650 kilometers (about 6,000 miles). It began in Jiangxi on October 16, 1934 and crossed 24 rivers, 18 mountain ranges (5 covered with snow) and 11 provinces before it ended at the caves of Yenan (Yennan, Yanan) on the edge of the Gobi desert in northern China. During the march, 235 days were occupied by day marches and 18 by night marches. The army averaged a skirmish a day and spent 15 days in major battles.
Bloody Revolution 1 Of the nearly 80,000 marchers who started the journey only 6,000 made it to Yenan. Of the 200,000 participated in the march—with many joining the march after it began—40,000 reached Yenan. Among the survivors were nearly all the high ranking Communist officials in Chinese government for the next 40 years—Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai, Lin Biao and Deng Xiaoping. On their way north, the Communist redistributed land to the peasants, organized guerilla groups and armed the peasants with captured Kuomintang weapons.
The Long March is recalled fondly with great idealism as a time when tens of thousands of Chinese peasant selflessly volunteered to join the fight. Hundreds of nationalist films and documentaries have been made about the event. It is difficult to determine fact from fiction. As of 2008 only about 500 Long March veterans remained alive. For generations they were considered heroes. Today some young Chinese regarded them as puppets of Communist propaganda.
Good Websites and Sources: Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Paul Noll site paulnoll.com ; Chinese Government Account of Events chinadaily.com; Long March Remembered china.org.cn ; Long March map china.org.cn ; Communist China Posters of the Long March Landsberger Posters ; Books: The Long March by Edmund Jocelyn and Andree McEwen (2006) and The Long March by Sun Shuyun, based in accounts from 40 of 500 participants that were still alive in 2005. Links in this Website: WARLORDISM AND CHIANG KAI-SHEK Factsanddetails.com/China ; EARLY COMMUNISTS IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; MAO, HIS EARLY LIFE, TACTICS AND REVOLUTION Factsanddetails.com/China ; JAPANESE OCCUPATION OF CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; CHINA AND WORLD WAR II Factsanddetails.com/China ; COMMUNISTS TAKE OVER CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China
Major Events and Myths of the Long March
Bloody Revolution 2 The Long March began in October 1934, when the First Red Army set out from Yudu in Jiangxi province. They would eventually traverse some 12,500 km over 370 days and arrive in Wuqi, Shaanxi province on Oct 19, 1935. Pursued by the numerically superior Kuomintang army, the Long Marchers often had to cross difficult terrains, snowy mountains and swamps. Fatigue, hunger and sickness claimed many lives, and only one-tenth of the force that left Jiangxi completed the Long March.
Events and names familiar to Chinese include the Zunyi Conference, where Mao consolidated his leadership of the Red Army; Zhangjiajie, in Hunan province, the starting point of the Second Red Army's Long March; and Jiajin Mountain in Sichuan province, the first snow mountain on the route and the place where the First Red Army joined forces with the Fourth Red Army. The Red Army traversed the areas of many ethnic groups, including Miao, Dong, Qiang, Tibetan, Hui and Mongolian.
Arthur Waldron, a professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania wrote, “In the 1930s, the two sides came to blows, as Chiang launched a series of encirclement campaigns against the rural base areas where the Communists were steadily building a state-within-a-state. The last of these campaigns, in 1934, proved so successful that the Communists had to break through the Nationalist lines and flee to the Northwest.” [Source:Arthur Waldron, a professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania, China Brief (Jamestown Foundation), October 22, 2009]
The march began with a simple order to retreat from bloody battle in Fujian and move on as quicky as possible. Burdened by heavy equipment Mao’s forces moved slowly and were quickly caught by the Kuomintang. One survivor remembered the leaders telling the wounded, “If you can walk, then go. If you cannot, you will be left behind.” Medics remember leaving wounded behind because there were simply too many of them to carry.
Long March route The first major obstacle of the Long March occurred in the mountainous region of West Yunnan, where the Yangtze River passes through a series of gorges with thousand-foot-high cliff wall. The Nationalists thought they had the Red Army trapped when they secured all the ferries that crossed the river. According to Communist lore a Red Army commando force captured a Kuomintang group at a ferry crossing after marching 85 miles in 24 hours. Dressed in Kuomintang uniforms the commandos crossed the river and persuaded the nationalist troops on the other side to send of over the ferryboats. In the middle of the night the Red Army crossed the Yangtze, established a fort on the other side and secured their route to the north. [Source: People's Almanac]
The next major obstacle was the Tatu (Dadu) River in western Sichuan. Mao's plan was to beat the Nationalists to the river by tying them up in an area inhabited by the Lolo, a hill tribe notorious for its hatred of the Chinese. After convincing the Lolo that the Kuomintang were their bitter enemy, the Red Army took a short cut across Lolo land to the Tatu River. If the Lolo had not allowed them to this the Red Army would have been forced to march through Tibet. [Source: People's Almanac]
The Red Army first tried to cross the flooding Dadu River at Anshunchnag but were unable to so and then trekked 130 kilometers over trackless Himalayan foot hills to Luding, a small settlement in a Himalayan valley not far form the Sichuan-Tibet border
In May 1935 the Kuomintang troops arrived before the Communists at Luding Bridge, 120-meter chain link footbridge that spanned the Dadu Rive. According to legend, by the time the Communists got to the bridge it had all of its planks removed and was guarded by a regiment of Kuomintang soldiers armed with machine guns. At night 22 brave Communist commandos, the story goes, went across the bridge--in some places hanging from the chains and pulling themselves forward hand over hand with grenades in their teeth--and captured the bridge, allowing the marchers to proceed. Mao later told Edgar Snow that the crossing the Dadu River was the single most important event of the Long March. Of the 80,000 soldiers that began the march in 1934, 20,000 made it as far as Luding Bridge.
Red Army Soldiers on the Long March
Mao Guangrong joined the Red Army as a destitute 15-year-old orphan. During the battle to defend the Communist base at Yan'an, a bullet tore through Mao Guangrong's back and came out through his groin. It took five men to hold him down as they stuffed the wound with cloth to staunch the bleeding; the only treatment the troops could muster as they found against enemy forces. But nine months later, he was back in battle against Chiang Kai-shek's. Nationalists. It was simple; if the People's Liberation Army won the civil war, ‘we could have shelter and land. And we wouldn't suffer starvation. And we wouldn't be oppressed.’ [Source: Tania Branigan, The Guardian, September 27, 2009]
Mao Guangrong, a soldier who joined the Red Army when he was a destitute 15-year-old orphan, told The Guardian,’Chairman Mao was a very simple person; he didn't wear smart clothes. He used old clothes we made ourselves and they had patches. After he finished his meals, he would walk out and talk to ordinary people... it wasn't like now, when it's so difficult to meet leaders.’ [Source: Tania Branigan, The Guardian, September 27, 2009]
Mao Guangrong told The Guardian,’After one village had turned red, we would start the propaganda work about what should be done next; what kind of people should be killed; despotic gentry, [harsh] landlords and local tyrants,’ Mao Guangrong recalled. ‘Also, beggars needed to be killed, because they didn't live on their own labor. ‘It was very easy to kill somebody. If you said anything reactionary they would kill you and if you didn't follow their leadership they killed you.’ [Source: Tania Branigan, The Guardian, September 27, 2009]
Deng Xiaoping and the Leaders of the 8 Route Army
Life on the Long March
The Communists are said to have traded opium for supplies and forced women to leave behind newborn children with peasant families out of concern that crying babies would endanger the troops.
While many officers rode on horses, soldiers walked. Many were proud of their uniforms and kept their spirits up singing songs with lines like “Play the violins!” Set up the revolutionary government!” Edmund Jocelyn, author of the 2006 book The Long March, told the Los Angeles Times, the “marchers recall the Red Army as like joining a new family. They fell in love with the Chinese Party. That love carried them through the abusive relationship that was to come.”
When the marchers stopped Mao reportedly tended his vegetable garden along with other peasants.
A few women on the Long March were allowed to fight as guerrillas, but most did supply and support work. A young woman by the name of Kuo Chun-Ching disguised herself as a man and received the Red army's highest decoration after she was wounded in battle.
Suffering on the Long March
The soldiers were often hungry, on the verge of starving, some times eating grass and woody plants they could forage. In the winter they suffered in the cold. One Long March medic who talked to the Los Angeles Times recalled getting hit by a nighttime snowstorm before he and his comrades could build a fire or set up a ten, While the members of the climbed beneath a pile of canvas and huddle together, one young soldier insisted on keeping watch. By morning he had frozen to death.
At the Battle of Xing River, Mao’s division lost half of its numbers. Survivors remembered wading neck-deep in ice-old water and watching bodies of slain comrades float by as enemy planes dropped bombs on them. Many froze to death in their wet uniforms.
During the winter crossing of a mountain pass by one battalion, more than 300 soldiers became snow blind. Medics recall the difficulty in finding vegetables and herbs in the middle of winter needed to help them.
Hardships in Sichuan on the Long March
During the summer of 1935 the Long March passed though the Great Snowy Mountains of Sichuan where Mao wrote, "on Pao-tung Kand peak alone, one army lost two thirds of its transport animals. Hundreds fell down and never got up again."
Later, the Red Army was almost defeated when the Kuomintang advanced on them after factional fighting between Red Army forces led by Mao and forces commanded by Zhang Kua-tao, one of Mao's main rivals wihin the party. To escape the Red Army advanced through the mountains of western Sichuan where they were forced to steal from hostile native tribes to survive. "To get one sheep," Mao later wrote, "cost the life of one comrade." [Source: People's Almanac]
In September the Red Army passed through the steppes of central China where many perished from starvation and disease during a period of unusually strong rains. Describing this phase of the march, Zhou Enlai later wrote: "For us, the darkest time in history was during our Long March...especially when we crossed the Great Grasslands near Tibet. Our condition was desperate. We not only had nothing to eat, we had nothing to drink. Yet we survived and won victory."
People slept in shelters made from bushes tied together and subsisted on wild roots and herbs. Despite the heavy rains safe drinking was in short supply and some marchers were forced to drink their own urine. By the time the red Army arrived on the Kansu Plains there were only about 6,000 people left. [Source: People's Almanac]
End of the Long March
Long March in Yenan On October 25, 1935 the Long March ended when the southern Red Army joined the northern Red Army in Yenan in northern China. The participants in the Long March were not sure where and when their journey was to end. There were frequent debates as to what the final destination would be.
The end of the Long March was not some great “promised land” but rather was an impoverished corner of the Gobi desert that could barely support its own population let alone the Red Armies.
Soldiers didn’t have enough clothes to keep them warm. Women were ordered to return because there wasn’t enough food to feed them. Barely a month after the marchers were told their journey was over they were told to pack up and prepare to continue. The kidnaping of Chiang Kai -shek by one of his own generals is what saved them. One of the terms for his release was recognition of the Communists as legitimate, so a united Chinese force could devote its attention to the Japanese.
But even then the march wasn’t over for the 21,000 troops under the leadership of Kuo-tao, one of Mao’s main rivals. Their mission was to get help from the Soviets on their border with western China. But Mao purposely gave them contradictory orders, allowing them to be trapped by a Muslim warlord. Only 400 reached the border. The rest were killed or captured.
Truth Behind the Long March
It is hard to call the Long March a great victory, The Communist Army was largely on the run and when it fought a battle it was usually defeated, suffering huge losses. Many historians think the Chiang Kai-shek allowed the Communist to escape. Six weeks after the Long March began Mao’s army was reduced from 86,000 to 30,000 troops at the Battle on Xiang River. At most 15,000 died; the rest fled.
Many of the reported events of the Long Mrach, it seems, never happened or were exaggerated. The Luding Bridge incident appears to be a complete fabrication. There were no Nationalist troops at the bridge and there was no battle: only a skirmish with no casualties. The local warlord, who controlled the bridge and hated Chiang Kai-shek, let Mao's army pass and was later made a minister in the Communist government.
Many questions have been raised about the original story line. The distance covered now appeared to have been 6000 miles not 8000 miles and some question whether it lasted until 1936.
Mao's role in the Long March was often inaccurately reported. It has often beem claimed that he walked the entire 6,000 mile distance but in fact he was carried much of the way on a litter by porters and used the time to read. While Mao’s troops suffered huge losses, not a single senior party member was killed or even seriously wounded.
The Long March was third longer than was necessary as Mao dragged the Red Army in a huge loop so he could go near the Soviet border to receive arms because the Soviets said that whoever made first contact with them would be recognized as the leader of the Chinese Communist Party.
It also appears not all the participants of the Long March were enthusiastic volunteers. Some were press ganged captives. Sun Shuyun, author of a book on the Long March, interviewed one man who said he was barely into his teens when he was forced to join the Red Army and he only did so because his father was arrested and would not be released until the man agreed to join the army. The man thought of deserting but stayed on because he feared being caught and executed.
Driven by desperation and hunger, the armies took hostages for ransom. Purges continued until there were practicably no officers left to command battles
Legacy of the Long March
Even though the Red Army lost most its men during the Long March, the event was a turning point for the Communist Revolution. According to popular lore, the Communist forces and the People's Liberation Army (Red Army) were battered and worn but defiant. Self-sacrifice and compassion shown towards civilians made the Communists into heros. Over the next decade the Red Army regrouped, drew new recruits and wore down and ultimately defeated Chiang Ka-shek’s forces.
What motivated the marchers? A top general at the time later told Sun, “I had nor idea then and now. I doubt that even Mao knew what it was.” For the general, a survivor who rose up from extreme poverty, communism was a beautiful dream that gave him hope for a more just and advanced society.
Deng Xiaoping Around the Time of the Long March
According to a poem by Mao Zedong:
The Red Army, never fearing the challenging Long March,
Looked lightly on the many peaks and rivers,
Wu Meng's range rose, lowered, rippled,
And green-tiered were the rounded steps of Wu Meng
Warm-beating the Gold Sand River's
waves against the rocks,
And cold the iron chains of Tatu bridge,
A thousand joyous li of fresh snow on Min Shan
And then, the last pass vanquished, the Armies smiled.
The Long March has been preserved in exhibitions, ballets, books, a seven-part made-for-television movie, and even a Long March video game. The 60th anniversary of the event was commemorated with a television special featuring dancing soldiers with bayonets and a motorcade on a theater stage with an actor playing Deng Xiaoping waving through the sunroof. The Communist party reportedly has plans to build a Long March theme park in central Hunan province.
Communists in Yenan
As a final destination, Mao selected southern Shaanxi Province, where some 8,000 survivors of the original group from Jiangxi Province (joined by some 22,000 from other areas) arrived in October 1935. The Communists set up their headquarters at Yenan, where the movement would grow rapidly for the next ten years. Contributing to this growth would be a combination of internal and external circumstances, of which aggression by the Japanese was perhaps the most significant. Conflict with Japan, which would continue from the 1930s to the end of World War II, was the other force (besides the Communists themselves) that would undermine the Nationalist government. [Source: The Library of Congress]
At Yan'an and elsewhere in the "liberated areas," Mao was able to adapt Marxism-Leninism to Chinese conditions. He taught party cadres to lead the masses by living and working with them, eating their food, and thinking their thoughts. The Red Army fostered an image of conducting guerrilla warfare in defense of the people. Communist troops adapted to changing wartime conditions and became a seasoned fighting force. Mao also began preparing for the establishment of a new China. In 1940 he outlined the program of the Chinese Communists for an eventual seizure of power. His teachings became the central tenets of the CCP doctrine that came to be formalized as Mao Zedong Thought. With skillful organizational and propaganda work, the Communists increased party membership from 100,000 in 1937 to 1.2 million by 1945. [Ibid]
Mao Flirts and Waits After the Long March
Mao in Yenan in 1937
The Mao set up a military command post in Yenan and directed the Communist army for the 13 years from there. Young people from all over China came to Yenan to join the revolution or simply catch a glimpse of history. Mao spent his time in Yenan reading and relaxing, discussing poetry and plans of equality between the sexes with attractive women, and encouraging revolutionaries such as Zhu De and Zhou Enlai to take up ballroom dancing. In Yenan Mao developed the Yenan Rectification campaign, aimed at purifying beliefs of new recruits to the Communist Party and ensuring their loyalty and fealty to Mao as the ultimate authority. The campaign was a precursor to grander and more destructive purges that occurred when the Communists took power.
According the book Mao's Brothers and Sisters," Mao's second wife He Zichen became enraged with her husband's flirtation with an American journalist named Agnes Smedly and her beautiful Chinese translator Lily Wu. According to the book the two women "became the target of all the female comrades."
One night He reportedly burst in on Mao and Wu while they were talking about poetry and called Mao a "rotten egg" who "wants to usurp me with capitalist dances." She pulled Wu's hair "until her head started bleeding" and got into a fight with Smedly after calling her an "imperialist" who was "to blame for everything." Smedly reportedly said He was "weak and monastic, an unsuitable companion for a revolutionary leader."
Mao fine tuned many methods of political terror—purging real and imagined enemies—that would serve him well when he was leader of China. He also sold opium to raise money for his army.
Sidney Rittenberg and Other Westerners in China in the Long March Period
Most people in the West had never heard of Mao until he was interviewed by American journalist Edgar Snow. Snow's book Red Star Over China made both men well known. Snow was later kicked out of China and prohibited from entering the country until 1960. In 1970 he was the first journalist to report that Mao wanted to meet Nixon. In 1972, Snow died, attended by doctors sent by Zhou Enlai.
The West was also not aware of Kuomintang atrocities until another famous American journalist, Theodore White, reported that Chiang Kai-shek's army warehouses overflowed with grain while people in the Hunan province were starving to death, and eating bark and leaves to survive.
Another famous Western associated with Mao was Sidney Rittenberg. Born in South Carolina, he lived in China for 35 years, shared rice gruel in a cave with Mao, and taught him about American life. He served as Communist Party functionary and as an advisor to the Gang of Four during the Cultural Revolution and spent 16 years in Chinese jails in solitary confinement after being falsely accused of spying. Today he is regarded as one of the leading China experts in the United States. Among those who have sought his advise, counsel and help are Bill Gates and executives with Intel and Levi Strauss.
Sidney Rittenberg, the first American to join the Chinese Communist Party, turned 91 in August 2012. A documentary— “The Revolutionary”—released around that time, Mark McDonald,of the New York Times wrote, “describes how a kid from Charleston, South Carolina, ended up in a mountain cave playing gin rummy with Mao Zedong” and later held up through two long stints in Communist prisons, enduring long stretches in solitary, “sitting there with your own potential madness sitting across from you, watching you, knowing it’s either you or him.” [Source: Mark McDonald, IHT Rendezvous Blog, New York Times, July 10, 2012]
“McDonald wrote on the IHT Rendezvous Blog: “Rittenberg took an interesting career path, to say the least. Arriving in China as a language expert for the U.S. military just as World War II was ending, he stayed behind after the war to join the Communist revolution. A Chinese state television account says Mr. Rittenberg had a come-to-Communism moment when he was still in the military. He was outraged when he heard that a rickshaw puller had received just $14 in compensation from the Chinese Nationalist government when his child was killed by a drunk driver, an American surgeon. In a recent TedX video interview, Mr. Rittenberg said he felt he was “fulfilling an historical need” and was excited by the chance to have “my finger on the pulse of history.” [Ibid]
“Known in China as Li Dunbai — the phonetic expression of Rittenberg — he trekked to the Communist guerrillas’ mountain sanctuary of Yan’an in 1946. He met Mao the day he arrived, he said, and came to know him and the inner circle of senior Communist leaders who were hunkered down there. At night they played gin rummy, horsed around and watched Laurel and Hardy films. The leaders used him to polish and edit their messages into perfect English. He later translated some of Mao’s writings — the Chairman even autographed his Little Red Book — and he worked for the New China News Agency and Radio Peking. [Ibid]
“Mr. Rittenberg has always acknowledged that he was smitten with the Communist party, especially in its relief efforts with the poor. “It was clean as a whistle,” he said in a Guardian interview, noting that the leaders in the early days lived simply and ate frugally.In 1956 Mr. Rittenberg married a Chinese woman, Wang Yulin, after professing his feelings — against the advice of friends — in a love letter. Still married, now living in Fox Island, Washington, they have three daughters and a son. [Ibid]
“In all, Mr. Rittenberg spent 34 years in China, from the Communists’ victory in the revolution through the horrors of the Great Leap Forward, the ensuing famine and the Cultural Revolution. In various interviews over the years he has seemed sad, wistful, angry and ashamed of the excesses and damage of those years. In the preface to his autobiography, he said that he, like others, had “walked the Communist Road in the hope of creating a new and better world.” “But at the same time I want to paint a clear picture of the evils that ensued,” he wrote. “I saw them. I lived with them. In some cases — to my shame and chagrin today — I participated in them.” The autobiography, written with the journalist Amanda Bennett, is titled “The Man Who Stayed Behind.” [Ibid]
“In the new film, he says that a revolution “is not like inviting guests to dinner. It can’t be that civilized, that gracious, that courteous, that gentle.” And so it went — not gently — for Mr. Rittenberg personally. His first prison stint came when Joseph Stalin asked Mao to arrest him as an agent of U.S. imperialism who had been sent to sabotage the Chinese revolution. His jailers drugged him to keep him edgy, awake, sleep-deprived. “You’re supposed to break down and confess,” he said. “I broke down, but I had nothing to confess. So it’s kind of awkward.” His second prison term came at the behest of Mao’s wife, Jiang Qing. “A fantastic woman,” he said of Madame Mao in one interview, whereupon his wife interjected, “A horrible woman.” [Ibid]
“Mr. Rittenberg spent a total of 16 years in prison in China, and now says with a rueful grin, “I hate to be a whiner, but it was too long.” Released in 1977, he returned to the United States in 1979 for a vacation and wrote an essay for The Times about his initial impressions. Mr. Rittenberg left China with his family for good in 1980. [Ibid]
“An article in the New York Times by Gary Rivlin in 2004 detailed how Mr. Rittenberg had become a much sought-after consultant for firms looking to do business in China. His client list has since included Intel, Nextel, Microsoft and the like. “We can see just about anybody we need to see in China because people are curious to meet me,” Mr. Rittenberg said of his continuing access to Chinese business and political leaders. John Zagula, a Washington venture capitalist, was one of those who took counsel from Mr. Rittenberg. “If he bears scars from his time in prison,” Mr. Zagula said, “those are scars that he somehow has turned to be positive for him. He’s vital. He’s engaged. He has a BlackBerry. He’s totally with it. He knows what’s going on in the world.” [Ibid]
“A BBC interviewer asked Rittenberg in 2011last year whether a Communist Party exists today.“Not by any definition I know of,” he replied. “Today you don’t find much morality.” [Ibid]
Long March Tourism
Long March Luding Bridge
propaganda poster Mu Qian wrote in the China Daily, “When the Red Army trekked through some of China's most remote and treacherous areas during their Long March, they could never have imagined the same route would become part of the travel itinerary for travelers 70 years later. Today, many places along the Long March have become tourist destinations as China tries to boost "red tourism". The National Tourism Administration recently selected the "Long March Route" as one of 12 national tourism routes. [Source: Mu Qian, China Daily, June 9, 2011]
On the website of China Travel Service, "red tours" rank at the top of themed tours, above "folklore tours" and "international horticultural exposition tours". The itineraries offered by the company cover many areas of the Long March - from Jiangxi province, its starting point, through Guizhou, Yunnan and Sichuan, to Shaanxi, where the Red Army ended its journey. China CYTS Tours launched its "Year of Red Tourism" in 2011 with the theme, "Retracing the Long March". Its first group of tourists went to Guizhou's Long March sites such as Loushanguan, Chishui and Maotai.
"With an increase in living standards, people are looking for a more spiritual travel experience," says Ge Qun, vice-president of China CYTS Tours. "The reason 'red tourism' has become more popular is that Chinese people want to know more about history." Equipped with better infrastructure, many of these areas are more accessible today, and their natural beauty is attracting some travelers.
Places where important events during the Long March happened are now hot destinations on "red tours", such as the former site of the Zunyi Conference which consolidated Mao Zedong's leadership of the Red Army, and Luding Bridge where the Red Army crossed the Dadu River in 1935. On the Long March, the Red Army traversed the areas of many ethnic groups, including Miao, Dong, Qiang, Tibetan, Hui and Mongolian. Their diverse cultures are also one of the attractions of tour itineraries related to the Long March.
Zhangjiajie, in Hunan province, was the starting point of the Second Red Army's Long March. With its breathtaking rock formations, the area is one of the most popular tourist sites in China and was the setting for many scenes in the blockbuster Avatar. Jiajin Mountain in Sichuan province, the first snow mountain on the route of the Long March and the place where the First Red Army joined forces with the Fourth Red Army, is now a national forest park known for its rich botanical and zoological resources.
Red Rock Treks is a company set up by Englishman Ed Jocelyn, who retraced the entire marches of the First and Second Red Army on foot, in 2002-03 and 2005-06, and who co-authored the book The Long March, which was published in five languages in 2006-07.
Detailing the itinerary he designs for foreign travelers interested in the Long March, Jocelyn says: "From a Tibetan village in the valley of the Blackwater River, we will first cross two of the great snow mountains of western Sichuan province. At 4,450 meters, the pass over the second of these is the highest point of Mao's entire march. ..We then enter the infamous grasslands, a vast region of prairies, swamps and bogs more than 3,400 meters above sea level on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, where hundreds of Mao's soldiers perished in 1935.
"Finally, we explore the ancient and long-disused trail into Northwest China via the stunning valleys of Lawa and Baozuo. Accompanied by a Tibetan horse team, we will trek and live alongside yak herders whose way of life has changed little for hundreds of years...This is a true exploration not just of history, but also of a country and culture rarely seen by outsiders."
Image Sources: Ohio State University, Agnes Smedley and Landsberger Posters http://www.iisg.nl/~landsberger/
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated January 2013