EDGAR SNOW'S ACCOUNT OF "THE LONG MARCH"

EDGAR SNOW'S ACCOUNT OF "THE LONG MARCH"


Edgar Snow ith Mao and Liu Shaoqi

Most people in the West had never heard of Mao Zedong 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.

In his account of the Long March, Snow wrote in “Red Star Over China”: “Having successfully broken through the first line of fortifications, the Red Army set out on its epochal year-long trek to the west and to the north, a varicolored and many-storied expedition describable here only in briefest outline. The Communists told me that they were writing a collective account of the Long March, with contributions from dozens who made it, which already totaled about 300,000 words. Adventure, exploration, discovery, human courage and cowardice, ecstasy and triumph, suffering, sacrifice, and loyalty, and then through it all, like a flame, an undimmed ardor and undying hope and amazing revolutionary optimism of those thousands of youths who would not admit defeat by man or nature or God or death — all this and more seemed embodied in the history of an odyssey unequaled in modem times.[Source: “Red Star Over China” by Edgar Snow (New York: Grove Press, 1968. Originally published 1938); Asia for Educators. Edgar Snow (1905-1972) was an American journalist who traveled to meet Mao Zedong in his northern China stronghold at Yenan Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu <|>]

“The Reds themselves generally spoke of it as the "25,000-li March," and with all its twists, turns and countermarches, from the farthest point in Fukien to the end of the road in far northwest Shaanxi, some sections of the marchers undoubtedly did that much or more. An accurate stage-by-stage itinerary prepared by the First Army Corps [An Account of the Long March, First Army Corps (Yu Wang Pao, August, 1936)] showed that its route covered a total of 18,088 li, or 6,000 miles — about twice the width of the American continent — and this figure was perhaps the average march of the main forces. The journey took them across some of the world's most difficult trails, unfit for wheeled traffic, and across the high snow mountains and the great rivers of Asia. It was one long battle from beginning to end. <|>

“Four main lines of defense works, supported by strings of concrete machine-gun nests and blockhouses, surrounded the Soviet districts in Southwest China, and the Reds had to shatter those before they could reach the unblockaded areas to the west. The first line, in Jiangxi, was broken on October 21, 1934; the second, in Hunan, was occupied on November 3; and a week later the third, also in Hunan, fell to the Reds after bloody fighting. The Guangxi and Hunan troops gave up the fourth and last line on November 29, and the Reds swung northward into Hunan, to begin trekking in a straight line for Sichuan, where they planned to enter the Soviet districts and combine with the Fourth Front Army there, under Hsu Hsiang-ch'ien. Between the dates mentioned above, nine battles were fought. In all, a combination of 110 regiments had been mobilized in their path by Nanking and by the provincial warlords Ch'en Ch'i-tang, Ho Chien, and Pai Chung-hsi.” <|>

Good Websites and Sources on the Long March: 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 Mao Zedong Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Chinese Mao.com chinesemao.com ; Mao Internet Library marx2mao.com ; Paul Noll Mao site paulnoll.com/China/Mao ; Mao Quotations art-bin.com; Marxist.org marxists.org ; Propaganda Paintings of Mao artchina.free.fr ; New York Times topics.nytimes.com; Communist Party History Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Illustrated History of Communist Party china.org.cn ; Books and Posters Landsberger Communist China Posters

Good Websites and Sources on Early 20th Century China Sun Yat-sen Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Time Asia time.com ; My Grandfather Sun Yat-sen Asia Week ; May 4th Movement Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Chiang Kai-shek Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; New York Times Obituary New York Times ; Madame Chiang Kai-shek Wikipedia article Wikipedia ;

Good Chinese History Websites: 1) Chaos Group of University of Maryland chaos.umd.edu/history/toc ; 2) WWW VL: History China vlib.iue.it/history/asia ; 3) Wikipedia article on the History of China Wikipedia 4) China Knowledge; 5) Gutenberg.org e-book gutenberg.org/files ; Links in this Website: Main China Page factsanddetails.com/china (Click History)

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. Mao; the Untold Story by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday (Knopf. 2005). Jung Chang, author of Wild Swans, and her husband John Halliday, a British historian, portrays Mao as villain on the level of Hitler and Stalin. The book was read by U.S. President George Bush and embraced by the American right as a condemnation of Communism. It characterizes Mao as cruel, materialistic, self-centered and a leader who used terror with the aim of ruling the world. There is also a Mao biography by Jonathon Spence. Also check out: Mao's New World: Political Culture in the Early People's Republic by Chang-tai Hung (Cornell University Press, 2011) and The Private Life of Chairman Mao by Dr. Li Zhisui (1994). Other books: 2) The Penguin History of Modern China by Jonathan Fenby 3) . Red Star Over China by Edgar Snow; 4) China: A New History by John K. Fairbank; 5) In Search of Modern China by Jonathan D. Spence; 6) Cambridge History of China multiple volumes (Cambridge University Press). 7) Jay Taylor The Generalissimo: Chiang Kai-shek and the Struggle for Modern China (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2009); 9) Shark Fins and Millet is an excellent depiction of China in the 1930s by Polish-born journalist Ilona Ralf Sues, who met up with Big-Eared Du and Madame Chiang Kai-shek. You can help this site a little by ordering your Amazon books through this link: Amazon.com.

Long March Through Southern China Towards the Yangtze


Edgar Snow wrote in “Red Star Over China”: “During the march through Jiangxi, Guangdong, Guangxi, and Hunan, the Reds suffered very heavy losses. Their numbers were reduced by about one-third by the time they reached the border of Guizhou province. This was due, first, to the impediment of a vast amount of transport, 5,000 men being engaged in that task alone. The vanguard was very much retarded, and in many cases the enemy was given time to prepare elaborate obstructions in the line of march. Second, from Jiangxi an undeviating northwesterly route was maintained, which enabled Nanking to anticipate most of the Red Army's movements. [Source: “Red Star Over China” by Edgar Snow (New York: Grove Press, 1968. Originally published 1938); Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu <|>]

“Serious losses as a result of these errors caused the Reds to adopt new tactics in Guizhou. Instead of an arrowlike advance, they began a series of distracting maneuvers, so that it became more and more difficult for Nanking planes to identify the day-by-day objective of the main forces. Two columns, and sometimes as many as four columns, engaged in a baffling series of maneuvers on the flanks of the central column, and the vanguard developed a pincerlike front. Only the barest and lightest essentials of equipment were retained, and night marches for the greatly reduced transport corps — a daily target for the air bombing — became routine. <|>

“Anticipating an attempt to cross the Yangtze River into Sichuan, Chiang-Kai-shek withdrew thousands of troops from Hubei, Anhui, and Jiangxi and shipped them hurriedly westward, to cut off ( from the north) the Red Army's route of advance. All crossings were heavily fortified; all ferries were drawn to the north bank of the river; all roads were blocked; great areas were denuded of grain. Other thousands of Nanking troops poured into Guizhou to reinforce the opium-soaked provincials of warlord Wang Chia-lieh, whose army in the end was practically immobilized by the Reds. Still others were dispatched to the Yunnan border, to set up obstacles there. In Guizhou, therefore, the Reds found a reception committee of a couple of hundred thousand troops, and obstructions thrown up everywhere in their path. This necessitated two great countermarches across the province, and a wide circular movement around the capital. <|>

“Maneuvers in Guizhou occupied the Reds for four months, during which they destroyed five enemy divisions, captured the headquarters of Governor Wang and occupied his foreign-style palace in Tsunyi, recruited about 20,000 men, and visited most of the villages and towns of the province, calling mass meetings and organizing Communist cadres among the youth. Their losses were negligible, but they still faced the problem of crossing the Yangtze. By his swift concentration on the Guizhou-Sichuan border, Chiang Kai-shek had skillfully blocked the short, direct roads that led to the great river. He now placed his main hope of exterminating the Reds on the prevention of this crossing at any point, hoping to push them far to the southwest, or into the wastelands of Tibet. To his various commanders and the provincial warlords he telegraphed: "The fate of the nation and the party depends on bottling up the Reds south of the Yangtze."

Long March Crosses the Yangtze in Yunnan


Long March first port

Edgar Snow wrote in “Red Star Over China”: “Suddenly, early in May, 1935, the Reds turned southward and entered Yunnan, where China's frontier meets Burma and Indochina. A spectacular march in four days brought them within ten miles of the capital, Yunnanfu [Kunming], and warlord Lung Yun (Dragon Cloud) frantically mobilized all available troops for defense. Chiang's reinforcements meanwhile moved in from Guizhou in hot pursuit. Chiang himself and Mme. Chiang, who had been staying in Yunnanfu, hastily repaired down the French railway toward Indochina. A big squadron of Nanking bombers kept up their daily egg-laying over the Reds, but on they came. Presently the panic ended. It was discovered that their drive on Yunnanfu had been only a diversion carried out by a few troops. The main Red forces were moving westward, obviously with the intention of crossing the river at Lengkai, one of the few navigable points of the Upper Yangtze. [Source: “Red Star Over China” by Edgar Snow (New York: Grove Press, 1968. Originally published 1938); Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu <|>]

“Through the wild mountainous country of Yunnan, the Yangtze River flows deeply and swiftly between immense gorges, great peaks in places rising in defiles of a mile or more, with steep walls of rock lifting almost perpendicularly on either side. The few crossings had all been occupied long ago by government troops. Chiang was well pleased. He now ordered all boats drawn to the north bank of the river and burned. Then he started his own troops, and Lung Yun's, in an enveloping movement around the Red Army, hoping to finish it off forever on the banks of this historic and treacherous stream. <|>

“Seemingly unaware of their fate, the Reds continued to march rapidly westward in three columns toward Lengkai. The boats had been burned there, and Nanking pilots reported that a Red vanguard had begun building a bamboo bridge. Chiang became more confident; this bridge-building would take weeks. But one evening, quite unobtrusively, a Red battalion suddenly reversed its direction. On a phenomenal forced march it covered eighty-five miles in one night and day, and in late afternoon descended upon the only other possible ferry crossing in the vicinity, at Chou P'ing Fort. Dressed in captured Nanking uniforms, the battalion entered the town at dusk without arousing comment, and quietly disarmed the garrison. <|>

“Boats had been withdrawn to the north bank — but they had not been destroyed. (Why spoil boats, when the Reds were hundreds of li distant, and not coming there anyway? So the government troops may have reasoned.) But how to get one over to the south bank? After dark the Reds escorted a village official to the river and forced him to call out to the guards on the opposite side that some government troops had arrived and wanted a boat. Unsuspectingly one was sent across. Into it piled a detachment of these "Nanking" soldiers, who soon disembarked on the north shore — in Sichuan at last. Calmly entering the garrison, they surprised guards who were peacefully playing mah-jong and whose stacked weapons the Reds took over without any struggle. <|>

“Meanwhile the main forces of the Red Army had executed a wide countermarch, and by noon of the next day the vanguard reached the fort. Crossing was now a simple matter. Six big boats worked constantly for nine days. The entire army was transported into Sichuan without a life lost. Having concluded the operation, the Reds promptly destroyed the vessels and lay down to sleep. When Chiang's forces reached the river, two days later, the rear guard of their enemy called cheerily to them from the north bank to come on over, the swimming was fine. The government troops were obliged to make a detour of over 200 li to the nearest crossing, and the Reds thus shook them from their trail. Infuriated, the Generalissimo now flew to Sichuan, where he mobilized new forces in the path of the oncoming horde, hoping to cut them off at one more strategic river — the great Tatu.” <|>

Lolos and Heros of the Tatu River

20080306-yi dartrmouth.jpg
Lolos (the Yi minority)
Edgar Snow wrote in “Red Star Over China”: “The crossing of the Tatu River was the most critical single incident of the Long March. Had the Red Army failed there, quite possibly it would have been exterminated. The historic precedent for such a fate already existed. On the banks of the remote Tatu the heroes of the Three Kingdoms and many warriors since then had met defeat, and in these same gorges the last of the T'ai-p'ing rebels, an army of 100,000 led by Prince Shih Ta-k'ai, was in the nineteenth century surrounded and completely destroyed by the Manchu forces under the famous Tseng Kuo-fan. To warlords Liu Hsiang and Liu Wen-hui, his allies in Sichuan, and to his own generals in command of the government pursuit, Generalissimo Chiang now wired an exhortation to repeat the history of the T'ai-p'ing. [Source: “Red Star Over China” by Edgar Snow (New York: Grove Press, 1968. Originally published 1938); Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu <|>]

“But the Reds also knew about Shih Ta-k'ai, and that the main cause of his defeat had been a costly delay. Arriving at the banks of the Tatu, Prince Shih had paused for three days to honor the birth of his son — an imperial prince. Those days of rest had given his enemy the chance to concentrate against him, and to make the swift marches in his rear that blocked his line of retreat. Realizing his mistake too late, Prince Shih had tried to break the enemy encirclement, but it was impossible to maneuver in the narrow terrain of the defiles, and he was erased from the map. <|>

“The Reds determined not to repeat his error. Moving rapidly northward from the Gold Sand River (as the Yangtze there is known) into Sichuan, they soon entered the tribal country of warlike aborigines, the "White" and "Black" Lolos of Independent Lololand. Never conquered, never absorbed by the Chinese who dwelt all around them, the turbulent Lolos [Yi ethnic group] had for centuries occupied that densely forested and mountainous spur of Sichuan whose borders are marked by the great southward arc described by the Yangtze just east of Tibet. Chiang Kai-shek could well have confidently counted on a long delay and weakening of the Reds here which would enable him to concentrate north of the Tatu. The Lolos' hatred of the Chinese was traditional, and rarely had any Chinese army crossed their borders without heavy losses or extermination. <|>

“But the Reds had already safely passed through the tribal districts of the Miao and the Shan peoples, aborigines of Guizhou and Yunnan, and had won their friendship and even enlisted some tribesmen in their army. Now they sent envoys ahead to parley with the Lolos. On the way they captured several towns on the borders of independent Lololand, where they found a number of Lolo chieftains who had been imprisoned as hostages by provincial Chinese warlords. Freed and sent back to their people, these men naturally praised the Reds. <|>

“In the vanguard of the Red Army was Commander Liu Po-ch'eng, [2] who had once been an officer in a warlord army of Sichuan. Liu knew the tribal people, and their inner feuds and discontent. Especially he knew their hatred of Chinese, and he could speak something of the Lolo tongue. Assigned the task of negotiating a friendly alliance, he entered their territory and went into conference with the chieftains. The Lolos, he said, opposed warlords Liu Hsiang and Liu Wen-hui and the Kuomintang; so did the Reds. The Lolos wanted to preserve their independence; Red policies favored autonomy for all the national minorities of China. The Lolos hated the Chinese because they had been oppressed by them; but there were "White" Chinese and "Red" Chinese, just as there were "White" Lolos and "Black" Lolos, and it was the White Chinese who had always slain and oppressed the Lolos. Should not the Red Chinese and the Black Lolos unite against their common enemies, the White Chinese? The Lolos listened interestedly. Slyly they asked for arms and bullets to guard their independence and help Red Chinese fight the Whites. To their astonishment, the Reds gave them both. <|>


Map of the Long March


“And so it happened that not only a speedy but a politically useful passage was accomplished. Hundreds of Lolos enlisted with the "Red" Chinese to march to the Tatu River to fight the common enemy. Some of those Lolos were to trek clear to the Northwest. Liu Po-ch'eng drank the blood of a newly killed chicken before the high chieftain of the Lolos, who drank also, and they swore blood brotherhood in the tribal manner. By this vow the Reds declared that whosoever should violate the terms of their alliance would be even as weak and cowardly as the fowl. <|>

Long March Crosses the Tatu River

Edgar Snow wrote in “Red Star Over China”: “Thus a vanguard division of the First Army Corps, led by Lin Piao, reached the Tatu Ho. On the last day of the march they emerged from the forests of Lololand (in the thick foliage of which Nanking pilots had completely lost track of them), to descend suddenly on the river town of An Jen Ch'ang, just as unheralded as they had come into Chou P'ing Fort. Guided over narrow mountain trails by the Lolos, the vanguard crept quietly up to the little town and from the heights looked down to the river bank, and saw with amazement and delight one of the three ferryboats made fast on the south bank of the river! Once more an act of fate had befriended them. [Source: “Red Star Over China” by Edgar Snow (New York: Grove Press, 1968. Originally published 1938); Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu <|>]

“How had it happened? On the opposite shore there was only one regiment of the troops of General Liu Wen-hui, the co-dictator of Sichuan province. Other Sichuan troops, as well as reinforcements from Nanking, were leisurely proceeding toward the Tatu, but the single regiment meanwhile must have seemed enough. A squad should have been ample, with all boats moored to the north. But the commander of that regiment was a native of the district; he knew the country the Reds must pass through, and how long it would take them to penetrate to the river. They would be many days yet, he could have told his men. And his wife, one learned, had been a native of An Jen Ch'ang, so he must cross to the south bank to visit his relatives and his friends and to feast with them. Thus it happened that the Reds, taking the town by surprise, captured the commander, his boat, and their passage to the north. <|>

20080218-Long March Luding Bridge.jpg
Luding Bridge
“Sixteen men from each of five companies volunteered to cross in the first boat and bring back the others, while on the south bank the Reds set up machine guns on the mountainsides and over the river spread a screen of protective fire concentrated on the enemy's exposed positions. It was May. Floods poured down the mountains, and the river was swift and even wider than the Yangtze. Starting far upstream, the ferry took two hours to cross and land just opposite the town. From the south bank the villagers of An Jen Ch'ang watched breathlessly. They would be wiped out! But wait. They saw the voyagers land almost beneath the guns of the enemy. Now, surely, they would be finished. And yet... from the south bank the Red machine guns barked on. The onlookers saw the little party climb ashore, hurriedly take cover, then slowly work their way up a steep cliff overhanging the enemy's positions. There they set up their own light machine guns and sent a downpour of lead and hand grenades into the enemy redoubts along the river. <|>

“Suddenly the White troops ceased firing, broke from their redoubts, and fled to a second and then a third line of defense. A great murmur went up from the south bank and shouts of "Hao!" drifted across the river to the little band who had captured the ferry landing. Meanwhile the first boat returned, towing two others, and on the second trip each carried eighty men. The enemy had fled. That day and night, and the next, and the next, those three ferries of An Jen Ch'ang worked back and forth until at last nearly a division had been transferred to the northern bank. <|>

“But the river flowed faster and faster. The crossing became more and more difficult. On the third day it took four hours to shift a boatload of men from shore to shore. At this rate it would be weeks before the whole army and its animals and supplies could be moved. Long before the operation was completed they would be encircled. The First Army Corps had now crowded into An Jen Ch'ang, and behind were the flanking columns, and the transport and rear guard. Chiang Kai-shek's airplanes had found the spot, and heavily bombed it. Enemy troops were racing up from the southeast; others approached from the north. A hurried military conference was summoned by Lin Piao. Chu Teh, Mao Tse-tung, Chou En-lai, and P'eng Teh-huai had by now reached the river. They took a decision and began to carry it out at once. <|>

“Some 400 li to the west of An Jen Ch'ang, where the gorges rise very high and the river flows narrow, deep, and swift, there was an iron-chain suspension bridge called the Liu Ting Chiao — the Bridge Fixed by Liu. [Literally the bridge "made fast" by Liu] It was the last possible crossing of the Tatu east of Tibet. Toward this the barefoot Reds now set out along a trail that wound through the gorges, at times climbing several thousand feet, again dropping low to the level of the swollen stream itself and wallowing through waist-deep mud. If they captured the Liu Ting Chiao the whole army could enter central Sichuan. If they failed they would have to retrace their steps through Lololand, re-enter Yunnan, and fight their way westward toward Likiang on the Tibetan border — a detour of more than a thousand li, which few might hope to survive. <|>

“As their main forces pushed westward along the southern bank, the Red division already on the northern bank moved also. Sometimes the gorges between them closed so narrowly that the two lines of Reds could shout to each other across the stream; sometimes that gulf between them measured their fear that the Tatu might separate them forever, and they stepped more swiftly. As they wound in long dragon Ales along the cliffs at night their 10,000 torches sent arrows of light slanting down the dark face of the imprisoning river. Day and night these vanguards moved at double-quick, pausing only for brief ten-minute rests and meals, when the soldiers listened to lectures by their weary political workers, who over and over again explained the importance of this one action, exhorting each to give his last breath, his last urgent strength, for victory in the test ahead of them. There could be no slackening of pace, no halfheartedness, no fatigue. "Victory was life," said P'eng Teh-huai; "defeat was certain death."” <|>

Bridge Over the Tatu River

Edgar Snow wrote in “Red Star Over China”: “On the second day the vanguard on the right bank fell behind. Sichuan troops had set up positions in the road, and skirmishes took place. Those on the southern bank pressed on more grimly. Presently new troops appeared on the opposite bank, and through their field glasses the Reds saw that they were White reinforcements, hurrying to the Bridge Fixed by Liu. For a whole day these troops raced each other along the stream, but gradually the Red vanguard, the pick of all the Red Army, pulled away from the enemy's tired soldiers, whose rests were longer and more frequent, whose energy seemed more spent, and who were perhaps none too anxious to die for a bridge. [Source: “Red Star Over China” by Edgar Snow (New York: Grove Press, 1968. Originally published 1938); Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu <|>]


Snow with Xu Teli and Huang Hua

“The Bridge Fixed by Liu was built centuries ago, and in the manner of all bridges of the deep rivers of western China. Sixteen heavy iron chains, with a span of some 100 yards or more, were stretched across the river, their ends imbedded on each side under great piles of cemented rock, beneath the stone bridgeheads. Thick boards lashed over the chains made the road of the bridge, but upon their arrival the Reds found that half this wooden flooring had been removed, and before them only the bare iron chains swung to a point midway in the stream. At the northern bridgehead an enemy machine-gun nest faced them, and behind it were positions held by a regiment of White troops. The bridge should, of course, have been destroyed, but the Sichuanese were sentimental about their few bridges; it was not easy to rebuild them, and they were costly. Of Liu Ting it was said that "the wealth of the eighteen provinces contributed to build it." And who would have thought the Reds would insanely try to cross on the chains alone? But that was what they did. <|>

“No time was to be lost. The bridge must be captured before enemy reinforcements arrived. Once more volunteers were called for. One by one Red soldiers stepped forward to risk their lives, and, of those who offered themselves, thirty were chosen. Hand grenades and Mausers were strapped to their backs, and soon they were swinging out above the boiling river, moving hand over hand, clinging to the iron chains. Red machine guns barked at enemy redoubts and spattered the bridgehead with bullets. The enemy replied with machine-gunning of his own, and snipers shot at the Reds tossing high above the water, working slowly toward them. The first warrior was hit, and dropped into the current below; a second fell, and then a third. But as others drew nearer the center, the bridge flooring somewhat protected these dare-to-dies, and most of the enemy bullets glanced off, or ended in the cliffs on the opposite bank.” <|>

Fighting on of the Tatu River

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Long March in Yenan
Edgar Snow wrote in “Red Star Over China”:“Probably never before had the Sichuanese seen fighters like these — men for whom soldiering was not just a rice bowl, and youths ready to commit suicide to win. Were they human beings or madmen or gods? Was their own morale affected? Did they perhaps not shoot to kill? Did some of them secretly pray that these men would succeed in their attempt? At last one Red crawled up over the bridge flooring, uncapped a grenade, and tossed it with perfect aim into the enemy redoubt. Nationalist officers ordered the rest of the planking torn up. It was already too late. More Reds were crawling into sight. Paraffin was thrown on the planking, and it began to bum. By then about twenty Reds were moving forward on their hands and knees, tossing grenade after grenade into the enemy machine-gun nest. [Source: “Red Star Over China” by Edgar Snow (New York: Grove Press, 1968. Originally published 1938);Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu <|>]

“Suddenly, on the southern shore, their comrades began to shout with joy. "Long live the Red Army! Long live the Revolution! Long live the heroes of Tatu Ho!" For the enemy was withdrawing in pell-mell flight. Running full speed over the remaining planks of the bridge, through the flames licking toward them, the assailants nimbly hopped into the enemy's redoubt and turned the abandoned machine gun against the shore. <|>

“More Reds now swarmed over the chains, and arrived to help put out the fire and replace the boards. And soon afterwards the Red division that had crossed at An Jen Ch'ang came into sight, opening a flank attack on the remaining enemy positions, so that in a little while the White troops were wholly in flight — either in flight, that is, or with the Reds, for about a hundred Sichuan soldiers here threw down their rifles and turned to join their pursuers. In an hour or two the whole army was joyously tramping and singing its way across the River Tatu into Sichuan. Far overhead angrily and impotently roared the planes of Chiang Kai-shek, and the Reds cried out in delirious challenge to them. For their distinguished bravery the heroes of An fen Ch'ang and Liu Ting Chiao were awarded the Gold Star, highest decoration in the Red Army of China.” <|>

Sidney Rittenberg and Other Westerners in China in the Long March Period


Sidney Rittenberg in 2014

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.” ^^

“Known in China as Li Dunbai---the phonetic expression of Rittenberg---he trekked to the Communist guerrillas” mountain sanctuary of Yanan 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. ^^

“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. ^^

“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.” ^^

“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.” ^^


Mao with foreign journalists in 1944


“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. ^^

“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.” ^^

“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.” ^^

Image Sources:Wikimedia Commons,

Text Sources: Asia for Educators, Columbia University afe.easia.columbia.edu <|>

Last updated November 2016

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