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The Long March (Template:Zh-tsp) was a massive military retreat undertaken by the Red Armies of the Communist Party of China (CCP), the forerunner of the People's Liberation Army, to evade the pursuit of the Kuomintang (KMT) army. There was not one Long March, but several, as various Communist armies in the south escaped to the north and west. The most well known is the march from Jiangxi province which began in October 1934. The First Front Army of the Chinese Soviet Republic, led by an inexperienced military commission, was on the brink of complete annihilation by Chiang Kai-Shek's troops in their stronghold in Jiangxi province. The Communists, under the eventual command of Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai, escaped in a circling retreat to the west and north, which reportedly traversed some 12,500 kilometers (8,000 miles) over 370 days. The route passed through some of the most difficult terrain of western China by traveling west, then north, to Shaanxi.

Beginnings of the retreat[edit | edit source]


Chiang Kai-shek encircled the Communists in Jiangxi in 1934.

An initial period of cooperation between the Kuomintang (Nationalist Party) and the Chinese Communist Party to unify China against the feudal warlords and the Japanese Empire ended abruptly in April of 1927 when Chiang Kai-shek struck out against the Communists. The suppression of the Communist Party in Shanghai and other cities finally drove many party supporters to rural strongholds such as the Jiangxi Soviet organized by Mao Zedong.

By 1930, the Communist Army had an established base in Jiangxi, including industrial facilities, and the area was a bastion of communism.[1] Several attempts by Chiang to defeat the Communists were repelled by forces led by Mao. In September 1933, the National Revolutionary Army under Chiang Kai-shek eventually completely encircled Jiangxi, with the advice and tactical assistance of his German adviser, Hans von Seeckt.[2] A fortified perimeter was established by Chiang's forces, and Jiangxi was besieged in an attempt to destroy the Communist forces trapped within. Mao had been replaced by Zhou Enlai as leader of the military commission,[3] and the Chinese Red Army was commanded by a three man military committee, including a German military advisor Otto Braun (called in Chinese, Li De), the Comintern military advisor Bo Gu, and Zhou. The committee abandoned Mao's successful tactics of Mobile Warfare against the Kuomintang forces. Direct engagements with the Nationalist army soon caused heavy casualties and loss of material and territory. Mao would later write of this period:

By May 1928, basic principles of guerilla warfare, simple in nature and suited to the conditions of the time, had already been evolved...But beginning from January 1932...the old principles were no longer to be considered as regular, but were to be rejected as "guerilla-ism". The opposition to "guerilla-ism" reigned for three whole years.[4]

The Communist leadership decided on a strategic retreat to regroup with other Communist units, and to avoid annihilation. The first movements of the retreat were undertaken by forces led by Fang Zhimin, breaking through Kuomintang lines in June 1934, followed by Fe Ke Yu in August. Although Fang Zhimin's troops were soon neutralized, these movements surprised the Kuomintang, who were numerically superior to the Communists at the time and did not expect an attack on their fortified perimeter.

The early troop movements were actually a diversion to allow the retreat of more important leaders from Jiangxi. In October 1934, a force of 130,000 under Bo Gu and Li De attacked the line of Kuomintang positions. More than 86,000 troops, 11,000 administrative personnel and thousands of civilian porters actually completed the breakout; the remainder, largely wounded or ill soldiers, continued to fight a delaying action after the main force had left, and then dispersed into the countryside.

The rise of Mao Zedong[edit | edit source]

Mao Zedong (1936)

After several months of marching westward, harassed by the Kuomintang, the Communist Army was depleted and demoralized. Attempting to cross the Xiang River in November 1934, the army lost more than 40,000 troops and all of the civilian porters, and there were strongly-defended Nationalist defensive lines ahead. Under these conditions, the Communists met in Zunyi in Guizhou province from January 1517, 1935 to reshuffle the Party politburo. Although the failed leadership of Bo Gu and Li De was denounced, after three days Mao was not able to win the support of a sufficient number of Party leaders to gain outright power at the conference. Mao was passed over for the position of General Secretary by Zhang Wentian, but gained enough influence to be elected one of three members of Military Affairs Commission. The other two members, Zhou Enlai (appointed Director of the Commission) and Wang Jiaxiang, whose support Mao had enlisted earlier[5], were inexperienced in military affairs, leaving Mao in effective control of the Communist Red Army after the Zunyi conference.

When the army resumed its march north, the direct route to Sichuan was blocked by Chiang's forces. Traveling north to join Zhang Guotao's Fourth Front Army, Mao broke out of Guizhou and crossed the Yangtze on May 8, 1935. The Communist forces had now been on the move for seven months since leaving Jiangxi and had only 25,000 men left. The Communist leadership was determined to move into Shaanxi province, although the decision was not unanimous. Leaders like Zhang Guotao preferred to establish a refuge near the border with the Soviet Union. However, Mao overcame opposition by his using his influence over the subordinate commanders of the Communist forces.

Penetrating northward into areas populated by ethnic minorities hostile to Chinese encroachment, the Communist forces were not only harassed by the Kuomintang and their local warlord allies, but also by tribes hostile to all ethnic Chinese. The terrain was another formidable opponent: the Communists had to cross mountains and rivers, often capturing river crossings heavily defended by hostile warlords and Nationalist troops, such as the Luding Bridge.

In July 1935, the troops under Mao united with the Second Front Army, led by He Long and Xiao Ke, which had retreated west from from Henan. After disagreement over the direction in which the troops should move, the two forces split up.[6] The Second Front Army moved northwest, to establish a base in Ningxia province.[7] Mao's troops traversed several swamps and suffered ambushes from the Tibetans and the Hui. Finally in October 1935, his army reached Shaanxi province.

All along the way, the Communist Army confiscated property and weapons from local warlords and landlords, while recruiting peasants and the poor. Nevertheless, only some 8,000 troops under Mao's command, the First Front Army, ultimately made it to the final destination of Yan'an in 1935. Of these, less than 7,000 were among the original 100,000 soldiers who had started the march. A variety of factors contributed to the losses including fatigue, hunger & cold, sickness, desertion, and military casualties. During the retreat, membership in the party fell from 300,000 to around 40,000.[8]

Aftermath[edit | edit source]


A Communist leader addressing Long March survivors.

While costly, the Long March gave the Communist Party of China (CCP) the isolation it needed, allowing its army to recuperate and rebuild in the north of China. It also was vital in helping the CCP to gain a positive reputation among the peasants due to the determination and dedication of the surviving participants of the Long March. Mao wrote in 1935:

The Long March is a manifesto. It has proclaimed to the world that the Red Army is an army of heroes, while the imperialists and their running dogs, Chiang Kai-shek and his like, are impotent.[9]

In addition, policies ordered by Mao for all soldiers to follow, the Eight Points of Attention, instructed the army to avoid harm to or disrespect for the peasants, in spite of the desperate need for food and supplies. This policy won support for the Communists among the rural peasants.[6]

Hostilities ceased while the Nationalists and Chinese Communists formed a nominal alliance during the Second Sino-Japanese War from 1937 until 1945. During these years, the Chinese Communist Party persevered and strengthened its influence. The Red Army fought a disciplined and organized guerilla campaign against superior Japanese forces, allowing it to gain experience. Following the end of World War II, the resurgent Communist Eighth Route Army, later called the People's Liberation Army, returned to drive the Kuomintang out of Mainland China to the island of Taiwan. Since the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949, the Long March has been glorified as an example of the Communist Party's strength and resilience. The Long March solidified Mao's status as the undisputed leader of the CCP. Other participants in the March also went on to become prominent party leaders, including Zhu De, Lin Biao, Liu Shaoqi, Dong Biwu, Ye Jianying, Li Xiannian, Yang Shangkun, Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Ruth Rogaski, PhD, in Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2006: Mao Zedong, III. Rise to Power (Retrieved November 25, 2006)
  2. The German Military Mission to China: 1927-1938, by Arvo Vercamer (Retrieved 23 November 2006)
  3. Template:Cite book
  4. Template:Cite journal
  5. Template:Cite book
  6. 6.0 6.1 Indo-Asian News Service (October 22, 2006): Retracing Mao's Long March (Retrieved 23 November 2006)
  7. New Long March 2: Second Front Army (retrieved 23 November 2006)
  8. Template:Cite book
  9. Mao Zedong, in On Tactics against Japanese Imperialism (December 27, 1935): "The Characteristics of the Present Political Situation" (Retrieved November 25, 2006)

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