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History of the PRC – Part Eleven Posted by on Dec 20, 2010 in Uncategorized

In October 1934, Mao and the CCP began their retreat from southern China up north, in what would come to be known as the Long March (长征 – cháng zhēng). This was not just one long march, as the English name would suggest, but actually a year long process in which the Red Army marched 12,500 kilometers (8,000 miles) over 370 days, from Jiangxi (江西) all the way to Shaanxi (陕西). In total, over 85,000 soldiers took part in the march. Those who remained in Ruijin would eventually be captured and exectued by KMT forces, including Mao’s brother, Mao Zetan (毛泽覃). Once again losing a family member to the KMT, it’s no wonder Mao was hell-bent on taking them down.

Along the way, numerous battles were fought with KMT forces, including one especially brutal battle in Hunan (湖南) province near the Xiang River (湘江 – xiāng jiāng). During two days of fighting, the CCP lost over 40,000 soldiers along with all of their civilian porters. Not surprisingly, morale amongst the Communists was pretty low after this crushing defeat, and many grew dissatisfied with the leadership. The remaining members would meet in Guizhou (贵州) province for a few days to discuss the leadership.

Although Mao was becoming more active, he did not manage to gain supreme power at this meeting. He was elected as one of three members of the Military Affairs Commission, though, and he basically ended up controlling the First Red Army after this conference. With the party structure rearranged, the march continued, eventually crossing the Yangtze River (长江 – cháng jiāng) in May 1935. Flexing his new muscles, Mao changed up the strategies of the Red Army. The Army would now march in twisting patterns that made their movements less predictable, and they were split into smaller units, making them more difficult to find in the vast landscape of the Chinese countryside.

At this point, there were only 25,000 men left, and more problems would greet the CCP. Not only did they have to watch out for the KMT and their warlord allies, but they also had to deal with ethnic minorities who were hostile to all ethnic Chinese. Plus, there were mountains and rivers to cross on a regular basis, including the formbidale Great Snow Mountains (大雪山 – dà xuě shān). This was no walk in the park, that’s for sure.

As they marched, the army recruited more peasants, and confiscated property and weapons from locals, but their losses were still severe. Only about 8,000 of Mao’s troops made it to the final destination of Yan’an (延安). The loss of life on the battlefield, added to the fatigue, hunger, cold, sickness, and desertion all piled up to do serious damage to the CCP, whose membership fell from 300,000 to around 40,000.

Eventually, the three armies would all unite in Bao’an, Shaanxi province on October 22, 1936. As Zhang Guotao (leader of the Fourth Red Army) had seen his army completely destroyed, he would not be able to challange Mao’s authority at this point in time. Speaking 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. It has proclaimed their utter failure to encircle, pursue, obstruct and intercept us. The Long March is also a propaganda force. It has announced to some 200 million people in eleven provinces that the road of the Red Army is their only road to liberation.”

Having finally reached the end of an arduous journey, the CCP was ready to rebuild and plan their next strike on the KMT.

Here is Part One out of Six of a really good video about the Long March.

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About the Author: sasha

Sasha is an English teacher, writer, photographer, and videographer from the great state of Michigan. Upon graduating from Michigan State University, he moved to China and spent 5+ years living, working, studying, and traveling there. He also studied Indonesian Language & Culture in Bali for a year. He and his wife run the travel blog Grateful Gypsies, and they're currently trying the digital nomad lifestyle across Latin America.

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