Long March: The true story behind a myth

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Peter H
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Long March: The true story behind a myth

Post by Peter H » 11 May 2008 02:19

http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/columns/syn ... 15dy02.htm

Long March: The true story behind a myth
By Sun Shuyun

Every nation has its founding myth. For China, it is the Long March--a story on a par with Moses leading the Israelites' exodus out of Egypt. I was raised on it.

The myth can be stated succinctly. The fledgling Communist Party and its three Red Armies were driven out of their bases in the south in the early 1930s by Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist government. Pursued and harried by their enemies, they crossed high mountains, turbulent rivers and impassable grassland, with Mao Zedong steering the course from victory to victory. After two years and 16,000 kilometers of endurance, courage and hope against impossible odds, the Red Armies reached northwest China. Only a fifth of the 200,000 soldiers remained, worn out, battered, but defiant. A decade later, they fought back, defeated Chiang Kai-shek, and launched Mao's New China.

How does China's founding myth stand up to reality?

In 2004, 70 years after it began, I set out to retrace the Long March. It remains a daunting journey, through areas little changed to this day, inaccessible and desperately poor. Of the 40,000 survivors, perhaps 500 are still alive; I tracked down and interviewed 40 of them--ordinary people who were left behind or managed to reach the end, but with stories that are highly instructive.

Huang Zhiji was a boy, little taller than his rifle, when he joined the Red Army. He had no choice: They had arrested his father and would not release him until Huang agreed. He thought of deserting, but stayed for fear of being caught and shot. Many did run away. Six weeks into the March, Mao's First Army was reduced from 86,000 to 30,000 troops. The loss is still blamed on the Xiang River Battle, the army's first big engagement of the March. But at most 15,000 died in battle; the rest vanished.

Another battle, over the Dadu River, is the core of the Long March legend: 22 brave men supposedly overpowered a regiment of Nationalist troops guarding the chains of the Luding Bridge with machine guns, and opened the way for the Marchers. Mao told Edgar Snow, author of Red Star Over China, that crossing the Dadu River was the single most important incident during the Long March, and today it is eulogized as such.

But documents that I have seen indicate that the general who commanded the division that crossed the Dadu River first told party historians a very different story. "His affair was not as complicated as people made it out to be later," he said. "When you investigate historical facts, you should respect the truth. How you present it is a different matter."

So the legend lives on. There was only a skirmish over the Dadu River. The local warlord, who hated Chiang Kai-shek, let Mao pass. As a reward, he was later made a minister in the Communist government.

The Marchers did not know where they would end up. There were constant debates about the final destination. When they converged in north China in October 1936, it was hailed as the end of the March.

But the "promised land" was not as promised. It could barely support its own population, let alone the Red Armies.

Soldiers had no clothes to protect them from freezing cold. Women were ordered to turn back and go home because there was not enough food. Barely a month after the union of the three Red Armies, the party decided that the Long March was to continue. But the kidnapping of Chiang Kai-shek by the general he had appointed to wipe out the Communists saved them. As part of the price for his release, Chiang recognized the Communists as legitimate. The Long March was over.

Not, however, for the 21,000 men and women of the Western Legion. They belonged to the Fourth Army, headed by Zhang Guotao, Mao's archrival. Their mission was to get help from Russia at the border in western China. But Mao kept sending them contradictory orders; the result was that they could neither fight nor retreat.

Trapped in barren land where survival was difficult, the overwhelming forces of Muslim warlords wiped them out. Only 400 reached the border; the rest were killed or captured.

It was the Red Army's biggest defeat. Yet it is missing from official history. Wang Quanyan, a senior officer, was taken by a Muslim commander as a concubine. That was enough to make her a traitor in the eyes of the party, negating all her years of dedication. She and the rest of the Fourth Army survivors had to fight for half a century to be recognized as Marchers.

The Long Marchers persevered, fought, starved, despaired, and endured. Hunger drove the armies to take hostages for ransom. Purges continued until practically no officers were left to command battles. If the Marchers had doubts, they conquered them with the help of Communist propaganda. They rose to their ordeal with a bravery and self-sacrifice unsurpassed in China's or anyone's history.

What motivated them? I asked a top general what he knew of communism at the time. "I had no idea then and now," he replied. "I doubt that even Mao knew what it was."

For him, a survivor of extreme poverty and oppression, communism was a beautiful, sustaining dream, the hope of a just and advanced society.

Perhaps no one knew or could know how much suffering would lie ahead, how vast the sacrifice would be, and how great the difference would be between the dream and the reality.

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Peter H
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Re: Long March: The true story behind a myth

Post by Peter H » 11 May 2008 02:25

"The crossing of the Dadu River"

http://www.iisg.nl/~landsberger/ldb.html

Image

The suspension bridge consists of thirteen chains, nine forming the floor, covered with planking, with two chains on either side serving as rails. When the troops of the vanguard unit led by Lin Biao reached the bridge on 29 May 1935, they discovered that the KMT Army units at the opposite end had removed two-thirds of the planking; the remaining flooring had been set on fire.



Image

An advance unit of 22 men was ordered to take the bridge. Abandoning their equipment except for rifles and bullets, they inched their way over the chains under enemy machine gun fire and were able to reach the other side, routing the KMT troops. Fifteen of the 22 survived the crossing. After another two hours, Luding Bridge was securely in the hand of the Party and the Red Army.



From Sun Shuyun,The Long March: The True History of Communist China's Founding Myth:

“… the more I looked at the bridge, the more puzzled I became. It was only three meters wide, so the Death Squad could only get along it in twos and threes. If there were heavy machine guns defending it … how could any force, with no mortar fire or artillery in support, possibly get through … with the loss of only four men? Against a whole regiment? I found it hard to believe.”

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Peter H
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Re: Long March: The true story behind a myth

Post by Peter H » 11 May 2008 02:40

Map of the Long March.

From Purnell's History of the 20th Century,1968.
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Re: Long March: The true story behind a myth

Post by Peter H » 11 May 2008 03:34

Mao and The Long March

The Legend:

Image


Actually he rode a horse:

Image

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Peter H
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Re: Long March: The true story behind a myth

Post by Peter H » 11 May 2008 03:39

Photos from: http://www.paulnoll.com/China/Long-March/index.html

Luding Bridge

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Great Snowy Mountains

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Re: Long March: The true story behind a myth

Post by ralphrepo » 05 Jun 2008 14:52

After seeing pictures of the bridge itself (which amazingly has changed little in 300 years) and noting the clear and commanding field of fire for the supposed Nationalist forces guarding it, I'm inclined to believe that a single determined man with a bolt action rifle could have killed all 22 of them before any would have made it across the bridge. Hence, I must assume that Sun's questions are legitimately raised. On the face of it, it looks like the PRC legend of storming the bridge was a whopper of a hoax.

Another consideration is; does anyone have any info on the identity of the soldiers who did the heroic act? Everyone loves a hero (eg Flags of Our Fathers). So, where's the guys who stormed the bridge? Who were they? Did they then make CCP recruitment drives? Or did they just disappear back into the woodwork in spite of the CCP's known love of using propaganda when it presents itself? If there aren't any heroes from this event, then it would also support the null (that is, it was all a lie to begin with).

Ralph

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Re: Long March: The true story behind a myth

Post by phylo_roadking » 06 Jun 2008 01:53

In answer to the who...from Wiki...

However, none of the survivors lived to see the establishment of the People's Republic. The duty squad commander of the 4th squad of the 2nd company Liu Zihua was killed in January 1949 when liberating Tianjin during the Pingjin Campaign, and the commander of the 2nd company, Liao Dazhu was the last to die; he was killed in the battle to liberate Shanghai in May 1949. The commander of the 4th regiment, Wang Kaixiang did not survive either: after the Long March, the regimental commander was struck with malaria and he accidentally shot himself in his unconsciousness, because he loved his pistol so much that he hid it in his sick bed against the regulation, and in the convulsions induced by the pernicious malaria, discharged the pistol, killing himself. At the Luding Bridge memorial museum specially built to commemorate the event, only four out of the 22 pillars had names engraved, while the rest were unnamed.


As for the covering fire issue - there seems to have been a VERY major issue with the Nationalists. Although there were Nationalist troops in the city...the bridge itself was guarded by local warlord troops. Apparently their stocks of ammunition was decrepit, some of it DECADES old. There were for a long time anecdotal tales from the Red Army veterans of the battle for the bridge and the battle for the city that the Nationalists' bullets fell to the ground after only 100 yards! And with the machineguns being fed out of the same stocks...they couldn't shoot across the river, let alone cover the full length of the bridge itself. Contemporary accounts mention the defenders being pinned down and staying in cover because of the weight of fire coming at them. Conversely, the Communists had cherrypicked the best of the modern weapons taken from Nationalist forces to equip both the initial assault team and the forces covering them, a lot of it of very recent German make; the assault team itself being equiped with SMGs and grenades. So the assault party alone, even without covering fire, could lay down enough fire of their own when in range to keep the defenders' heads down until they were in grenade range.

For years the story about the underpowered Nationalist munitions was thought to be apochryphal - until the truth came out in 1979 in China, and later veterans of the defending forces were interviewed by researchers and they confirmed the story independently. The real story - that the communists outgunned the defenders severely - was suppressed for years to build up the legend of the Long March and the deeds of the First Red Army.

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Re: Long March: The true story behind a myth

Post by Peter H » 06 Jun 2008 09:30

Jung Chang relates that the local warlord was bribed in letting the Reds get across:

The strongest evidece debunking the myth..is that there were no battle casualties..the vanguard consisted of twenty two men..in a celebration immediately afterwards..all twenty-two were not only alive and well,they received a Lenin suit,a fountain pen,a bowl and chopsticks.Not even one was wounded...after them,no one else died under fire.Chou En-Lai's bodyguard described how Chou,having been upset when he heard that a horse had fallen into the river,went to check on human losses."No men lost?",Chou asked the commander..to which Yang replied:"None".

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Peter H
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Re: Long March: The true story behind a myth

Post by Peter H » 21 Oct 2010 10:08

On Australian ABC TV last week.I think though that this Chinese production was made in 2006.

The Great Escape:China's Long March (45 mins duration)
http://www.abc.net.au/iview/?series=303 ... es/3034715

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Re: Long March: The true story behind a myth

Post by 79seconds » 22 Oct 2010 08:59

The names of these 17 members of the assault party were:

Commander of 2nd Company: XIONG Shanglin
Leader of 2nd Platoon: LUO Huiming
Leader of 3rd Squad: LIU Changfa
Deputy Leader of 3rd Squad: ZHANG Biaoke
Soldiers: ZHANG Guicheng, XIAO Hanyao, WANG Huating, LIAO Hongshan, LAI Qiufa, ZENG Xianji

Leader of 4th Squad: GUO Shicang
Deputy leader of 4th Squad: ZHANG Chengqiu
Soldiers: XIAO Guilan, ZHU Xiangyun, XIE Liangming, DING Liuming, CHEN Wanqing

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Re: Long March: The true story behind a myth

Post by HC8604 » 24 Oct 2010 02:35

Peter, unfortunately I can not watch it because I do not live in Australia.

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Peter H
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Re: Long March: The true story behind a myth

Post by Peter H » 24 Oct 2010 08:41

So if you click on the link and click on the photo the documentary doesn't play?

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Re: Long March: The true story behind a myth

Post by michael mills » 25 Oct 2010 23:34

I understand that when the Long March began, it was not led by Mao but rather by a German Communist whose surname was Braun, if I remember correctly.

Braun (if that was his name) had been sent to China by the Comintern to command the Chinese Red Army, and it was he who decided that the Red Army should retreat to the West where Guomindang control was very weak or non-existent and contact could be made with the Soviet Union.

Mao, who had only held a subsidiary command, took control of the entire Red Army in a coup after the retreat had been underway for a few weeks. In Chinese Communist official history, that coup was described as as the victory of Mao's "correct line" of peasant-based guerilla warfare over the Comintern line of regular warfare on the model of the campaigns fought by the Soviet Red Army in the Russian Civil War and the Soviet-Polish War.

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Re: Long March: The true story behind a myth

Post by montyp165 » 26 Oct 2010 06:47

It is interesting to note that despite CCP critics claiming their successes as merely 'lies, propaganda, etc.', it is also worth noting that despite the fundamental deficiencies in manpower and resources that the CCP still managed to win shows how effective they were despite the naysayers.

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Re: Long March: The true story behind a myth

Post by South » 26 Oct 2010 08:28

Good morning Michael,

I can't directly respond to your lead point.

Indirectly, however, ....

"Braun" was one of several aliases used by Borodin, (Mikhail Markovich Gruzenberg), Stalin's rep in China (among several).

During his life of political activity, Borodin was arrested in the UK, ...;

"Almost equally obfuscated was the matter of Borodin's name. Borodin began by stating that his name was George Brown, but apparently faced with undeniable evidence that he was indeed 'Borodin', he said that his real name was Georg Braun, which had been Anglicized to George Brown, when he arrived in England."

BORODIN, Stalin's Man in China, by Daniel Jacobs, 1981, ISBN: 0-674-07910-8, page 105.


Warm regards,

Bob

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