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Mao Tse-tung began the Communist struggle for power on the Long March

Posted in Communism, Heroes and Heroines, Historical articles, History, Politics, Revolution on Wednesday, 30 October 2013

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This edited article about China originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 443 published on 11 July 1970.

Long March, picture, image, illustration

The Long March by Andrew Howat

The year was 1911. Western Europe was at peace, but in the faraway East, one of the biggest nations on earth was awakening from the sleep of centuries. Dr. Sun Yat-Sen, the father of modern Chinese nationalism had returned from exile in Japan to head the Government of the Republic of China. The Imperial Manchu dynasty had been overthrown in revolution and China now looked forward to a new era.

Sun Yat-Sen’s Government established itself at Nanking which became the capital over Imperial Peking, city of the North and of Emperors. Although well intentioned, the Nanking Government was incapable of controlling China’s far-flung provinces long under the domination of the warlords who were political bandits who had always sold their support to the highest bidder. Therefore there was still no real peace in China. The country quickly slipped back into the chaos and intrigue of ancient times.

For the majority of Chinese, life continued much as before. Just to stay alive was uppermost in the average peasant’s mind, dependant as he was on the rice crop and his landlord. Mao Tse-tung was such a peasant. Born in 1893 in South China, Mao like most Chinese had a passion for education which eventually took him to high school, from where he graduated in 1918, when he was 25.

Naturally gravitating towards Peking, still the centre of Chinese culture today, Mao found work in the university library and immersed himself in the political life of the city. The Russian Revolution had succeeded the previous year in setting up the world’s first Communist state and Mao found himself in sympathy with Lenin’s ideals, so much so that when the Chinese Communist Party was formed and held its congress in 1921, he was elected as a party official.

Mao rose rapidly in the ranks of the Communist Party, which was increasing in strength and influence, so much so that it was finally allowed to participate in the Government. Things looked good for them, until the sudden death of Sun Yat-Sen in 1925. China was now in the hands of Chiang Kai-Shek, the right-wing leader of the Government. Relations between Chiang and the Communists deteriorated until in 1927 Chiang mounted an anti-Communist purge. Communism became a crime punishable by death.

Mao hastily organised an armed revolt of the peasants, which failed through lack of support from the other leaders of the shattered party. Defeated, he fled into the mountains with his followers, occupying that part of South China known as Kiangsi, where Mao set up a Soviet style Government. From then on followed seven years of unsuccessful military campaigns by Chiang to wipe out the Communists. However, by 1934, Mao was effectively blockaded in his southern stronghold by Chiang’s encircling armies.

Meanwhile, a third contestant had entered the field. In 1930 Japan invaded Manchuria, China’s rich north-eastern province. Soon Imperial Japan encroached farther on Chinese territory, provoking Mao to declare war on them in 1932. Convinced that the Communists’ main chance of survival against Chiang and of defeating the Japanese lay in the rugged mountains of Yenan to the far north-west, Mao hastily prepared plans to break out of Kiangsi.

They left at night on October 16th to set out on a fantastic journey. The hazardous route would take them across some of the world’s most difficult terrain, unfit for wheeled traffic, across the great rivers and high mountains, the very backbone of Asia. Besides the 90,000 soldiers of Mao’s Red Army, thousands of peasants took the trail, old and young, Communist and non-Communist. Everything of value was loaded on to mules and donkeys, much of it to be abandoned later; whole factories were dismantled and packed. From Kiangsi to Yenan, this march would last a year and cover 6,000 miles. This epic feat, well deserved the name of “The Long March.”

Westwards lay Chiang’s blockade with four lines of defence. This had to be broken to give access to the free areas to the West. After six weeks of fighting and nine major battles they finally broke out and the march began in earnest. Westwards to the great Yangtze River the Red columns marched; never in a straight line and indulging in constant diversions to draw off Chiang’s spotter planes. Seven months after leaving Kiangsi, Mao’s army crossed the Yangtze and the road to the north lay open.

Mao pressed onwards through the mountainous forest country of Lololand to the Tatu River, scene of many ancient battles in its narrow gorges and ravines. At this major barrier Mao met little resistance and the marchers crossed with ease. North of the Tatu they climbed the Great Snowy Mountains, the first of seven great ranges which now lay in their path. Losses over these mountains of animals and men were heavy, particularly among the poorly clad southerners, yet Mao led them on over peak after peak. Of the 90,000 Red Army men who had set out seven months earlier, only half were still on the march.

Ahead lay the most dangerous and exciting part of the trek, through wild country inhabited by independent tribesmen. Over the great grassland, faced for the first time by a hostile population, the Southern Army suffered more than on any other part of the march. On and on they pressed until one year after leaving Kiangsi, the goal of Yenan was in sight. All that remained was a meagre 20,000 men. Of a total of 368 days en route, 245 were consumed in marches. Of the 100 days of halts, many of these were spent in battle and the average daily distance covered was almost 24 miles. It was a fantastic achievement.

In Yenan, Mao immediately proceeded to set up a Soviet style government. He was to spend twelve years in this base for operations against the Japanese, before launching the second civil war and sweeping down on Chiang’s disintegrating armies. By 1949, Chiang had fled to the island of Formosa off the Chinese coast and Mao had entered Peking in triumph.

Today Mao, at the age of 77 heads the Government of the Chinese People’s Republic and is known around the world as Chairman Mao – the eternal revolutionary.

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