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    China Chronology

    The Long March


    In October of 1934, tens of thousands of Chinese Communist soldiers embarked on a trek from one side of China to the other, not knowing how long they would be walking, what they would eat, or how their largely unarmed ranks would survive enemy attacks. This brutally difficult journey would indeed claim the lives of 7 out of every10 who attempted it, and would become a turning point of the Chinese Communist Party, for whose cause these soldiers were willing to die.

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    In the mid-1930's, China found itself in the midst of massive political upheaval. In a long struggle known as the Chinese Communist Revolution, Mao Tse-tung's Communist army competed with Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist forces for control of China. Until 1934, the Communist troops, known as the Red Army, had maintained their base in the southeastern province of Kiangsi. In 1934, however, Chiang's Nationalist forces launched the Fifth Encirclement Campaign, a military strategy in which Nationalist forces attempted to annihilate the Red Army. As part of this Campaign, Nationalist forces surrounded the Communist base. This blockade gave Mao Tse-tung and other Communist leaders no choice but to evacuate their base and relocate their troops.

    Though the destination was initially undecided, a choice was ultimately made by Communist leaders to relocate their base to the northwestern province of Shensi, which, including detours, required a journey of roughly 8000 miles. On October 16, 1934, 100,000 soldiers of the Red Army forced their way through the Nationalist blockade surrounding their base and began their walk toward Shensi. The soldiers walked for nearly an entire year, averaging between 17 and 26 miles a day. During the course of their journey, soldiers of the Red Army crossed 24 rivers, 11 provinces, and 18 mountain ranges, some at an altitude of 16,000 feet or more. In addition to the barriers of nature, the mostly unarmed soldiers of the Red Army were repeatedly involved in battles and skirmishes with Nationalist troops as they progressed toward their destination. Of the 100,000 soldiers that left Kiangsi, only 30,000 survived to finally reach their new base at Shensi in October 1935.

    The Long March is considered one of the great turning points in the history of the Chinese Communist Party. The March itself became legendary, and its survivors were given credit for having accomplished one of the greatest human feats in the entire duration of the Chinese Communist Revolution. "The most famous episodes included the crossing of the Tatu River under a hail of enemy fire, making alliances with minority groups by drinking chicken blood, marching through inhospitable swamps without sufficient supplies, and promoting the revolutionary spirit against seemingly hopeless conditions" (Leung; 237).

    The Long March is also extremely significant in that during its course, Mao Tse-tung was officially given leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, an event that would solidify the party and greatly shape its future development as the Revolution continued to unfold. In addition, the Long March was critical in that it ensured that the Chinese Communist Party would remain a contending force in the Revolution. Had the remaining members of the Red Army and their leaders not succeeded in reaching Shensi, the Chinese Communist Party would have been completely annihilated, thus ending their eventually successful struggle for power in China.


    Guillermaz, Jacques, A History of the Chinese Communist Party 1921-1949 (New York; Random House, Inc., 1972) pp. 252-266.

    Harrison, James Pinckney, The Long March to Power: A History of the Chinese Communist Party, 1921-72 (New York; Praeger Publishers, Inc., 1972) pp. 238-259.

    Leung, Edwin Pak-wah, ed., The Historical Dictionary of Revolutionary China, 1839-1976 (Westport, CT; Greenwood Press, 1992) pp. 236-238.

    McAleavy, Henry, The Modern History of China (New York; Praeger Publishers, Inc.,1967) pp. 276-296.

    Researched and Written by:
    Debra Satre,
    HIST 2260: The Modern World
    March 3, 2004

    Text copyright 2004 by ThenAgain.   All rights reserved.