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Long March, 80 years on ep.1: Tracking the Long March


10-10-2016 13:01 BJT

Full coverage: 80th Anniversary of the Victory of the Red Army's Long March

This year China marks the 80th anniversary of the completion of the Long March. The Long March was a forced retreat of the Communist Party of China and its Red Army from 1934 to 1936. Their journey was carried out to evade the 'extermination action' from the Kuomintang. 200-thousand troops joined the trek, but fewer than 60-thousand survived.

Altogether, four major forces of the Army covered over 30,000 kilometers, starting from the south of China to the north and west. The route took the Red Army through remote regions, and extreme conditions.

Ahead of the anniversary, I visited China’s national museum, where a special exhibition on the Long March is being displayed. Through hundreds of objects, it tells stories - some of which that have never been told. And among them, is a very special tale about an army cap.

"This is the army cap Chairman Mao wore when he met with visiting US journalist Edgar Snow. In July 1936, Snow came in secret to Shaanxi Province. During 4 months, Snow interviewed a number of Red Army commanders, and recorded the local situations. One day, when Snow saw Chairman Mao standing in front of his residence, he asked to take a photograph of him. But Mao wasn’t wearing a hat. So Snow’s friend George Hatem took Snow’s cap off him and put it on Mao’s head. This cap made this famous picture," Jiang Lin, director of National Museum of China, said.

And this was the first time the western world saw China’s young communist party leader.

Thin face, firm gaze, and an army cap with a red star----Edgar Snow’s picture fundamentally changed Chairman Mao Zedong’s image in the outside world.

Snow was the first western journalist to come to Yan’ an, the red capital established by Mao Zedong after the Red Army completed the Long March.

Through Snow’s camera lens and writing, the world gradually learned about China’s Communist Party and Red Army-- its purposes, its policies and its experience during the Long March----accounts that were completely different from the Kuomintang’s propaganda.

Edgar Snow collected his reports in a book, “Red Star over China”.

"After he left Shaanxi and returned to Beiping (now Beijing), Edgar Snow wrote many reports about the red army. These reports attracted international attention after being published. So Victor Gollancz gathered them into a book. The first edition was published by its Left Book Club. This Edition took the world by storm," Jiang said.

Inspired by Snow’s book, more foreigners became interested in China’s revolution and the heroic Long March. Some of them eventually came to China to follow the steps of the Red Army.

Late US president Jimmy Cater’s advisor was among them. Zbigniew Brzezinski praised the Long March as a milestone after he came to China in 1981 and travelled along part of the route with his family.

"It gives the Chinese Communists Party more nationally militant profile, not just a political movement but a national movement. A military movement, capable of an engaging a prolonged struggle, physical struggle. It is a great statement of the determination of the people fighting for change. So it was a historically important milestone," Zbigniew Brzezinski, former US National Security Advisor, 1977-1981, said.

Another foreigner, Israeli David Ben Uziet spent 138 days completing the entire route in 2005. Along the way he was repeatedly asked why a foreigner in his 70s wanted to walk the Long March.

"My answer was to them: I want to find the soul of China. What’s the soul of China? It is the leadership….All soldiers of the Red Army, who fell, starved, froze and continued to talk the Long March, are foundations upon which China was united," Isreali veteran David Ben Uziet said.

80 years have passed, but the study of the Long March remains a vital component of PRC history. And it's not just because most of the People's Republic's founding fathers came from the Red Army. The spirit, forged during the march and passed down by generations, still has a tremendous influence on Chinese society today -- both substantially and symbolically.  The Long March spirit is a collective psyche and it can be difficult to define. But the words "courage", "hard work", "optimism", and "unbending faith" definitely come to mind.

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