14. The Long March

The legend has grown over the years: Communist China was born in the sacrifices, heroism, endurance, determination and dedication of the few thousand men and women who survived the year-long, incredibly difficult, six-thousand-mile flight of the Communist movement from its bases in the south-central provinces to its sanctuary in the harsh loess-filled landscape of the northwest. There is much truth to this legend. The movement indeed might have been mortally wounded if the leaders and followers of Marx and Lenin had failed. Although the terrible conditions of the peasants formed the reason for the revolution, it could have taken a generation to rebuild leadership and much could have happened in the interval.

However, the enduring appeal of the march to people of all political persuasions lies in the human epic that it depicts. People are still stirred by stories of man's courage in the face of adversity, like the march to the sea of Xenophon's ten-thousand Greeks in 400 B.C. or the Army of Northern Virginia's defiance of impossible odds from the Wilderness to Appomattox in 1864-65. Unlike both of these great retreats, the Long March ended ultimately in victory. Thus, the Long March, begun in agonizing defeat and despair, finally came to an end in Beijing on October 1, 1949, with the proclamation of the People's Republic of China.

* * * * * * * * * *

The retreat started not only with 14,500 slow-moving non-combat personnel but also with all of the files of the Communist movement, printing presses, mint, x-ray machine, office furniture and other heavy equipment, not to speak of food supplies. Everything had to be carried on the backs of men or animals. The Red First Army rarely moved on the roads but on paths and trails where the Nationalist pursuers would have a more difficult time tracing them. Some of the equipment needed to be shouldered by a dozen or more strong men. Convalescents and leaders whose duties allowed them little time to sleep were carried part of the time in litters by bearers. Sometimes they rode horses. But many of the highest leaders, like Peng Dehaui, walked most of the way. Mao Zedong, still gaunt from malaria, rode at first in a litter, though later he rode a horse or walked.1

Thirty women went on the march, including Mao's pregnant wife, He Zizhen, and the wives of the highest officials. He Zizhen was wounded in seventeen places by shrapnel in a low-flying bomber attack early in the march.2 Nevertheless, she survived but after her baby was born she had to leave it behind. There was no way to care for an infant on the march. The rest of the women in the central soviet and all the children, including two of Mao's, had to be left behind. All trace of the children was lost. Mao Zedong believed afterward that the women were more courageous than the men. The most memorable was Kang Keqing, 23 years old, wife of Zhu De. She served as a markswoman, once carried a wounded soldier on her back and in one sudden firefight 300 men quickly elected her commander.3

The Red movement marched away from contact with the rest of the world, especially its only reliable ally, the Comintern. The army had radios but the most powerful could only reach the Communist secret relay station in Shanghai, which had been used to communicate with Moscow. Just before the breakout, KMT secret police found the station. The last message received by the central soviet was on September 16, 1934. Thereafter, the Chinese Communist movement was without contact with the Comintern for nearly two years. It was, Otto Braun said, "most convenient for Mao Zedong" and most inconvenient for him and the 28 Bolsheviks, who ultimately relied for their authority on Moscow.4

The march at first was without much loss. The Nationalists didn't get wind of the move until the end of October and didn't figure out the real situation for some time after that. The Reds, moreover, could break the Nationalists' radio codes because Zhou Enlai had arranged some years before to have Chinese Reds trained in cryptology in the Soviet Union. By intercepts, the Reds at nearly all times knew the disposition of KMT forces.5

The 1st Corps under Lin Biao and the 3rd Corps under Peng Dehuai spearheaded the flight with the mainly civilian central column in between. The 5th Corps under Dong Zhengtang guarded the rear while the 8th Corps under Zhou Kun and the 9th under Luo Binghui protected the flanks.

After brushing through the Nationalists' inner line of blockhouses near Xinfeng in southern Jiangxi, the Reds divided in two to confuse the enemy. One smaller, more-mobile force struck northwest, while the main force with the central column moved southwest through upper Guangdong where the provincial warlord, Chen Jitang, did not contest the way since the Reds caused no damage.

For secrecy and to guard against air attacks, the columns marched in darkness for the first eight nights, the people wearing white kerchiefs so those behind could see them. They hid in the daytime. On November 16, 1934, the northern column rejoined the southern column at Linwu in Hunan just north of the Guangdong border.

Wear was beginning to tell and the burden bearers jettisoned nearly all the heavy equipment and the few pieces of artillery. But the army kept its few machine guns and mortars.6 These weapons, plus rifles and hand grenades, gave the army the firepower to survive. The Nationalists at last had become aware of what was happening. Their aircraft spied on the column and attacked it frequently. Chiang Kai-shek threw fresh troops across the routes his intelligence services believed the Reds would take. Although these forces were seldom resolute, they inflicted numerous casualties. The Reds buried their dead and left their wounded to be cared for by peasants, except cadres whom they carried along in litters. Between battle losses and desertions, the army suffered a constant drain.

Chiang Kai-shek and the commander he named to direct operations, He Jian, the Hunan warlord, figured by the direction of the Red army's travel that it planned to move northwest to join He Long in northwest Hunan around Sangzhi. Therefore, Chiang kept his forces in two major concentrations: one to the north to block this movement and the other under the reliable central-army commander, Zhou Hunyuan, in pursuit. Chiang called on the warlords of Guangdong and Guangxi to help close the noose from the south. Chiang and He Jian believed the Reds would cross the upper Xiang river somewhere between Xing'an and Quanzhou, about 110 miles northwest of Linwu. It was here, while the Reds were vulnerable and in the open along the river, that Chiang planned to destroy them.7

Chiang's aim was obvious to the Red commander in chief, Zhu De. He worked out a plan to give the army some freedom of movement. From Linwu, a Red force moved north about fifty miles, causing He Jian to think the Reds intended to reach He Long by driving through Changsha instead of turning northwest. He Jian threw a large force under Xue Yue in front of this Red advance and directed Zhou Hunyuan to close up on the rear. The Reds, however, sowed doubt by sending another force southwest to capture towns near the Guangxi border, which made the Guangxi warlords Bai Chongxi and Li Zongren believe the Red army was moving into their province. The two feints, one north and the other south, caused KMT forces to pause. The Red commanders now issued urgent orders for the entire Red army to move northwest by forced march for the Xiang river crossings.8

The fast and nimble leading elements of the Red army, 1st and 3rd Corps, reached the Xiang on November 26, 1934, between Xing'an and Quanzhou and got over with no trouble.9 The slower central column, despite having dropped much of the equipment, nevertheless stretched for miles. The Nationalists had time to close in on the rear of the column and caught the rear guard, killing nearly all its 2,500 men.10 At the river, Red commanders held up all combat elements still on the east side because Chiang Kai-shek brought up forces on the north and Bai Chongxi forces on the south. The Red troops suffered fearsome losses from air and artillery bombardment and heavy infantry assaults for three days until the last of the columns got to the western side of the river.11

The Red army was now in a desperate situation. Army leaders were livid with Bo Gu, Braun and Zhou Enlai for the poor military leadership, which, they felt, had led to the nearly impossible position they faced. The Red army was down to less than half the number it possessed at the breakout. A large KMT army blocked the way north, other KMT forces made it impossible to move back east and a drive south into Guangxi would lead into a sack from which there was no escape. To the west the prospect was just as daunting: the incredibly steep and formidable heights of Laoshan (Old Mountain), a high, almost trackless Five Ridges extension of the Nan Ling mountains.

At this point, Mao Zedong came forward with a plan to save the army and the movement: scale Laoshan and the Five Ridges and break out into Guizhou province where the enemy was weak. From Guizhou the Red army could march either toward He Long or Zhang Guotao, commander of the Red Fourth Army in northeastern Sichuan.12 The Red leaders realized Mao was right: any other direction spelled destruction. They turned the army toward the Old Mountain and it began to climb. The path in places was no more than two feet wide; it was so steep climbers often could see the soles of the shoes of the men ahead of them. Only the most resolute people got over Laoshan and came down December 11, 1934, into the little town of Tongdao in extreme southwestern Hunan.

There were perhaps 35,000 persons left in the First Army. Only about 5,000 civilians remained in the central column.13 Many brave men had fallen on the way but all the fainthearted had gone too. The force that was left was the hard core of the Communist movement.

The military council held a hasty meeting to discuss what to do. Mao Zedong, not a member, nevertheless was invited to attend. It was clear after the Xiang river battle that his advice was needed. Mao immediately took a dominant role. Radio intercepts had shown that, if the army turned north toward He Long, it would be blocked by a quarter of a million KMT forces. Mao proposed to abandon the attempt and to move northwest into Guizhou, where there were few troops and better prospects. The military leaders agreed almost immediately and the remainder joined in, Zhou Enlai, Otto Braun and Bo Gu.14

The army captured Liping two days later, a substantial county seat where everyone could rest and get much-needed food. Mao proposed that the army head for Zunyi, a city of about 50,000 people in northern Guizhou. There the army could form a new base or move to join He Long or across the upper Yangzi to Zhang Guotao. As a last resort, the army could retreat southwest into Yunnan. The politburo agreed.15

To throw off the KMT general, Xue Yue, who was following behind, the command sent a feint straight west toward the Guizhou capital of Guiyang. Xue duly pressed a strong KMT force west to relieve the city and removed his army from the strategic picture. The Red army did not, however, march directly for Zunyi. Instead it sped north, brushing aside weak Guizhou provincial troops and gave the impression it might turn northeast to join He Long. This move held in place the Hunanese troops blocking the Hunan-Guizhou border and opened a path for the Red army as it turned northwest for Zunyi.

It took a 1st Corps regiment three days to overcome Guizhou troops defending the main barrier in front of Zunyi: the deep, swift, sheer-banked, slate-bottomed river Wu with few bridges and no fords.16 Soldiers of another regiment put on captured Guizhou uniforms and deceived soldiers guarding the Zunyi walls. They opened the city gate and the Red army swept in on January 7, 1935.

Although the army was momentarily safe, the Zunyi region was not suitable for a new soviet area. It was poor, producing little food. Moreover, Xue Yue's KMT army was now in Guiyang and had stimulated Guizhou's warlord, Wang Jialie, into attacking the Reds. Chiang Kai-shek was now at Chongqing in Sichuan moving more than 300,000 men to encircle Zunyi.

On January 15 at the home of the departed local warlord, twenty Red leaders sat down for a three-day conference. This meeting, though unknown to the outside world for many years, was one of the turning points of the twentieth century. For here the Communist movement decisively abandoned the bankrupt, doctrinaire, Moscow-inspired leadership which had been destroying Marxism-Leninism in China. In its place the movement named a leader of genius who, though a heretic to orthodox Marxists, saw an indigenous route to domination of China and success of the Communist revolution through championing the cause of the peasants. The same leader also had worked out a strategy to hold off the vastly superior Nationalist military strength.17

The participants of the Zunyi conference criticized severely the decisions of Bo Gu, Zhou Enlai and Otto Braun for adopting the disastrous strategy of contesting every step forward of Chiang Kai-shek's fifth encirclement campaign and for the costly frontal assaults into Nationalist artillery fire. Mao Zedong said this strategy had caused destruction of the central soviet and the present flight of the Red army. Other military leaders supported Mao. Zhou Enlai, seeing the debate turn against him, admitted errors and separated himself from Braun, Bo Go and the 28 Bolsheviks.

The conference elected Mao a member of the standing committee of the politburo, the inner circle, and as chairman of the military council, replacing Zhou Enlai. The conferees removed Bo Gu as secretary of the central committee and replaced him with Zhang Wendian whose alias was Luo Fu. Zhang was one of the 28 Bolsheviks, thus his election avoided a sharp break with them.18

At the start of the retreat, the leadership, for security reasons, had refused to inform the soldiers where they were going and what plans the party had, though previously leaders had told common soldiers nearly everything. The abrupt stoppage had caused much anger and dissatisfaction and the Zunyi conference reversed this decision. Soldiers once more learned who they were fighting, what the objectives were, where they were going and why their jobs were necessary.

Another source of anger was the baggage train: though lightened, it still had slowed the pace and contributed greatly to the losses in the Xiang river disaster. At Zunyi, the army abandoned all remaining heavy equipment and reassigned to other forces the men in the central column and in the 8th Corps, which had been shattered at the Xiang. The Red First Army regained its greatest assets: speed and flexibility. Now, like Stonewall Jackson's legendary "foot cavalry" in the American Civil War, it could outmarch and outmaneuver any force that could be brought against it.

* * * * * * * * * *

On January 19, 1935, the Red army moved north out of Zunyi. It was down to about 35,000 men. Ranging in all directions were Kuomintang and warlord troops, 400,000 of them, especially along the Yangzi to the north, the great barrier to the army's rendezvous with the Red Fourth Army under Zhang Guotao. Chiang Kai-shek was confident the Reds would try to force the river and had every possible crossing covered with troops.

Mao Zedong hoped he could find a poorly guarded crossing upstream from Chongqing but at the point he selected on the Red river at Chisui ran into a tough Sichuan blocking force.19 He moved upstream hoping to find another crossing but Chiang shifted troops to block him. Mao realized that to continue parallel to the river would lead the army into a cul de sac. The only hope was to confuse Chiang.

For the next six weeks he carried out one of the most remarkable campaigns in military history.20 On February 11, Mao abruptly turned about and raced back toward Zunyi. As soon as KMT aircraft detected Mao's shift, Chiang ordered Wang Julie to capture the Loushan pass about twelve miles north of Zunyi, the only opening south through the mountains, thus sealing up the Red army between the Yangzi and the pass.

The Red army beat Wang Julie's troops to Loushan pass by five minutes. The Reds rushed down the pass, shattered the eight regiments Wang had drawn up, recaptured Zunyi, struck two KMT divisions that were coming up behind and drove them against the Wu river, forcing 2,000 trapped KMT soldiers to surrender.

Mao now turned back toward the Yangzi crossings. He wanted Chiang to believe they were still his goal and thus hold the bulk of Chiang's forces along the river. Mao marched noisily up to Maotai on the Red river, the famous town close to the Yangzi devoted to China's principal distilled spirit of the same name. The soldiers consumed most of the available maotai, although the puritan Communist party later piously claimed the young men were so ignorant of liquor that they used it to bathe their feet, a patent falsehood because the troops were young but not dumb and no combat soldier would waste alcohol that way. On March 16-17, 1935, Mao sent the army in as flagrant a way as possible over the Red river to give the impression to KMT observers that the whole Red army was heading for the Yangzi. Mao ordered the army to hide just beyond the river and sent a single regiment on into southern Sichuan where it attracted as much attention as possible.

Chiang Kai-shek was convinced he had trapped the Red army. He now had around 500,000 troops encircling the Red army but the bulk were to the north, east and west. There were few to the south around Guiyang. This was precisely the point toward which the Red army was marching.

On the night of March 21-22, 1935, Mao swiftly shifted his army back across the Red river, ordered the regiment demonstrating in south Sichuan to return at full speed and set off for points south. KMT intelligence guessed the target was Guiyang. Chiang was shocked but wired the Yunnan commander, Sun Du, to hurry his three best brigades to defend the Guizhou capital. But just as the Yunnanese troops arrived, intelligence reports showed that the Reds were striking for Longli, about twenty-five miles to the east. Chiang figured the Red army was heading back eastward and ordered Sun Du to march toward Longli.

But the next morning Chiang realized he had been duped: heavy firing south of Guiyang showed that the Reds had passed through Longli and were thrusting south and west toward Yunnan. They had broken clean through Chiang's ring and were in the open. However, Mao left the 9th Corps under Luo Binghui north of the Wu river and thus held enemy troops in place to prevent junction with He Long. This corps remained until April before following by mountain trails a more direct westerly route to rejoin the main army. After it was too late to catch them, Chiang realized the main Red forces were heading toward Yunnan. He ordered Sun Du and Xue Yue in pursuit.

* * * * * * * * * *

While Mao Zedong was extricating the Red First Army from the Zunyi pocket, the Red Fourth Army, 80,000 or more soldiers strong under Zhang Guotao, had abandoned its soviet in the mountains of northeastern Sichuan around Tongjiang under moderate pressure from Sichuan warlords. On March 19, 1935, the Fourth Army had crossed the upper Jialing river northeast of Chengdu and kept moving west into the safer wild high mountains leading to Qinghai province and Tibet. It fought a number of warlord forces and lost about 10,000 men. The ostensible reason for Zhang's move was to support the First Army by drawing off Sichuanese troops but the precipitate abandonment of the large soviet and the flight westward gave no assistance to the First Army. However, Zhang's move saved his army and insured that it would remain stronger than the battered First Army. That would, Zhang felt, give him the edge to become supreme Communist leader whenever the two armies met.21

At the same time, the tiny Red Twenty-fifth Army of fewer than 3,000 men was under way on a long march of its own, having abandoned parts of the old O-yü-wan soviet in the Dabie mountains in November, 1934, and now moving cautiously northwestward toward Shaanxi. Although it suffered numerous engagements along the way, its small size attracted less attention.22

* * * * * * * * * *

The Red First Army was out of Chiang Kai-shek's trap but was moving steadily away from the Yangzi river and the crossings leading north. The only place left to cross was somewhere southwest of there along the upper Yangzi, the River of the Golden Sands. The best crossing points were where the river comes out of the high mountains and makes a huge bend about eighty miles north of the Yunnanese capital of Kunming. These points were accessible to Yunnan and KMT troops. But east of the bend the situation was worse: KMT troops could easily reach the few crossings. Mao felt the crossing had to be at the bend of the Golden Sands or nowhere.23

Fortunately, Chiang Kai-shek did not realize this. Mao's thrust toward Yunnan raised the possibility that the Reds might seek to establish a soviet somewhere in the Yunnanese highlands, while Chiang still persisted in believing they might turn around and head back to Jiangxi.

In the last week of April, 1935, the Red army entered Yunnan in three columns. The two southernmost appeared to be heading directly for Kunming. Chiang took the bait. He withdrew three regiments from the Golden Sands and moved them toward Kunming, leaving the path to the river open. Mao sent the cadres regiment by forced march toward the Golden Sands. Behind it came the rest of the army, except for a force under Lin Biao. To keep up the deception, Lin pressed loudly within eight miles of Kunming and acted as if prepared to storm it. This set off a panic in the city and authorities rushed most of Kunming's foreigners down the only rail line to Hanoi in French Indochina. The Yunnan warlord, Long Yun, pulled in every soldier he could find to defend the city.

By May 1, the cadres regiment was already across the Golden Sands at Jiaopingdu, a caravan crossing point for a thousand years. The other crossings also fell quickly. The great deception had worked. The main army crossed mainly at Jiaopingdu on seven ferry boats that had not been destroyed, moving day and night for nine days.

On May 1 Mao Zedong notified Lin Biao to stop his feint and march as fast as possible for the Golden Sands. There were no real roads but Lin and his foot cavalry hurried over paths and trails straight for the river. They covered the hundred miles in a little more than forty-eight hours. Some of the men could not keep up. KMT forces coming behind shot stragglers on the spot.

But most of Lin's men reached Jiaopingdu and crossed to the north bank, while the rear guard crossed behind them. The chief of staff, Liu Bocheng, set the ferry boats adrift to smash on rocks in the river. The Kuomintang troops now had to make a sixty-mile detour downriver to find a crossing. The Red army was reduced to fewer than 25,000 men. But it had survived.

* * * * * * * * * *

Chiang Kai-shek was furious. He flew to Chengdu to mobilize new forces to block the Communists at one more river, the Dadu, which rises high in the approaches to the Himalayas and whirls fast and deep down a great steep canyon almost due south to Anshunchang, two-hundred air miles north of the Golden Sands, where it makes a sharp bend and rushes east to Leshan to join the great south-flowing tributary to the Yangzi, the Min. Somewhere between Anshunchang and Leshan Chiang was certain the Red army would have to cross. It was along this same stretch in 1864 that Manchu forces prevented the passage of the last army of the nineteenth-century revolutionary Taipings and killed 40,000 Taiping soldiers on the river's banks. Chiang planned to repeat history and destroy the newest revolutionary movement against the Dadu.24

While Chiang was mobilizing, the Red army set forth from the Golden Sands. Ahead, however, high, difficult mountains separated the Reds from the Dadu valley. These rugged uplands, passable only by narrow paths, were inhabited by Yi tribes, the Lolos, pushed out of the fertile lowlands by Han Chinese invaders a thousand years before and Han enemies ever since. The Lolos blocked the Reds but Liu Bocheng became a brother of a Yi chieftain by drinking a mixture of chicken blood and water. This sealed a nonaggression pact and the Lolos allowed passage.

The vanguard of the Red Army gained the ferry crossing at Anshunchang on May 24 but found only three ferry boats, meaning the crossing would be extremely slow and Chiang's troops were on the march.

Mao made a startling decision: the main army, led by a regiment under Yang Chengwu, would rush north upstream, fifty miles by air, to the famous bridge of iron chains at Luding, the Red army's last hope. Swaying 370 feet across the Dadu, anchored by huge stone buttresses on each shore and guarded on the east by Luding's town gatehouse, the bridge dated from 1701 and for many years had permitted tribute caravans from Tibet and Nepal to connect with Chengdu and Beijing. Nine huge chains, upon which planks were laid, formed the bridge floor and two chains on either side made "rails".

While Yang Chengwu's regiment rushed up the west bank, the 1st Division, already across at Anshunchang, drove up the east bank on a better trail. Mao hoped together they could capture Luding bridge while the rest of the army marched up the west bank behind Yang. The route was murderous. Yang said the path "twisted like a sheep's gut." The regiment started off on the morning of May 27, 1935, and Mao said he had to capture the bridge within three days. Though having to push aside two KMT blocking forces, the regiment covered twenty-five miles the first day. At 4 a.m. on May 28, however, a courier dashed up with a message from Mao that Yang had to capture Luding the next day. And he still had fifty miles to go. There was no time for exhorting the troops. Yang simply shrugged, gave the order and the men set forth doggedly. Fog and rain closed in and, twenty miles north, the regiment came upon a KMT redoubt which it immediately rushed and sent enemy troops fleeing. By 6 p.m. the regiment was still thirty-five miles from Luding. They didn't stop, although they perceived KMT soldiers on the opposite (eastern) side of the Dadu and realized they were headed for Luding as well. Yang decided to brazen it out. He knew KMT code words and signaled that his force was KMT, too. The KMT commander believed him. Both Red and KMT forces lighted pine boughs and bamboo splits and marched parallel for eight miles. At last the Kuomintang troop bivouacked for the night. The Reds realized they now had the jump on the enemy. They abandoned everything except guns and ammunition and marched on, torches extinguished.

At daybreak the rain had blown away and the regiment arrived at the bridge and chased away the few Nationalists on the western side. But there were several hundred enemy in the dirty little town across the bridge. The Nationalists had removed the planks two-thirds of the way across the bridge. The rest of the way the bridge consisted of bare chains yawning high above the water rushing violently beneath.

Yang mounted machine guns behind the bridge and positioned every possible man to provide covering fire, then sent an assault unit of twenty-two men under Liao Dazhu over the bridge. The men inched along the chains toward the remaining boards. Once on the planks they were to rush the gatehouse on the eastern end. As they moved forward, Nationalists set fire to kerosene-soaked wood stacked in front of the gatehouse. Flames licked fiercely around the planks on the end of the bridge. Success or failure hung by a hair. The men, now reaching the planking on the bridge, charged through the flames into the town, driving back the KMT defenders, giving reinforcements a chance to get across the bridge, put out the fire and seize the town. Eighteen of the twenty-two men survived unhurt.

The regiment was waiting when, to their surprise, the 1st Division came up from the south on the eastern side of the river, having sent into retreat the KMT brigade that had marched alongside Yang's regiment the night before.

The men replaced the bridge planks and the next day the main army arrived and began marching across in a carnival mood. The Red soldiers knew that now, though dangers lay ahead, their army was going to survive. It was a pitifully small force, reduced to perhaps 13,000 men.25 Nevertheless, from the moment the Red army crossed the Dadu the belief in its invincibility was born.

* * * * * * * * * *

There was no immediate danger of pursuit by Chiang Kai-shek's forces. Chiang's main strength lay to the east in the Red basin of Sichuan. To the west lay Tibet and to the northwest Qinghai, both with hostile people and both largely barren. Mao Zedong's destination was somewhere north, in Ningxia or northern Shaanxi, where he could get help from Russia through Outer Mongolia and perhaps form a front to fight the Japanese. Mao also wanted to join with Zhang's Fourth Army. But he didn't know where Zhang was. There had been no radio communication with Zhang since January, although Mao knew Zhang had moved to somewhere in western Sichuan.26

The most direct and hardest route north was directly over an enormous outrider of the Great Snowy (Daxue) mountains, through a pass fourteen-thousand feet high. This was the route Mao chose. He avoided an easier eastern route which would have opened the army to attack by Chiang and also a longer, less high, western route, which led through hostile Tibetan tribes. The direct route, as Mao may have guessed, led directly toward the Red Fourth Army.

It was an excruciatingly difficult march. The men had inadequate clothing for the cold in the heights and the lack of oxygen there taught medics that the men could not rest but, however exhausted, must hurry down to altitudes where blood could carry enough oxygen to the muscles. Otherwise they would die. The army lost many men in the Snowy mountains. Some froze. Many suffered frostbite. Some could not breathe. For many the Great Snowy mountains were the worst part of the Long March. But, despite it all, most of the Red army got safely down on the northern side.

On June 12 the First Army vanguard reached the vicinity of Xiaojin (then Maogong), about seventy-five air miles north of the chain bridge at Luding. There it bumped into a scouting party of the Fourth Army. The two main Red armies were at last united. For the by-now approximately 10,000 people of the First Army and the possibly 60,000 to 70,000 people of the Fourth Army, the coming together was a joyous occasion.27 The Fourth Army shared its limited food, clothing and ammunition generously with the tattered veterans of the First Army. But for the leaders of both armies, the meeting was cool and guarded, for they saw a power struggle in the making. Zhang Guotao, 38 years old, not only commanded an army several times larger than the exhausted First Army but he had credentials as impressive as Mao's. He had been a student at Beijing University while Mao was a librarian's helper. He, along with Mao, was one of the founders of the party in 1921 and he had been a leader from the earliest days.

Zhang Guotao quickly demonstrated he wanted to take over from Mao Zedong as supreme Communist leader and also to change the direction of the Communist movement. The first confrontation came at a politburo meeting on June 26. Zhang questioned the Zunyi decisions since only about half the politburo members were present and proposed he be named secretary general of the central committee. In addition, Zhang believed KMT troops would block movement northward and proposed that the combined armies remain in northwestern Sichuan, threatening Chengdu. If Nationalist forces pressed too hard, the Reds could move into Tibet or into Xinjiang, China's far northwest.

To the leadership of the Communist party, Zhang's ideas were absurd. To transfer the heart of the revolution to an inhospitable, largely barren region thinly populated with hostile non-Han tribes would be to lose its Chinese identity and turn it into a tiny minority-race protest movement with no significance for the future of the nation. The hope of the revolution lay in China proper and especially as a rallying point for Chinese nationalism against the Japanese. Also, the leaders, whether they supported Mao or the 28 Bolsheviks, were not interested in supinely handing over control of the party to Zhang.

However, the members patched up a tentative agreement: the Zunyi decisions would remain in effect until the party got instructions from the Comintern, Zhang became political commissar for both armies and eight Fourth Army leaders went on the party's central committee.

The armies moved about a hundred miles north and finally the exhausted soldiers got several weeks to rest. On August 5, the politburo convened a new conference at Shawo, a Tibetan village about thirty miles west of Songpan. Zhang repeated his proposals. Mao and the majority remained committed to breaking through the KMT cordon and into the north. Again the politburo compromised. The armies would move north through the dangerous Grasslands, but rethink the issue in southern Gansu province. Meanwhile, the politburo split the army into a left (western) and right (eastern) column, with Zhang in charge of the western wing and Mao of the eastern. However, First and Fourth Army forces were mixed: the 5th and 9th Corps of First Army went with the western column along with most of the Fourth Army, while in the eastern column the 4th and 30th Corps of the Fourth Army accompanied the 1st and 3rd Corps of the First Army.28

The Grasslands was a misnomer. There was grass in this enormous high plateau where headwaters of both the Yellow river and the Yangzi rise. But the region, north and west of Songpan, was in fact a vast, trackless, icy swamp 11,000 feet above sea level stretching for a hundred miles west of the Min mountains. Although the two columns skirted the western and eastern edges of the swamp, they could not avoid it entirely. To the east lay KMT troops, to the west enormous high mountains even more difficult to traverse. Even at the edges there were few paths. It took five to seven days to get through. There were few places to lie down. Once someone fell into the muck it acted like quicksand. Many people died.

By early September, 1935, most of the right column was in the vicinity of Baxi, across the Grasslands on the lower slopes of the Min mountains and about 110 miles northeast of Aba. At Aba, the left column was stopped on the banks of the Gequ (White) river, normally low. But Zhang Guotao radioed Mao that the stream was in spate and he could not cross. Zhang proposed turning back south, as he originally had proposed. To Mao and the politburo, this was the last straw. They realized Zhang was determined to make a play for power and over the next few days they made secret plans, fearful Zhang might order the two corps of his army in the right column to attack the First Army's corps.

Early on the morning of September 10, the 1st and 3rd Corps, with all of the First Army's support staff, a total of about 6,000 people, slipped hurriedly away to the north, headed for northern Shaanxi province.29 There, amid the windblown loess that colored the low-rainfall landscape a nearly uniform yellow, was a soviet base led by Mao's friend, Liu Zhidan, commander of the Twenty-sixth army.30 Furthermore, the tiny Twenty-fifth army under Xu Haidong from the old O-yü-wan soviet had just reached the Shaanxi soviet. After a long trek through Gansu, First Army arrived at the Shaanxi soviet on October 21, 1935, its Long March finally at an end.31

* * * * * * * * * *

Mao began speaking more and more of fighting the Japanese. He now perceived that the inherent strength of the Nationalists was too great for the Reds to continue desperate attempts to keep their movement going in out-of-the-way soviets. The answer had to be to make Communism part of a great patriotic movement to drive out the invaders.

Meanwhile, Joseph Stalin, as soon as the danger of a resurgent Germany appeared in early 1933, did everything possible to calm Japan's anxieties about Russian aggressive intentions in East Asia. He realized the futility of retaining the Chinese Eastern railway running through Manchuria as the main Soviet communication link with Vladivostok. He therefore ordered construction of new links with the port city and sold the Chinese Eastern to "Manchukuo" on March 23, 1935, a step that eased Japanese militancy toward Russia.32

* * * * * * * * * *

While the "anti-Japanese vanguard force" moved north to seek sanctuary, Zhang Guotao and his Fourth Army, along with the "captive" First Army 5th and 9th Corps, retraced their steps and marched south to a point only a few miles northwest of the Luding chain bridge. But from December, 1935, through February, 1936, KMT forces drove them out of their mountain positions to Garzi in the desolate high mountains leading toward Tibet, two-hundred air miles northwest of Luding. There, on June 30, 1936, the Red Second Army from northwest Hunan under He Long finally arrived after a trek lasting almost eight months. On the way the Second Army dropped from 20,000 men to 3,000.33

Zhang Guotao was now interested in compromise. When Lin Yuying (Zhang Hao34), a cousin of Lin Biao and a Comintern agent recently returned from Moscow, radioed a face-saving proposal, Zhang jumped at it. Lin got Mao and the politburo to agree to a temporary division of Red leadership into "northwest" and "southwest" bureaus, with Zhang leading one and Mao the other. Lin Yuying's job was to get the Communists to agree to another united front with Chiang Kai-shek and Stalin wanted no dispute between Mao and Zhang.35

Chapter 15: Patriots Force Chiang to Resist Japan >>

1. The narrative for the Long March is drawn from Salisbury, March, Kuo, book 3, pp. 1-216; Harrison, pp. 238-59; Cambridge, vol. 13, chapter 4, "The Communist Movement 1927-1937," by Jerome Ch'en, pp. 209-16; Griffith, pp. 47-56; Emperor, pp. 167-82; Schram, pp. 163-74.

2. Mao Zedong met He Zizhen in 1927 in the first rural soviet in Jinggang shan on the Hunan-Jiangxi border. Mao's first wife was a local Hunan girl whose marriage his parents arranged and which Mao as a teenager refused to consummate. Nationalists executed his second wife, Yang Kaihui, in Changsha on November 14, 1930. She bore him three sons, Mao Anying, born 1922, who was killed in combat in Korea November 25, 1950; Mao Anqing, born 1923 and still living in Beijing in 1984, and Mao Anlang, born 1927, who disappeared in Shanghai as a young child and was never found. He Zizhen was a beautiful, well-educated woman from a revolutionary family in a town near the Jinggang shan. She was a guerrilla fighter and once saved Mao and Zhu De from an ambush by jumping on a horse and galloping off, diverting the enemy's attention. She began living with Mao shortly after she met him in 1927 but no marriage resulted until after Yang Kaihui's death. Their first child, a daughter, was born in 1929. Because of conditions in the soviet, she gave the baby to peasants and later could not locate her. In 1932 she bore Mao a son. This child was left in the central soviet when the Long March began and was never found. In addition to the daughter she bore Mao on the Long March and had to give to peasants, she also bore another daughter, Li Min, in Yan'an afterward. He Zizhen's health was poor and she was sent to Moscow in 1937 for medical treatment. There she gave birth to her last child, a boy, who died some years later. Mao sent her daughter, Li Min, to keep her company. After she left, Mao took up with a former Shanghai film star, Jiang Qing, who had come to Yan'an. He shocked his Communist colleagues by divorcing He Zizhen and marrying Jiang. He Zizhen returned to China in 1948 and died in Shanghai in 1984. See Salisbury, pp. 85-87, 173-5; March, pp. 33-34.

3. March, pp. 68-69; Salisbury, pp. 79, 151.

4. Salisbury, pp. 47-48.

5. Ibid., pp. 63-64.

6. Ibid., p. 92.

7. Ibid., p. 93.

8. March, p. 76.

9. Kuo, book 3, p. 10.

10. Salisbury, p. 97.

11. Ibid., pp. 98, 102-03.

12. March, p. 80; Kuo, book 3, p. 10.

13. Kuo, book 3, p. 16.

14. Salisbury, pp. 109-11.

15. March, p. 83; Salisbury, pp. 111-13; Kuo, book 3, p. 16.

16. March, pp. 84-86; Salisbury, p. 116.

17. Details of the Zunyi conference are covered by Kuo, book 3, pp. 16-31; Salisbury, pp. 117-26; March, pp. 91-109. See also Selden, pp. 107-08; Kataoka, pp. 18-20.

18. Salisbury, pp. 126, 133-4; Kuo, book 3, pp. 22-24; Selden, p. 108.

19. Salisbury, pp. 148-50; Kuo, book 3, p. 28.

20. Salisbury, pp. 153-6, 158, 160-70; March, pp. 110-17; Kuo, book 3, pp. 28-31, 72.

21. Cambridge, vol. 13, pp. 211-2; Kuo, book 3, pp. 66-72; March, pp. 111, 115.

22. Salisbury, pp. 54-55, 291-2.

23. Salisbury, pp. 175-87; March, pp. 116-35; Kuo, book 3, pp. 72-73.

24. Salisbury, pp. 188-200, 220-30; Kuo, book 3, pp. 73-74; March, pp. 136-74; Harrison, p. 247-8.

25. Salisbury, p. 230, estimates the army's strength at 12,000 to 13,000 at Luding around June 1, 1935. Kuo, book 3, p. 75, says the army totaled about 10,000 when it met up with the Fourth Army at near Xiaojin on June 12, of which about 8,000 were combat soldiers.

26. Salisbury, pp. 231-52; March, pp. 175-221; Kuo, book 3, pp. 74-87; Cambridge, vol. 13, pp. 211-5; Harrison, pp. 248-56; Kataoka, pp. 21-23.

27. Harrison, p. 248; Salisbury, pp. 244, 246; Kuo, book 3, pp. 75-76; March, pp. 193-4; Smedley, pp. 328-30.

28. Selden, p. 95. This meeting also was known as the Maoerhkai conference (from a town nearby).

29. Salisbury, p. 277.

30. The army had arisen out of bandits and other disaffected persons in 1931, though some of the leaders were trained revolutionaries, like Liu Zhidan. See Selden, pp. 42-66, 79-96.

31. Snow, pp. 55, 82; Selden, pp. 2-3.

32. FRUS, 1935, vol. 3, pp. 13, 50, 76, 78, 103-06, 109.

33. Harrison, pp. 252-6; Salisbury, pp. 298-323; Kuo, book 3, pp. 84-87, 98-102; March, pp. 236-43.

34. Lin Yuying (born 1897) was also known as Lin Zhongdan and died from illness in 1942.

35. Salisbury, p. 317.