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Long March

Long March
Overview map of the route of the Long March
Overview map of the route of the Long March
Red-hatched areas show Communist enclaves. Areas marked by a blue "X" were overrun by Kuomintang forces during the Fourth Encirclement Campaign, forcing the Fourth Red Army (north) and the Second Red Army (south) to retreat to more western enclaves (open dotted lines). The solid dotted line is the route of the First Red Army from Jiangxi. The withdrawal of all three Red Armies ends in the northeast enclave of Shaanxi.
Date October 1934 – October 1935
Location China. from Jiangxi to Shaanxi
Result Armies of the Communist Party of China evade the Chinese Nationalist Party armies
Chinese Nationalist Party and allied warlords Communist Party of China
Commanders and leaders
Chiang Kai-shek
Xue Yue
Hans von Seeckt
Bai Chongxi
Mao Zedong
Zhu De
Zhou Enlai
Peng Dehuai
Lin Biao
over 300,000 First Front Red Army: 86,000 (October 1934)
7,000 (October 1935)
Long March
Traditional Chinese 長征
Simplified Chinese 长征

The Long March (October 1934–October 1935) was a military retreat undertaken by the Red Army of the Communist Party of China, the forerunner of the People's Liberation Army, to evade the pursuit of the Kuomintang (KMT or Chinese Nationalist Party) army. There was not one Long March, but a series of marches, as various Communist armies in the south escaped to the north and west. The best known is the march from Jiangxi province which began in October 1934. The First Front Army of the Chinese Soviet Republic, led by an inexperienced military commission, was on the brink of annihilation by Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek's troops in their stronghold in Jiangxi province. The Communists, under the eventual command of Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai, escaped in a circling retreat to the west and north, which reportedly traversed over 9,000 kilometers (6,000 miles) over 370 days.[1] The route passed through some of the most difficult terrain of western China by traveling west, then north, to Shaanxi.

The Long March began Mao Zedong's ascent to power, whose leadership during the retreat gained him the support of the members of the party. The bitter struggles of the Long March, which was completed by only about one-tenth of the force that left Jiangxi, would come to represent a significant episode in the history of the Communist Party of China, and would seal the personal prestige of Mao and his supporters as the new leaders of the party in the following decades. However the true role of Mao in the Long March remains disputed, with many claims that Mao's role was heavily exaggerated and certain events in the Long March entirely fabricated.


  • Timeline 1
  • Background 2
    • The Red Army in 1934 2.1
    • Civil war 2.2
    • The Jiangxi Soviet 2.3
    • Chiang's Encirclement Campaigns 2.4
  • The Long March 3
    • Escape from Jiangxi 3.1
    • Determining the direction of the Red Army 3.2
    • The Zunyi Conference 3.3
    • Escaping Chiang's pursuit 3.4
    • Conflict with ethnic warlords 3.5
    • The Fourth Red Army 3.6
    • The Second Red Army 3.7
    • Union of the three armies 3.8
    • Aftermath 3.9
  • Myths 4
    • Length 4.1
    • Luding Bridge 4.2
  • Use as propaganda 5
  • See also 6
  • Footnotes 7
  • Further reading 8
  • External links 9


Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek encircled the Communists in Jiangxi in 1934.
  • 1930: Unofficial founding of the Jiangxi–Fujian Soviet by Mao Zedong and Zhu De.
  • 1931: December, Zhou Enlai arrives in Ruijin and replaces Mao as leader of the CCP.
  • 1932: October, at the Ningdu Conference, major CCP military leaders criticize Mao's tactics; Mao is demoted to figurehead status.
  • 1933: Bo Gu and Otto Braun (Li De) arrive from the USSR, reorganize the Red Army, and take control of Party affairs. They defeat four encirclement campaigns.
  • 1933: September 25, start of the Fifth Encirclement Campaign. Bo and Braun are defeated.
  • 1934: October 16, breakout of 130,000 soldiers and civilians led by Bo Gu and Otto Braun, beginning the Long March.
  • 1934: November 25 – December 3, Battle of Xiang River.
  • 1935: January 15–17, Zunyi Conference. The leadership of Bo and Braun is denounced. Zhou becomes the most powerful person in the Party; Mao becomes Zhou's assistant.
  • 1935: June–July, troops under Zhou and Mao meet with Zhang Guotao's troops. The two forces disagree on strategy, and separate.
  • 1935: April 29 – May 8, crossing of the Jinsha River, a major tributary of the Yangtze.
  • 1935: May 22, Yihai Alliance with the Yi people.
  • 1935: May 29, CCP forces capture Luding Bridge.
  • 1935: July, CCP forces cross the Jade Dragon Snow Mountains.
  • 1935: August, CCP forces cross the Zoigê Marsh.
  • 1935: September 16, CCP forces cross the Lazikou Pass.
  • 1935: October 22, Union of the three armies in Shaanxi, end of the Long March.
  • 1935: November, Mao becomes leader of the CCP. Zhou becomes Mao's assistant.


The Red Army in 1934

Flag of the Chinese Workers' and Peasants' Red Army

Although the literal translation of the Chinese Cháng Zhēng is “Long March”, official publications of the People's Republic of China refer to "The Long March of the Red Army" (Chinese traditional: 紅軍長征, Chinese simplified: 红军长征, pinyin: Hóngjūn Chángzhēng). The Long March most commonly refers to the transfer of the main group of the First (or Central) Red Army, which included the leaders of the Communist Party of China, from Yudu in the province of Jiangxi, to Yan'an in Shaanxi. In this sense, the Long March lasted from October 16, 1934 to October 19, 1935. In a broader view, the Long March included two other forces retreating under pressure from the Kuomintang: the Second Red Army and the Fourth Red Army. The retreat of all the Red Armies was not complete until October 22, 1935, when the three forces linked up in Shaanxi.

The divisions of the "Chinese Workers' and Peasants' Red Army" (紅軍) were named according to historical circumstances, sometimes in a nonconsecutive way. Early Communist units often formed by defection from existing Kuomintang forces, keeping their original designations. By the time of the Long March, numerous small units had been organized into three unified groups, the First Red Army (紅一方面軍/红一方面军/Hóng Yī Fāngmiàn Jūn), the Second Red Army (紅二方面軍/红二方面军/Hóng Èr Fāngmiàn Jūn) and the Fourth Red Army (紅四方面軍/红四方面军/Hóng Sì Fāngmiàn Jūn).[2] Some translations refer to these same units as the “First Front Red Army", “Second Front Red Army” and “Fourth Front Red Army" to distinguish them from the earlier organizational divisions. The First Red Army formed from the First, Third and Fifth Army Groups in southern Jiangxi under command of Guizhou by unifying the Second and Sixth Army Groups under He Long and Xiao Ke. A “Third Red Army" was led by He Long who established his base area in the Hunan-Hubei border; by 1932 his forces were soundly defeated and in October 1934 merged with the 6th Army Corps led by Xiao Ke to form the Second Red Army. The three armies would maintain their historical designation as the First, Second and Fourth Red Armies until Communist military forces were nominally integrated into the National Revolutionary Army, forming the Eighth Route Army and the New Fourth Army, during the Second Sino-Japanese War from 1937 to 1945.

Civil war

The Communist Party of China (CCP), founded in 1921, by Fujian around the city of Ruijin, including industrial facilities.[3]

After the establishment of the Jiangxi Soviet, Mao's status within the Party declined. In 1930, Mao claimed a need to eliminate alleged KMT spies and Anti-Bolsheviks operating inside the Jiangxi Soviet and began an ideological campaign featuring torture and guilt by association, in order to eliminate his enemies. The campaign continued until the end of 1931, killing approximately 100,000 people and reducing the size of the Red Army from 40,000 to less than 10,000. The de facto leader of the party at the time, Zhou Enlai, originally supported Mao's purges as necessary to eliminate KMT spies. After Zhou arrived in Jiangxi in December 1931, he criticized Mao's campaigns for being directed more against anti-Maoists than legitimate threats to the Party, for the campaign's general senselessness, and for the widespread use of torture to extract confessions. During 1932, following Zhou's efforts to end Mao's ideological persecutions, the campaigns gradually subsided.[4]

In December, of 1931 Zhou replaced Mao Zedong as Secretary of the First Front Army and political commissar of the Red Army. Liu Bocheng, Lin Biao and Peng Dehuai all criticized Mao's tactics at the August 1932 Ningdu Conference.[5] The most senior leaders to support Mao in 1932 were Zhou Enlai, who had become disillusioned with the strategic leadership of other senior leaders in the Party, and Mao's old comrade, Zhu De. Zhou's support was not enough, and Mao was demoted to being a figurehead in the Soviet government, until he regained his position later, during the Long March.[6]

Chiang's Encirclement Campaigns

In early 1933,

  • The Long March: 70 Years On – Official Chinese website marking the 70th Anniversary of Long March
  • "Marking the 70th anniversary of the victory of the Red Army's Long March" – PLA Daily (Peoples Liberation Army newspaper) web portal
  • Art on a Long March – A contemporary art exhibition presented for the public at sites along the route of Mao's Long March.
  • Map of primary route – Locations of the First Front Army route with dates
  • Long March routes of the Communist armies – Routes of the First, Second and Fourth Front Armies
  • Site of the Zunyi Conference – Photo and description of the building in which the landmark 1935 politburo meeting was held
  • Luding Bridge – Chinese propaganda posters depicting the battle for Luding Bridge
Illustrations, Maps & Posters
  • Key events of the Long March – Account of the Long March by the China Daily
  • Retracing Mao's Long March – Report on the modern expeditions by Jocelyn & McEwen along the Long March routes
  • The Myth of the 'Turning-Point': Towards a New Understanding of the Long March – Article from 'Bochumer Jahrbuch zur Ostasienforschung' (2001)
General Information

External links

  • Chang, Jung & Halliday, Jon (2005).  
  • Griffith, Samuel B. (translator) (2005). Yu Chi Chan (On Guerrilla Warfare) by Mao Tse-tung (1937). Dover Books on History. pp. 128 pages.  
  • Jocelyn, Ed & McEwen, Andrew (March 2006). The Long March. Constable and Robinson. pp. 320 pages.  
  • Kampen, Thomas (2000). Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai and the Evolution of the Chinese Communist Leadership. Nordic Institute of Asian Studies. pp. 66–83.  
  • King, Dean (2010).  
  • Bosshardt, Rudolf Alfred (1975). The Guiding hand: Captivity and Answered Prayer in China. Hodder and Stoughton. pp. 192 pages.  
  • Salisbury, Harrison Evans (1985). The Long March : The Untold Story. Harper & Row, New York. pp. 419 pages.  
  • Shuyun, Sun (2008). The Long March: The True History of Communist China's Founding Myth. Anchor. p. 304.  
  • Snow, Edgar (1968). Red Star Over China (Revised ed.). Grove Press. pp. 534 pages.  
  • Whitson, William W. (1973). The Chinese High Command : A History of Communist Military Politics 1927–71. Praeger.  
  • Wilson, Dick (1971). The Long March 1935: The Epic of Chinese Communism's Survival. Penguin Press. pp. 283 pages.  
  • Yang, Benjamin (1990). From Revolution to Politics: Chinese Communists on the Long March. Westview Press. pp. 240 pages.  
  • Young, Helen Prager (2000). Choosing Revolution: Chinese Women Soldiers on the Long March. University of Illinois Press, pp. 282 pages. [ISBN 978-0-252-07456-1]

Further reading

  1. ^ a b Zhang, Chunhou. Vaughan, C. Edwin. [2002] (2002). Mao Zedong as Poet and Revolutionary Leader: Social and Historical Perspectives. Lexington books. ISBN 0-7391-0406-3. pg 65.
  2. ^ Peoples Liberation Army Daily (August 14, 2006) Notes Retrieved 2007-02-17
  3. ^ Ruth Rogaski, PhD, in Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2006: Mao Zedong, III. Rise to Power (Retrieved November 25, 2006). Archived 2009-11-01.
  4. ^ Barnouin, Barbara and Yu Changgen. Zhou Enlai: A Political Life. Hong Kong: Chinese University of Hong Kong, 2006. ISBN 962-996-280-2. Retrieved March 12, 2011. p.49-52
  5. ^ Whitson, William W. and Huang, Chen-hsia. The Chinese High Command: A History of Communist Military Politics, 1927–71. New York: Praeger, 1973. p. 57-58
  6. ^ Barnouin, Barbara and Yu Changgen. Zhou Enlai: A Political Life. Hong Kong: Chinese University of Hong Kong, 2006. ISBN 962-996-280-2. Retrieved March 12, 2011. p.52-55
  7. ^ Wilson 51
  8. ^ Vercamer, Arvo. The German Military Mission to China: 1927–1938. (Retrieved November 23, 2006)
  9. ^ Kampen, Thomas (2000). Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai and the Evolution of the Chinese Communist Leadership. Nordic Institute of Asian Studies. pp. 58–61.  
  10. ^ Barnouin, Barbara and Yu Changgen. Zhou Enlai: A Political Life. Hong Kong: Chinese University of Hong Kong, 2006. ISBN 962-996-280-2. Retrieved March 12, 2011. pp.56–57
  11. ^ Barnouin, Barbara and Yu Changgen. Zhou Enlai: A Political Life. Hong Kong: Chinese University of Hong Kong, 2006. ISBN 962-996-280-2. Retrieved at <> on March 12, 2011. pp.56–57
  12. ^ Mao Zedong, On Tactics...: Note 26 retrieved 2007-02-17
  13. ^ a b c Barnouin, Barbara and Yu Changgen. Zhou Enlai: A Political Life. Hong Kong: Chinese University of Hong Kong, 2006. ISBN 962-996-280-2. Retrieved March 12, 2011. p.58
  14. ^ a b c d Barnouin, Barbara and Yu Changgen. Zhou Enlai: A Political Life. Hong Kong: Chinese University of Hong Kong, 2006. ISBN 962-996-280-2. Retrieved at <> on March 12, 2011. p.59
  15. ^ Barnouin, Barbara and Yu Changgen. Zhou Enlai: A Political Life. Hong Kong: Chinese University of Hong Kong, 2006. ISBN 962-996-280-2. Retrieved March 12, 2011. pp.60–61
  16. ^ a b c d Barnouin, Barbara and Yu Changgen. Zhou Enlai: A Political Life. Hong Kong: Chinese University of Hong Kong, 2006. ISBN 962-996-280-2. Retrieved March 12, 2011. p.60
  17. ^ a b Kampen, Thomas (2000). Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai and the Evolution of the Chinese Communist Leadership. Nordic Institute of Asian Studies. pp. 67–68.  
  18. ^ Chang and Halliday have recently offered a reinterpretation of this period of the March, suggesting that in fact Mao deliberately delayed the move into Sichuan in order to consolidate his personal power before joining up with the other parts of the Red Army, and that rather than facing direct attack from Chiang's forces, the army was in fact being deliberately herded into Sichuan by Chiang. (Chang, Halliday, in Mao, The Unknown Story, pp 135–162). The work, however, has been criticized for being unscholarly and anecdotal.
  19. ^ Shuyun, Sun (March 16, 2006). "Mao's lost children". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 2007-03-15. 
  20. ^ George Mason University, History News Network: Woman wonders whether she is Mao's abandoned Long March daughter (Retrieved 2007-03-15)
  21. ^ a b c Barnouin, Barbara and Yu Changgen. Zhou Enlai: A Political Life. Hong Kong: Chinese University of Hong Kong, 2006. ISBN 962-996-280-2. Retrieved March 12, 2011. p.61
  22. ^ Hsiao-ting Lin (2010). Modern China's ethnic frontiers: a journey to the west. Volume 67 of Routledge studies in the modern history of Asia (illustrated ed.). Taylor & Francis. p. 52.  
  23. ^ Arpi, Claude. "The Karma of Tibet". pp. 95–96. Retrieved 24 April 2014. 
  24. ^ a b c New Long March 2: Fourth Front Army (Retrieved November 23, 2006)
  25. ^ a b China Daily (November 23, 2003): Stepping into history (Retrieved November 23, 2006)
  26. ^ The New Long March, Photo Archive (January 5, 2005): Kidnapped! Retrieved 2007-03-15
  27. ^ Bosshardt, Rudolf A. (1936). The Restraining Hand: Captivity for Christ in China. Hodder and Stoughton, London. 
  28. ^ a b Barnouin, Barbara and Yu Changgen. Zhou Enlai: A Political Life. Hong Kong: Chinese University of Hong Kong, 2006. ISBN 962-996-280-2. Retrieved March 12, 2011. p.62
  29. ^ Yang, Benjamin (1990). From Revolution to Politics: Chinese Communists on the Long March. Westview Press. p. 233.  
  30. ^ Biography (TV series)Mao Tse Tung: China's Peasant Emperor, A&E Network, 2005, ASIN B000AABKXG
  31. ^ Mao Zedong, in On Tactics against Japanese Imperialism (December 27, 1935): "The Characteristics of the Present Political Situation" (Retrieved November 25, 2006)
  32. ^ a b c Indo-Asian News Service (October 22, 2006): Retracing Mao's Long March (Retrieved November 23, 2006)
  33. ^ *Griffith, Samuel B. (translator) (2005). On Guerrilla Warfare by Mao Tse-tung (1937). Dover Books on History. p. 94.  
  34. ^, Chinese government official web portal: My Long March, retrieved 2008-10-18
  35. ^ People's Daily Online (October 17, 2006) Chinese military leader attends movie premiere commemorating Long March, retrieved 2008-10-18
  36. ^ a b Sun, Shuyun. "The Real Long March." March 2, 2006. (Retrieved April 2011).
  37. ^ CNN (November 5, 2003): Mao's long March 'comes up short' (Retrieved November 25, 2006)
  38. ^ Jocelyn, Ed & McEwen, Andrew (2006). The Long March. Constable & Robinson. p. 288.  
  39. ^ Richard Spencer, (April 3, 2006): British pair under attack for doubts over Mao's march Daily Telegraph (Retrieved November 23, 2006)
  40. ^ Columbia University, Asia for Educators (2009): Edgar Snow's Account of "The Long March" (Retrieved April 10, 2010)
  41. ^ Brzezinski, Zbigniew. "America and the New Asia." Michel Oksenberg Lecture. Asia-Pacific Research Center. Stanford University, 09 Mar 2009. Lecture.
  42. ^ The Economist Apr 27, 2006."China's Long March: The Long and Winding Road.".
  43. ^ Shuyun, Sun. The Long March: The True History of Communist China's Founding Myth. 1st. New York City: Anchor Books, 2008. pp 145
  44. ^ Adams, Martin. "Long March to mythology." Asia Times October 24, 2006.
  45. ^ Pye, Lucian. "The Long March: The True History of Communist China's Founding Myth"; Zhou Enlai: The Last Perfect Revolutionary." Foreign Affairs (2008): n. pag. Web. Apr 28, 2011. <>.
  46. ^ Adams, Martin. (Oct 24, 2006). "Long March to mythology" Asia Times
  47. ^ a b Adams, Martin. (Oct 24, 2006). > "Long March to Mythology." Asia Times


See also

Western scholars, when examining the Long March, choose to focus on aspects of the Long March rarely portrayed by Chinese propaganda. Omitted aspects of the Long March include instances of the Red Army desperately recruiting local people through kidnapping and blackmail.[47] [36] In order to escape starvation, the Red Army often stole food from villagers in the remote locations it traveled through.[47] Driven by desperation and hunger, communist armies during the Long March sometimes took hostages for ransom.

October 2006 marked the 70th anniversary of the end of the Long March. Dozens of newly released, government approved books were proudly displayed in bookstores, with the intention of showing the heroic actions and drama of the Long March. Meanwhile Chinese television presented, “a feast of Long March-themed entertainment, including a 20-part drama series, documentaries, and even a song-and-dance extravaganza.”[46]

The Long March has been depicted as a pillar of the Chinese Communist Revolution and has been a constant theme of communist propaganda since its completion, in 1935. It has been used as an example to depict the nationalistic fighting spirit of the Chinese people and the rallying call to communism. As a propaganda theme, many facts about the Long March have been altered from historical truth. For example, the battle at Xiang River “which the official history of the Long March identifies as the longest and most heroic battle of the entire campaign, was in fact a major defeat for the Communists, with casualties and desertions reducing the First Army from 86,000 to 30,000 people.”[45]

- Sun Shuyun[44]

Use as propaganda

However, there is evidence that differs from the official account of the battle. This suggests that much of the fighting was dramatized, by Communist leaders, for propaganda purposes. Authors Andrew McEwen and Ed Jocelyn who retraced the route of the Long March, interviewing survivors along the way, said that a woman in her early 80s recalled that local people led the way across the bridge and were all shot and killed.[42] Author Sun Shuyun quotes a witness who said that there was a small enemy force on the other side armed with guns that could “only fire a few metres”. They panicked and fled.[43]

The battle for Luding Bridge has been portrayed as a glorious and heroic moment in Chinese Communist history, analogous to the U.S. Battle of the Alamo. The official account of the battle depicts exhausted and depleted Communist forces in a desperate situation, where they must fight across a bridge that is guarded by the numerically superior forces of Chiang Kai-shek and his warlord allies. The Communists send a small volunteer force that braves a hail of gunfire to climb across the bridge on underlying chains and assault the enemy positions on the other side, hence securing the bridgehead for the rest of the army to cross.

Luding Bridge

In 2003, controversy arose about the distance covered by Mao's First Front Army in the Long March.[37] The figure of 25,000 li (12,500 kilometres or about 8,000 miles[1]) was Mao's estimate, quoted by his biographer Edgar Snow in Red Star Over China, published not long after the end of the Long March in 1938. In 2003, two British researchers, Ed Jocelyn and Andrew McEwen,[32] retraced the route in 384 days,[25][32] and in their 2006 book "The Long March" estimated the March actually covered about 6,000 km (3,700 miles). Jocelyn and McEwen conclude in their book that "Mao and his followers twisted the tale of the Long March for their own ends. Mao's role was mythologized to the point where ... it seemed he had single-handedly saved the Red Army and defeated Chiang Kai-shek". Mao exaggerated, perhaps even doubled, the length of the march, they believe.[38] Their report has been disputed by the Chinese media, citing "The 25,000 li of the Red Army's Long March are a historic fact and not open to doubt."[39] However, even at the time that Edgar Snow's account was written, there were estimates that the distance traveled was closer to 18,000 li (9,375 km).[40]


The Long March is surrounded by controversial and conflicting accounts of what actually occurred. The myths of the march are difficult to uncover because the Chinese government has prevented independent historians from exploring the topic. The few that were able to perform research into the myths of the march have only done so recently and struggle with the fact that many years have gone by since the march took place, hence many of the survivors are no longer alive or able to accurately recall events.[36]


The Chinese government produced a movie in 2006, My Long March,[34][35] relating personal experiences of a fictional participant in the Long March.

. Deng Xiaoping and Zhou Enlai, Yang Shangkun, Li Xiannian, Ye Jianying, Dong Biwu, Liu Shaoqi, Lin Biao, Zhu De. Since the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949, the Long March has been glorified as an example of the Communist Party's strength and resilience. The Long March solidified Mao's status as the undisputed leader of the CPC. Other participants in the March also went on to become prominent party leaders, including Taiwan to the island of Mainland China, returned to drive the Kuomintang out of People's Liberation Army, later called the Eighth Route Army, the resurgent Communist World War II against superior Japanese forces, allowing it to gain experience. Following the end of [33] Hostilities ceased while the Nationalists and Chinese Communists formed a nominal alliance during the

In addition, policies ordered by Mao for all soldiers to follow, the Eight Points of Attention, instructed the army to avoid harm to or disrespect for the peasants, in spite of the desperate need for food and supplies. This policy won support for the Communists among the rural peasants.[32]

"The Long March is a manifesto. It has proclaimed to the world that the Red Army is an army of heroes, while the imperialists and their running dogs, Chiang Kai-shek and his like, are impotent. It has proclaimed their utter failure to encircle, pursue, obstruct and intercept us. The Long March is also a propaganda force. It has announced to some 200 million people in eleven provinces that the road of the Red Army is their only road to liberation."[31]

While costly, the Long March gave the Communist Party of China (CCP) the isolation it needed, allowing its army to recuperate and rebuild in the north of China. It also was vital in helping the CCP to gain a positive reputation among the peasants due to the determination and dedication of the surviving participants of the Long March. Mao wrote in 1935:

A Communist leader addressing Long March survivors.


In November 1935, shortly after settling in northern Shaanxi, Mao officially took over Zhou Enlai's leading position in the Red Army. Following a major reshuffling of official roles, Mao became the chairman of the Military Commission, with Zhou and Deng Xiaoping as vice-chairmen. (After Zhang Gutao reached Shaanxi, Deng was replaced by Zhang). This marked Mao's position as the pre-eminent leader of the Party, with Zhou in a position second to Mao. Both Mao and Zhou would retain their positions until their deaths, in 1976.[28]

All along the way, the Communist Army confiscated property and weapons from local warlords and landlords, while recruiting peasants and the poor. Nevertheless, only some 8,000 troops under Mao's command, the First Front Army, ultimately made it to the final destination of Yan'an in 1935. Of these, less than 7,000 were among the original 100,000 soldiers who had started the march. A variety of factors contributed to the losses including fatigue, hunger and cold, sickness, desertion, and military casualties. During the retreat, membership in the party fell from 300,000 to around 40,000.[29]

Mao's First Red Army traversed several swamps and was attacked by Muslim Hui Ma Clique forces under Generals Ma Bufang and Ma Buqing.[24] Finally, in October 1935, Mao's army reached Shaanxi province and joined with local Communist forces there, led by Liu Zhidan, Gao Gang, and Xu Haidong, who had already established a Soviet base in northern Shaanxi.[28] The remnants of Zhang's Fourth Red Army eventually rejoined Mao in Shaanxi, but with his army destroyed, Zhang, even as a founding member of the CPC, was never able to challenge Mao's authority.[24] After an expedition of almost a year, the Second Red Army reached Bao'an (Shaanxi) on October 22, 1935, known in China as the “union of the three armies”, and the end of the Long March.

Union of the three armies

On November 19, 1935, the Second Red Army set out on its own Long March. He Long's force was driven further west than the First Red Army, all the way to Lijiang in Yunnan province, then across the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain massif and through the Tibetan highlands of western Sichuan. He Long and Xiao Ke were married to sisters who also accompanied the army. He Long's wife, Jian Xianren, carried the baby daughter she had given birth to three weeks before the retreat began. Jian Xianfo gave birth to a son in the desolate swamps of northern Sichuan.[25] Forces of the Second Army detained two European missionaries, Rudolf Bosshardt and Arnolis Hayman, for 16 months.[26] Bosshardt later related his account of the details of daily life on the Long March in a book.[27]

The Second Red Army began its own withdrawal west from Hubei in November 1935, led by He Long, who commanded the KMT Twentieth Army in 1923 before joining the Communist Party of China (CPC). For retribution Chiang Kai-Shek had He Long's relatives executed, including three sisters and a brother. In 1932 he established a soviet in the Hunan-Jiangxi border area, and in August 1934 received command of the Second Red Army, establishing a base in Hubei. An advance party of the First Red Army called the Sixth Group, commanded by Xiao Ke, was sent towards the Second Red Army two months before the beginning of the Long March. Xiao Ke's force would link up with He Long and his army, but lost communication with the First Army that came behind.

Jade Dragon Snow Mountain massif of western Yunnan province.

The Second Red Army

Zhang Guotao's Fourth Red Army took a different route than Mao travelling south, then west, and finally north through China. On the way Zhang's forces were largely destroyed by the forces of Chiang Kai-shek and his Chinese Muslim allies, the Ma clique. The remnants of Zhang's forces later rejoined elements of the Second Red Army before eventually linking up with Mao's forces in Shaanxi.[24]

These changes had no long-term significance because Zhang and Mao disagreed with the direction of the army. Zhang insisted on going southwest, while Mao insisted on going northwards, towards Shaanxi. No agreement was reached, and the two armies eventually split, each going their separate ways.[21]

[21] In June–July 1935, the troops under Mao united with the Fourth Red Army, led by

The Fourth Red Army

Communist forces on the Long March clashed against Kham rebels in the 1934 Khamba Rebellion, who were fleeing from Tibetan government forces.[23]

300 "Khampa bandits" were enlisted into the Kuomintang's Consolatory Commission military in Sichuan, where they were part of the effort of the central government of China to penetrated and destabilize the local Han warlords such as Liu Wenhui. The Chinese government sought to exercise full control over frontier areas against the warlords. Liu had refused to do battle against the Red Army, to save his own military from destruction. The Consoltary Commission forces were used to battle the Communist Red Army, but were defeated when their religious leader was captured by Communist forces.[22]

Warlords often refused to help out the Kuomintang against the Communist Red Army, preferring to save their own forces.

Conflict with ethnic warlords

The Communist forces were harassed by both the Kuomintang and its local warlord allies. To avoid a fatal confrontation with the enemy, Zhou and Mao maneuvered the Red army south and west, through Guizhou, Sichuan, and Yunnan, feigning attacks on Guiyang and Kunming to disguise their movements. The First Red Army crossed the Yangtze on May 9, 1935, finally escaping determined enemy pursuit, but still had to deal with dangerous mountain passes at heights of up to 4,000 meters, rough climatic conditions, shortages of food, clothing, and equipment, and tribes of local ethnic groups hostile to Chinese encroachment.[21] The Red Army had to cross mountains and rivers, often capturing river crossings heavily defended by hostile warlords and Nationalist troops, the most famous of which was Luding Bridge (although many historians believe that the battle at Luding Bridge was exaggerated or even entirely fabricated for propaganda purposes).

The Luding Bridge

When the army resumed its march northward, the direct route to Sichuan was blocked by Chiang's forces. Mao's forces spent the next several months maneuvering to avoid direct confrontation with hostile forces, but still attempting to move north to join Zhang Guotao's Fourth Red Army.[18] During this period, in February 1935, Mao's wife, He Zizhen, gave birth to a daughter. Given the harsh conditions of the retreat, the infant was left with a local family[19] (Two Europeans retracing the Long March route in 2003 met a woman in rural Yunnan province, said by local officials to be Mao and He Zizhen's long-lost daughter[20]).

Mao in 1935.

Escaping Chiang's pursuit

A major shift in the Party's leadership occurred two months later, in March 1935. Mao was passed over for the position of General Secretary by Zhang Wentian, but gained enough influence to be elected one of three members of Military Affairs Commission. The other two members were Zhou Enlai, who retained his position as Director of the Commission, and Wang Jiaxiang, whose support Mao had enlisted earlier,.[17] Within this group, Zhou was empowered to make the final decisions on military matters, while Mao was Zhou's assistant. Wang was in charge of Party affairs.[16]

Of the three leaders who had controlled the Party before the Zunyi Conference, only Zhou Enlai's political career survived. Zhou was held partially responsible for the Red Army's defeat, but was retained at the top level of Party leadership because of his differences with Bo and Braun at Ningdu, his successful tactics in defeating Chiang's fourth Encirclement Campaign, and his resolute support of Mao.[16] Although the failed leadership of Bo Gu and Li De was denounced, Mao was not able to win the support of a sufficient number of Party leaders to gain outright power at the conference.[17]

After Zhang, Mao gave a speech in which he analyzed the poor tactics and strategies of the two leaders. With Zhou's explicit backing, Mao won over the meeting. Seventeen of the meeting's twenty participants (with the exception of Bo, Braun, and He Kequan) argued in his favor.[16]

Zhou Enlai was the next to speak. Zhou blamed the Red Army's failures on poor decisions at the leadership level, and blamed himself as one of the three people most responsible. Zhou's willingness to accept responsibility was well received. Zhang Wentian, basing many of his conclusions on recent discussions with Mao, attacked Bo and Braun directly, criticizing them for numerous strategic and tactical errors.[16]

The Communists' Zunyi Conference lasted from January 15–17, 1935, and resulted in a reshuffling of the Party politburo. Zhou intended the conference to draw lessons from the Red Army's past failures, and to develop strategies for the future. Much of the discussion revolved around whether the defeats of the Red Army were due to unavoidable circumstances, or inadequacies of leadership. Bo Gu, the first speaker, attributed the Red Army's losses to "objective" causes, particularly the enemy's overwhelming numerical superiority, and poor coordination of Communist forces. Braun's interpreter, Wu Xiuquan, later recalled that Bo's arguments did not impress his audience, and that Bo came across as someone attempting to avoid responsibility.[14]

The Zunyi Conference

On January 1, 1935, the Red Army reached the Wu River. Bo and Braun again insisted the Red Army move back to western Hunan to join other Communist troops in the area, but their prestige had considerably declined by that point, and their suggestion was rejected. Even Zhou had become impatient, and proposed a new rule which was put into effect immediately: that all military plans had to be submitted to the Politburo for approval. The movement passed, clearly depriving Braun of the right to direct military affairs. On January 15 the Red Army captured Zunyi, the second largest city in Guizhou. As Mao had predicted, the city was weakly defended, and was too far from Nationalist forces to be under immediate threat of attack.[14] By the time the Red Army occupied Zunyi, it was highly depleted, and counted little more than 10,000 men.[15] Zhou used the peace afforded in Zunyi to call an enlarged Politburo meeting, in order to examine the causes of the Communists' repeated defeats.[14]

A meeting at Tongdao, close to the border of Hunan and Guizhou, was convened to discuss the direction of the Red Army on December 12, 1934. Zhou endorsed Mao's proposal, encouraging other leaders to overrule the objections of Bo and Braun. Another dispute of the direction of the Red Army occurred soon after, once the Red Army reached Liping, in the mountains of southeast Guizhou. Braun believed that they should travel to eastern Guizhou, but Mao wanted to go to western Guizhou, where he expected KMT forces to be lighter and which borders Sichuan, and to establish a base area there. In a meeting to decide the army's direction, Zhou sided with Mao, making Braun "fly into a rage because he was overruled in the debate." At the meeting it was decided that the Red Army would travel towards Zunyi, in western Guizhou.[14]

After escaping Chiang's encirclement, it was obvious to Party leaders that Chiang was intent on intercepting what remained of the Red Army in Hunan, and the direction of the Red Army's movements had to be reconsidered. The plan to rendezvous and join He Long's army in Hunan had become too risky. Mao suggested to Zhou that the Red Army change direction, towards Guizhou, where Mao expected enemy defenses to be weak.[13]

Determining the direction of the Red Army

After passing through three of the four blockhouse fortifications needed to escape Chiang's encirclement, the Red Army was finally intercepted by regular Nationalist troops, and suffered heavy casualties. Of the 86,000 Communists who attempted to break out of Jiangxi with the First Red Army, only 36,000 successfully escaped. Due to the low morale within the Red Army at the time, it is not possible to know what proportion of these losses were due to military casualties, and which proportion were due to desertion. The conditions of the Red Army's forced withdrawal demoralized some Communist leaders (particularly Bo Gu and Otto Braun), but Zhou remained calm and retained his command.[13] Most Communist losses occurred over only two days of heavy fighting, from November 30 to December 1, 1934.

The withdrawal began in early October 1934. Zhou's intelligence agents were successful in identifying a large section of Chiang's blockhouse lines that were manned by troops under General Chen Jitang, a Guangdong warlord who Zhou identified as being likely to prefer preserving the strength of his troops over fighting. Zhou sent Pan Hannian to negotiate for safe passage with General Chen, who subsequently allowed the Red Army to pass through the territory that he controlled without fighting.[13] The Red army successfully crossed the Xinfeng River and marched through the province of Guangdong and into Hunan before encountering the last of Chiang's fortifications at the Xiang River.

The early troop movements were actually a diversion to allow the retreat of more important leaders from Jiangxi. On October 16, 1934, a force of about 130,000 soldiers and civilians under Bo Gu and Li De attacked the line of Kuomintang positions near Yudu. More than 86,000 troops, 11,000 administrative personnel and thousands of civilian porters actually completed the breakout; the remainder, largely wounded or ill soldiers, continued to fight a delaying action after the main force had left, and then dispersed into the countryside.[12] Several prominent members of the Chinese Soviet who remained behind were captured and executed by the Kuomintang after the fall of Ruijin in November 1934, including Qu Qiubai and the youngest brother of Mao Zedong, Mao Zetan.

The first movements to screen the retreat were undertaken by forces led by Fang Zhimin, breaking through Kuomintang lines in June 1934. Although Fang Zhimin's troops were soon destroyed, these movements surprised the Kuomintang, who were numerically superior to the Communists at the time and did not expect an attack on their fortified perimeter.

Since the Central Base Area could not be held, The Standing Committee appointed Bo (responsible for politics), Braun (responsible for military strategy), and Zhou (responsible for the implementation of military planning) to organize the evacuation. Since the enemy was close, Zhou, in charge of logistics, made his plans in complete secrecy. It was not disclosed who was to leave or when: even senior leaders were only at the last moments told of the Army's movements. It is not known what criteria were used to determine who would stay and who would go, but 16,000 troops and some of the Communists' most notable commanders at the time (including Xiang Ying, Chen Yi, Tan Zhenlin, and Qu Qiubai) were left to form a rear guard, to divert the main force of Nationalist troops from noticing, and preventing, the general withdrawal.[11]

Escape from Jiangxi

The Long March

In August 1934, with the Red Army depleted by the prolonged conflict, a spy, Mo Xiong, who had been placed by Zhou Enlai in the KMT army headquarters in Nanchang, brought news that Chiang Kai-shek was preparing a major offensive against the Communist capital, Ruijin. The Communist leadership decided on a strategic retreat to regroup with other Communist units, and to avoid annihilation. The original plan was to link up with the Second Red Army commanded by He Long, thought to be in Hubei to the west and north. Communications between divided groups of the Red Army had been disrupted by the Kuomintang campaign. During the planning to evacuate Jiangxi, the First Red Army was unaware that these other Communist forces were also retreating westward.

Chiang's strategy of slowly constructing a series of interlinking blockhouses (resembling medieval castles) was successful, and Chiang's army was able to capture several major Communist strongholds within months. Between January and March 1934, the Nationalists advanced slowly. Bo and Braun continued to employ orthodox military tactics, resulting in a series of defeats and heavy Communist casualties. In October 1934 KMT troops won a decisive battle and drove deep into the heart of the Central Soviet Area. When Ruijin became exposed to KMT attack, Party leaders faced the choice of either remaining and perishing or of abandoning the base area and attempting to break through the enemy encirclement.[10]

Chiang's fifth campaign was much more difficult to contain. In September 1933, the National Revolutionary Army under Chiang Kai-shek eventually completely encircled Jiangxi, with the advice and tactical assistance of his German adviser, Hans von Seeckt.[8] A fortified perimeter was established by Chiang's forces, and Jiangxi was besieged in an attempt to destroy the Communist forces trapped within. In July 1934, the leaders of the Party, dominated by the "Twenty-Eight Bolsheviks", a militant group formed in Moscow by Wang Ming and Bo Gu, forced Mao from the Politburo of the Communist Party in Ruijin and placed him briefly under house arrest. Mao was replaced by Zhou Enlai as leader of the military commission.[9]


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