Department of Economics
& Tornado Alley
Communist Party of China
This is the story of the Long March of the Communist Party leadership and the Red Army from South China to Northwest China. The source is mainly Harrison Salisbury's book The Long March. Salisbury's book is a very good book that well conveys the drama of the Long March and its three struggles:
The latter struggle was primarily between the Mao Zedong faction and the Communist International (Comintern) faction led by the man Joseph Stalin imposed as a condition for aiding the communists, Otto Braun. There was also a power struggles between the First Army led by Mao Zedong and the Fourth Army led by Zhang Guotao. Salisbury is sympathetic to Mao but his book is objective and well worth reading. There is however another book, Mao: The Unknown Story by Jung Chang and her husband Jon Halliday that tells the story behind the story of the Long March.
Both the Communist Party and the Guomindang (Nationalist) Party were created around 1920 and had a socialist orientation. The Guomindang although it had a socialist orientation was primarily concerned with establishing a nation state. This meant suppressing the numerous warlords and uniting China. The Guomindang needed financial aid to achieve this and it was not going to get such aid from the imperialist powers. The founder and leader of the Guomindang, Sun Yatsen, sought and received aid from the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union not only sent material aid, it also sent advisors, Michael Borodin and Otto Braun. The latter was a German Communist representing the Communist International, the Comintern. The Soviet Union also required that the Guomindang admit to its membership the members of the Communist Party of China.
The Communists worked within the Guomindang during the early and middle 1920's. The arrangement appeared to work well. Chiang Kai-shek directed the Whampoa Military Academy and Zhou Enlai served as the political officer for that academy. Chiang Kai-shek went to Moscow for training and later his son, Chiang Ching-guo, went to Moscow.
The trouble came when Sun Yat-sen died of cancer in 1925. It was uncertain who would succeed him as leader of the Guomindang. After a short period of political maneuvering Chiang Kai-shek emerged as the leader. The Guomindang actually split at this time into two factions, a left faction headed by Chiang Kai-shek who accepted continued cooperation with the Communists and a right faction which opposed such cooperation.
After consolidating his hold on the Guomindang Chiang Kai-shek organized a northern expedition to defeat the many warlords who controlled local areas of northern China.
Chiang's Northern Expedition of 1926-27 was a great success. Thirty nine war lords were defeated. The Northern Expedition then moved to Shanghai. The Communist-dominated labor unions staged an uprising prior to the entry of Chiang's army into the city. This uprising established a city government without Chiang's approval. This and other actions by the Communists within the Guomindang led Chiang to fear the Communists were following their own agenda and were striving for control. Chiang's followers turned upon the Communists in Shanghai and massacred them. A similar slaughter and purge of the Communists within the Guomindang throughout other parts of China took place shortly afterwards.
Those that could escaped and joined the rural communist centers in South China. The major rural Communist strongholds were in the rural areas of Jiangxi and Hunan Provinces. There were also strongholds in the more remote provinces of Sichuan and Shaanxi. In the Jiangxi Soviet, as it was called, Mao Zedong was a major leader.
Mao Zedong came from the clan village of Shaoshan in Hunan Province. He was born at the end 1893 and was notably older than the other Communist leaders. His family was moderately well-to-do, land-owning peasants. Mao's grandfather had lost the family farm to money lenders but Mao's father had got it back and had moved upward into trade and money lending. Mao's father wanted his son Zedong educated in order to be better able to handle the family businesses. In the village school Mao learned basic literacy and the Chinese classics from age seven to twelve. At age 13 Mao's father felt he had an adequate education and ended his schooling to have him work fulltime on the family farm. Mao's mother, a kind, hard-working woman who was a devout Buddhist, was a stronger influence on Mao Zedong than his hard-driving father.
Mao rebelled against his father and left the family to study at a higher primary school in a nearby county. He later then went on to Changsha Normal School in the provincial capital of Changsha at about age eighteen. At Changsha Normal he became acquainted with the writings of political revolutionaries, Western as well as Chinese. He was particularly impressed by the writings of Sun Yat-sen. Incidentally Mao first heard of America when reading a short biography of George Washington.
The revolution against the Qing Empire was finally successful in 1911, after four failed attempts. Mao joined the army of revolution and was a soldier for six months. But the success of the revolution brought a demobilization of the army and Mao drifted from one pursuit to another uncertain of the what career he should prepare for. He graduated from Changsha Normal School and went to Beijing. He worked as an assistant librarian at Beijing University where he read and participated in some student organizations that gave him his first experience in political organizing.
Sun Yat-sen and his political organization was not as successful in gaining control of China as they had been in overthrowing the Qing Dynasty. The period from 1912 to 1919 saw China falling under the control of local warlords. Sun Yat-sen relinquished the presidency of the Chinese Republic to a man who had been a Qing Empire official but who secured the abdication of the Emperor. Sun Yat-sen felt this man would be best able to unify China. Instead that man sought to make himself the new emperor and also sought to exterminate Sun Yat-sen and his party.
The year 1919 saw a renewal of Sun Yat-sen's political organization. In that year the Allies of World War I chose to grant the German Concession in China to Japan rather than returning it to Chinese control. This sparked violent protests. Sun Yat-sen organized a political party called Guomindang (Nationalist Party). The ideological roots of the Guomindang are a bit uncertain but there was an emphasis on nationalism and socialism. Mao was in Beijing at the time of the protests, the May Fourth (1919) Movement. In July of 1919 Mao wrote an editorial which said,
The World is ours,
The nation is ours,
Society is ours.
If we do not act,
Who will act?
In the summer of 1919 Mao left Beijing to organize opposition to Japan among students, workers and merchants in Jiangxi Province in southern China. The fact that peasants were not at this time considered to have revolutionary potential reflected the influence of Marxism. Mao talked and wrote about the Soviet experience but he did not commit himself to Marxism until 1921. Mao differed from the other Communist leaders in that he did not travel to Western Europe or Moscow for study. He moved toward a focus on the Chinese countryside and the peasants. However much this focus on the peasants was at variance with orthodox Marxism, Mao instincts still directed him unerringly to greatest reservoir of revolutionary potential in China.
After the massacre of communists in Shanghai and elsewhere in 1927 at the instigation of Chiang Kai-shek the communists attempted rebellions in several cities and towns. The Jiangxi Soviet emerged as a result of attempted insurrections in two cities, an unsuccessful one organized by Mao Zedong and a successful one organized by Zhou En-lai.
In July of 1927 Zhou En-lai journeyed to the city of Nanchang to carry out his assignment by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, which was to capture contol. Nanchang was chosen because the Guomindang commander of public safety, Zhu De, was secretly a member of the Communist Party. The insurrectionists had about twenty thousand troops and the troops which remained loyal to Chiang Kai-shek numbered only ten thousand. The Comintern representative ordered Zhou En-lai not to carryout the insurrection. Zhou En-lai defied that order even though it might mean a loss of the material support for the Chinese communists by the Soviet Union.
The insurrection was successful. However it was recognized that once the government moved substanial numbers of troops to the area the insurrectionists would not be able to hold the city. The insurrections left Nanchang and headed south.
Mao Zedong had been assigned to organize an Autumn Harvest Uprising in September of 1927 which would capture the city of Changsa. The revolution in Changsa failed and at the end of September Mao was leading a small army of about one thousand toward a mountain in Jiangxi Province called Jinggangshan. It was in an isolated area on the the border between Hunan and Jiangxi Provinces. Jinggangshan was not just a mountain; it was more of a massif being sixty miles long and twenty miles wide..
Jinggangshan had an elevation of about five thousand feet and was under the control of two bandit gangs. Mao believed that he would be able to bring the anti-government bandits over to the communist side. This he did partly with personal persuasion and partly with a gift of rifles. By the end of October of 1927 Mao had established headquarters in the town of Maoping on Jinggangshan and had one of the two bandit groups cooperating with his organization. In February of 1928 Mao used his troops to capture a enemy of the other bandit chief. That brought the second bandit chief into alliance with Mao.
In May of 1928 Zhu De brought the reminant 1000 of his force to Mao's area. Mao and Zhu forged a solid alliance that was to continue long into the future. By the next year Mao was able to recruit enough soldiers to bring the troop strength to four thousand. This was too many soldiers to be supported by the local economy of Jinggangshan. Mao and Zhu decided to move their army. They left Peng Dehuai to defend the enclave in Jinggangshan as long as he could. When Chiang Kai-shek sent in a large force to destroy the Red Bandits Peng evacutaed the mountain and moved to join Mao and Zhu. The Guomindang forces executed about a thousand people in the former communist enclave on the mountain.
The Mao and Zhu army established a new enclave in southeastern Jiangxi Province and made the town of Rujin the headquarters. The enclave came to be called the Jiangxi Soviet.
After Mao had successfully operated the enclave for a number of years there were Communist Party officials who were not happy with Mao. Mao's emphasis on peasant support was at variance with doctrinaire Marxism. According to Marxist theory, revolution were supposed to arise among the proletariat of advanced industrial nations, not among peasants in backward, unindustrialized countries. The Soviet Union was providing support but required its representative to have a strong voice in the decisions of Communist Party organizations. The decision-making power in the Jiangxi Soviet was taken away from Mao and vested in a three-member committee. One member of that committee was the Comintern representative, Otto Braun. Braun used the Chinese name Li De. Zhou En-lai was another member and the third member was Bo Gu, a man who gave complete support to Braun. Thus Zhou En-lai aways faced two votes for Otto Braun's position on any issue.
As most who observed him must have suspected, Zhou Enlai came from an upper class, gentry background. He was born in 1898 in Huaian in Jinagsu Province which is north of Shanghai. He was raised by his uncle in Shaoxin in Zhejiang Province which is south of Shanghai. Zhou graduated from a secondary school in Tianjin and then went to Japan for further study in 1917. He returned from Japan in 1919, just in time to be involved in the May Fourth Movement. He was arrested in 1920 and upon his release he left China to go to France for study. While in France he participated in the founding, along with Ho Chi Minh, of the Communist Party of France. Later, when the Communist Party of China was formed in 1921 in Shanghai Zhou joined it.
Zhou returned to China in 1924. Sun Yat-sen had asked for aid from the Soviet Union and received it on the condition that the members of the Chinese Communist Party could join the Guomindang (Nationalist Party). So Zhou returned to China during the era of cooperation between the Guomindang and the Communist Party. Zhou became the political officer at the Whampoa Military Academy, which was under Chiang Kai-shek command.
Chang Kai-shek led a Northern Expedition to subdue the warlords of North China. Chiang was able to defeat thirty some war lords. Chiang then led his armies to Shanghai. Zhou had gone to Shanghai in advance of the Northern Expedition and organized an insurrection in Shanghai. Chiang at that time decided that his Communist Allies were pursuing their own agenda and could not be trusted. Chiang turned against the Communists and had them slaughtered in Shanghai and in the cities around China. Zhou barely escaped. He went to Wuhan where he was elected to the Politburo (Political Bureau) of the Chinese Communist Party.
Zhou helped organize Communist insurrections in the cities but the Nationalist Army soon put them down. Zhou escaped and traveled to Moscow in 1928. He returned to Shanghai from Moscow but in 1931 had to flee. He traveled to Jiangxi Province where Mao Zedong, along with Zhu De, had organized a rural enclave called a Soviet. In 1932 the rest of the Communist organization in Shanghai followed Zhou to Jiangxi. Zhou became the political commissar of the Red Army which had been created in the Jiangxi Soviet by Mao Zedong and Zhu De.
Moscow had sent a representative of the Comintern (Communist International) to the Jiangxi Soviet. He was a German Communist named Otto Braun. He took the Chinese name of Li De. Otto Braun was supposed to have had some military experience as a street fighter in Europe, but his skill as a military is very doubtful. Li De, though political maneuvering came into control of the Red Army in the Jiangxi Soviet. The control of the Red Army was vested in a three member committee, a troika. The three members of the committee were Otto Braun, Zhou Enlai and a Chinese Communist named Bo Gu who had been trained in Moscow. Bo Gu always supported Otto Braun giving him a two-to-one majority over Zhou Enlai so Otto Braun effectively controlled the Red Army. So Mao, who was a genius in political and military strategy, was pushed aside in favor of Otto Braun, someone without any abilities at all to speak of, because of the slavish support of the Chinese Communists who had been to Moscow. Harrison Salisbury speaks disparagingly of the Chinese Bolsheviks who had gone to Moscow and had been stuffed full of "Marxist gibberish" like "Peking ducks." Although Zhou had gone to Moscow he was not one of the slavish Chinese Bolsheviks that supported Otto Braun.
Mao did monstrous things to the Chinese people with his Great Leap Forward and his Cultural Revolution but there is no doubt that he was extraordinarily skilled in political and military strategy. Mao may have been incompetent at choosing economic policies once in power but it is no hyperbole to say that Mao was a genius at guerilla warfare. In the Long March it was the heighth of stupidity to take control away from Mao who was unsurpassed at guerilla warfare and give it to Otto Braum who was a complete dunce in the matter. Sensibly the leadership was returned to Mao by the top officers.
Liu Shaoqi came from the same region and more or less the same social background as Mao Zedong. Liu was born in Hunan Province in 1898, the youngest son of a rich peasant landowner. Although Mao was also the son of a moderately well-to-do landowner there seemed to be a definite class difference between Liu and Mao in terms of demeanor and style. Liu seemed to be from a wealthier class than Mao.
Liu attended middle school in Ch'angsha, the capital of Hunan, but he journeyed to North China to study French. In 1920 he joined a socialist youth group and subsequently went to Moscow for further study. In Moscow he joined the Chinese Communist Party.
In 1922 Liu returned to China and became active in labor organizing for the Communist Party. He served for period as an aide to Mao. As well as organizing strikes Liu was also active in Communist Party organizational structure, receiving appointments a number of positions in the Party hierarchy.
This was the period of cooperation between the Goumindang (Nationalist Party) and the Communist Party. The cooperation ended abruptly in April of 1927 when Chiang Kai-shek struck against the Party, attempting to exterminate the Communist Party. Liu survived and moved up further in the Party hierarchy. After assignments in Manchuria and elsewhere he moved to Shanghai, where Party activity continue despite Guomindang persecution. The persecution of the Communist Party in Shanghai and other cities finally drove the Party to the rural soviets such as the one organized by Mao in Jiangxi Province.
In 1934 Liu was made a member of the Politburo for the Jiangxi Soviet. Soon afterwards the Party decided to evacuate the area in what became known as the Long March. Liu did not join the Long March but instead journeyed to Beijing to carry on Party activities for North China.
In 1939 Liu joined the survivors of the Long March in Yenan.
Deng Xiaoping was born in Sichuan Province in 1904 and hence about a half a generation younger than Mao Zedong. Deng's family was of Hakka background, the ethnic minority that migrated from North China to South China in the seventeenth century and were known as the guest people. The Hakka tended to be involved more in migration, business and radical politics than the rest of the Han people. Deng himself traveled to France at the early age of sixteen. He went there to study but spent most of his time working to support himself. Among other things, he worked as a machinist. He also joined the communist movement. After 1924 he traveled to the Soviet Union. He was in the Soviet Union until 1926 when he returned to China to work in the Jiangxi Soviet under Mao. Deng served as a political and military officer in the Communist Party organization in the Jiangxi Soviet, but he had more than his share of political problems. Before the Long March he was dismissed from his Party offices and publicly denounced. He was placed under armed guard. His wife divorced him. What was behind these troubles and persecution of Deng was the anti-Mao element in the Communist Party. Mao had too much support to be attacked directly so the anti-Mao conspiracy attacked someone who was known to be a strong supporter of Mao.
There may have been an additional factor involved. In 1926 some Chinese nationalists formed a pro-Guomindang organization in Nanchang. It was called the AB and now one knew what those initials stood for. This was the error of Nationalist-Commuist Party cooperation. Many communists joined the AB on the basis of its nationalism. When Chinese communist students returned from their training in Moscow they were asked by the Communist Party officials to list which organizations they had joined. A good many listed AB. Some paranoid Communist Party official decided that AB stood for Anti-Bolshevik. Those Communist Party officials then came to believe that the Goumindang had a program to infiltrate agents into the Communist Party. On the basis of this complete phantasy about four thousand of the members of the Communist Party were arrested and interrogated. Under torture many confessed and implicated others. Many were executed. In 1931 Deng was made Secretary of the Communist Party in Rujin. He ended the witch-hunt to consternation of the witch-hunters. They may have retaliated against him in later years.
Deng commenced the Long March without much official status, but he was a strong supporters of Mao and when Mao rose in power during the Long March Deng returned to power along with Mao.
In later years Deng rose and fell out of favor with Mao. Mao had a great respect for Deng's abilities but was perplexed that Deng would stick to his beliefs even they were at odds with those of Mao. Mao said of Deng
His mind is round but his actions are square.
However Mao also claimed that Deng, who was hard-of-hearing, sat in the back of meetings so that he would not have to listen to what Mao had to say. Definitely Deng was not the sycophant of Mao that Lin Biao was.
One of the endearing stories of Deng Xiaoping was that when he was sent to be the representative of the People's Republic of China at the United Nations in New York he was given a spending allowance of about sixteen dollars. Deng decided to spend it all aon croissants in Paris to take back with him to China.
Peng Dehuai came to prominence within the Communist hierarchy by way of a different route than most of the other leaders. Peng was born in Hunan Province in 1898. He did not join the Communist movement at an early age nor did he go to France. Instead Peng pursued a military career in the Nationalist Army of Chiang Kai-shek. He was a general in that army when Chiang decided to exterminate the Communist elements. Peng left the Nationalist Army and became a Communist in 1928. He led guerilla movements and Mao made him one of his senior military officers. Peng was one of the top generals in the Long March.
Peng was one of top commanders in the war against the Japanese and the Civil War that followed World War II. Peng commanded the Chinese troops in the Korean War.
Peng was the Minister of National Defense of China from 1954 to 1959. When the Great Leap Forward was launched Peng recognized that it was not working. At a Communist Party Congress at Lushan in 1959 Peng submitted a letter raising questions about the wisdom of the Great Leap Forward. Mao Zedong treated Peng's constructive criticism of the Great Leap Forward as treason and had Peng denounced as a counter-revolutionary. Peng was removed from office and retired from public life. During the Cultural Revolution Peng was arrested and interrogated. He was beaten to make him confess to crimes imagined by the radicals but he never broke, even when he was close to death.
Lin Biao was not among the top leaders during the March, but he was a rising star noted for the effectiveness of his command. Lin was the son of a factory owner in Hebei province. His father was bankrupted by the tax policies of the government and Lin opted for a military career. His abilities were noted by Chiang Kai-shek when he was the commander of the Whampoa Military Academy in Canton (Guangdong). There Lin became acquainted with Zhou Enlai. When Chiang Kai-shek engineered the slaughter of the Communists in Shanghai Lin chose to join Zhou Enlai and the Communists. He rose to be the commander of the First Army in 1932.
During the March Lin made a formal proposal that Mao relinquish his command of the Red Army to Peng Dehuai and limit himself to political leadership. The proposal was not accepted. Lin Biao survived the March and went on to be a power in the Chinese Peoples' Republic. As the commander of the Peoples' Liberation Army he became the founder of the Cult of Mao when he created the Little Red Book of Quotations of Chairman Mao. He was notorious as sycophant, but his effort paid off in that Mao designated Lin as his successor as ruler of China.
Lin Biao apparently conspire to take Mao captive and rule in his name. When the conspiracy was uncovered Lin tried to escape to the Soviet Union but his plane crashed in Mongolia killing all aboard.
Otto Braun was an Austrian communist of rather sleazy character that Joseph Stalin chose as his representative among the Chinese Communists in the southern China enclase that came to be known as the Soviet Republic of China. Strictly speaking Braun was an agent of the Communist International (Cominern) who was to serve as an advisor to the Chinese communists.
Braun was singularly unsuited for the assignment. He had little knowledge of Chinese culture and politics. He did not speak Chinese and apparently was not interested in learning. As blond, blue-eyed Nordic over six feet tall he stood out like a sore thumb among the black-haired people. The only thing that mattered to Stalin was that Braun would follow scrupulously orders from Moscow.
Braun had the power to open or close the conduit of aid from the Soviet Union. He was therefore a power to be reckoned with. The Chinese communist gave him a role in their decisions by making him one of three members of the committee which made decisions for the Red Army. The other two members were Zhou Enlai and Bo Gu. The intention was to have the Chinese communists constitute a majority on the committee and thus could outvote Braun, the outsider. However Bo Gu was so in awe of Braun that he always supported Braun's position. Thus Braun, who had little or no experience with guerilla warfare and whose knowledge of military tactics was strictly academic, became effectively the commander of the Red Army.
Braun was a notorious womanizer and he did not intend to lead a celibate life among the Chinese communists. Braun started giving presents to the beautiful wife of a young officer in the Red Army. Other top leaders recognized what Braun was up to and its explosive potential. They sent word among the women that they needed a volunteer to be Braun's concubine. A sturdy peasant woman agreed to fill the role. She stayed with Braun the whole march and ultimately bore him a child. The child looked far more Chinese than Germanic and Mao joked about this showing that Germans were not a superior race.
Braun ultimately returned to Europe and settled to live in East Berlin. A street there was named after him as a good soldier of communism.
Chiang Kai-shek sent four expeditions to wipe out the Jiangxi Soviet. The Red Army under the direction of Mao used the time-honored guerilla tactic of falling back from direct engagement and drawing the enemy force into familiar territory. The enemy force then was wiped out itself in ambushes.
After Adolph Hitler came to power in Germany Chiang Kai-shek had an episode of interest in ideological fascism. There was a blue-shirt movement created in China in analogy with the black-shirt movement of Benito Mussolini in Italy and the brown-shirt movement of Adolph Hitler in Germany. Hitler sent one of his generals, Hans von Seeckt, to help Chiang in his campaign against the communists.
Von Seeckt's strategy was to build rings of block houses encircling the enclave. One the circle was closed then succesively smaller rings would trap the Red Army and force them into a pitched battle.
Von Seeckt's scheme was working. The Red Army was suffering defeat after defeat. The leadership decided that the Red Army must leave the enclave and find a place of operation that was beyond the reach of Chiang Kai-shek's forces. Months were spent in preparing for the move.
By the time of the Long March the area under Communist Party control in south China was known as The Soviet Republic of China. It was not an insignificant area. At its maximum extent it was comprised of 26 counties in three provinces having a population of about three million. The area was about the same as that of the State of Maine, 31 thousand square kilometers. It had an operating government and a tax collection system. It had a treasury of about one million silver dollars. It had propaganda teams that performed plays. It was a quite notable accomplishment, largely due to Mao Zedong.
It had an army of over 100,000. Many of them however were new recruits without battle experience. The average age was about 18. Often the oldest soldiers in the units were only in their mid-twenties. Some ten to fifteen thousand of older, experienced were wounded.
The rules of conduct for the soldiers, formulated by Mao Zedong and Zhu De, were
Rules of Discipline:
Points of Attention
- Obey orders in all your actions.
- Do not take even a needle or a piece of thread from the people.
- Turn in everything you capture.
- Speak politely
- Pay fairly for what you buy.
- Return everything you borrow.
- Pay for any damage.
- Do not strike or swear at people.
- Do not damage crops.
- Do not take liberties with women.
- Do not mistreat captives.
These were enforced. Soldiers accused of rape were given a trial and, if convicted, were shot. These standards were far higher than those of armies of Chiang Kai-shek and the war lords. Note that these rules of conduct applied only to the treatment of the poor and middle peasants and towns people. Because of the behavior of the Red Army in comparison to that of the other armies the Communists were able to gain local support among the peasants and the poor of the towns.
For those very reasons Chiang Kai-shek could not tolerate its existence. His first four campaigns despite having an enormous advantage in numbers and resources failed when confronted by the guerilla tactics of Mao. The fifth campaign made use of a strategy of the encirclement of the Soviet area with rings of blockhouses. This strategy came from a German general lent to Chiang by Adolph Hitler. The strategy was working in 1933-34. The Soviet area was reduced by almost 60 percent.
Another development contributed to the fifth campaign's success. This was a change in political control in the Soviet. Control was taken away from Mao Zedong. There was a group of Communists who had been sent to study in Moscow. Upon their return to China about the time of the 1927 massacre of Communists in Shanghai they journeyed to the Jiangxi area. They were known as the Bolsheviks and they were disdainful of Mao's ideology which was not consistent with Marxism. At that time a Comintern agent, Otto Braun, made his way to the south China Soviet. He was only suppose to be a military advisor, but because he controlled the matter of aid to the movement from the Soviet Union he was given high status and a role in the decision-making of the Soviet. The decisions were to be made by a committee of three that consisted of Otto Braun, Zhou Enali and Bo Gu. Mao, who was suffering from a bout of malaria at the time, was left out of the decision-making process for the Soviet he had created.
Bo Gu always sided with Otto Braun so the decisions were effectively those of Otto Braun, a man who knew virtually nothing about the Chinese situation. Braun wanted to counter Chiang Kai-shek's blockhouse strategy by building blockhouses. The Communists did not have the resources to compete with Chiang in terms of blockhouses. The air force of Chiang Kai-shek made short work of the blockhouses that the Red Army did build. So, under Otto Braun's direction the Red Army suffered defeat after defeat until in 1934 Braun decided that the Red Army should attempt an escape.
Under the command of Mao Zedong the Red Army defeated four campaigns sent by Chiang Kai-shek to eradicate the communist movement. The fifth campaign involved the stategy of confining the Red Army within successively smaller rings of blockhouses. Due to this strategy, which was proposed by General von Seeckt, a Germany military advisor of Chiang Kai-shek, the area under communist control had shrunk nearly 60 percent. There was the additional factor that during the fifth campaign the Red Army was effectively under the control of another German, Otto Braun. The communists' German advisor, Otto Braun, was less competent militarily than the Chiang's military advisor, von Seeckt. Braun tried to oppose von Seeckt's blockhouses with communist blockhouses, but without the resources of the Nationalist forces. The end result was a string of military defeats for the Red Army. When the end result was clearly foreseeable Braun decided the Soviet Republic of China must be evacuated. However, most of the top leaders were not informed of his plan until shortly before the evacuation was to take place.
In particular, Mao Zedong was not informed of the evacuation plan. Some of the Chinese Bolsheviks wanted to leave Mao behind. For them Mao seemed to be an ignorant peasant-type who did not understand Marx. As Salisbury characterized these Chinese Bolsheviks:
The [Chinese] Bolsheviks, most of them still in their twenties, had been stuffed in Moscow like Peking ducks with Marxist gibberish….
The Chinese Bolsheviks were perfectly right that Mao's ideology was not Marxism. Basically it was tribalism and he never gave up trying to make the people of China into a billion people tribe. However Mao was right about where the revolutionary potential in China was located and the Bolsheviks, Russian as well as Chinese, were wrong.
In addition to Mao's Marxist shortcomings he was suffering from attacks of malaria and was not physically able to walk the distances that would be involved in the march. Furthermore, from the perspective of the Chinese Bolsheviks Mao, who was forty years of age, was an old man. He had never traveled out of China and that was heavily counted against him by the Chinese Bolsheviks.
Thus the Long March was not Mao's idea. He later publically asserted that it was a bad idea and was poorly planned. Mao's strategy for dealing with the Nationalist fifth campaign was to use a large part of the Red Army to break out of the rings of blockhouse encirclement to get behind the lines of the Nationalist army. The troop strength of the Nationalist Army in the fifth campaign was about two hundred thousand soldiers. This was about twice the troop strength of the Red Army, but the Red Army had the advantage of familiarity with the territory and fighting, at least in part, from defensive positions. The rule of thumb is that a defensive force can hold off an offensive force up to about three times its size.
The best estimates of the size of the Red Army and its components before the start of the Long March are:
|First Army Group
|Third Army Group
|Fifth Army Group
|Eighth Army Group
|Ninth Army Group
Braun's evacuation plan put the Red Army at a disadvantage and made it vulnerable to bombing by the Nationalist air force. Braun's plan also inevitably involved large numbers of the Red Army being left behind to perish at the hands of the Nationalist army. Braun foolishly asserted that his plan would draw Nationalist troops away from the Soviet area. Obviously the Nationalist army leaders were going to gain control of the Soviet area first and only then pursue the fleeeing Red Army. Thus, Mao had very good reasons for disagreeing with Braun's plan. However, ultimately it was Mao who ultimately saved Braun's evacuation plan from total defeat.
Braun's plan called for the evacuation of a great amount of equipment as well as military and political personnel. There were printing presses and devices for minting coins that had to be disassembled for transport. There were files of documents. These were to be transported through areas which had only foot paths where people could not walk two abreast. Large numbers of porters were hired at a cost of a silver dollar per day. These porters would stay with the Red Army only for a limited distance.
The plan called for about 86 thousand of the Red Army to evacuate and about 25 to 30 thousand to be left behind. However of the 25 to 30 thousand to be left behind only about 15 thousand were in fighting condition, the rest were wounded or ill.
When the evacuation commenced in October of 1934 it stretched out over a distance of sixty miles. The Yudu River was passed without incident. They managed to keep the operation secret from the Nationalist forces until they broke through the ring of blockhouses on the southwest sector. The blockhouses were taken out by soldiers sneaking up to them and tossing grenades into them. The River Xiang was then crossed. Its crossing proved to be difficult because some units crossed without difficulty before Nationalist forces attacked. The situation was then perilous for the Red Army because it was divided. The remainder that needed to cross was then weakened and under attack. The Red Army did make it across the Xiang but there were severe losses of troops and much of the material that had been carried at great effort, such as the library of political and military literature, had to be jettisoned. The battle of the crossing of the Xiang River had taken a week.
Zhou Enlai managed to negotiate an agreement with the warlord of the adjacent territory that the Red Army could pass through their territory unimpeded. The warlord was nominally the governor of the province under the Guomindang government, but he did not want the Nationalist army exerting too much power in his territory. He did not want either the Nationalist or Red Army to defeat the other. It served his purposes to have the two struggling against each other and letting him run his own domains. The warlord cleared a corridor thirty miles wide for the Red Army to pass through.
Mao Zedong during this period was recovering from a bout of malaria. The malaria had been quelled with quinine but Mao was only slowly recovering his physical strength. Mao therefore had to travel in a litter made up of woven fiber stretched between two bamboo poles. Two soldiers carried the litter. At this point Mao was not part of the strategy setting command. Later when he was part of the strategy-setting committee his being carried by litter was justified on the basis that he and the other top leaders had to stay up together late into the night, perhaps even all night, discussing options and therefore had to sleep during the day. As a result, all of them became addicted to sleeping pills.
While the people being carried in litters were not sleeping they carried on some discussions. One prominent topic was how to bring Mao back into power.
The area the Red Army was traveling through was a mountainous part of the province of Guizhou. It was said of this area of Guizhou that
there was no three li (unit of distance about equal to a mile) without a mountain, no three days without rain and no one who possessed three silver dollars.
It was the land of the ethnic minority called the Miao. The Miao were so poor that the women had to remain in their houses because they had no clothes. Teenage children worked naked in the fields. Miao families often had only one pair of trousers to be shared when needed by three or four adult males. It was also the land of the opium poppy. At that time the infant mortality rate was about fifty percent. Often families sold some of their young children to survive. The people of Miao lived on maize because they were too poor to afford rice.
By this time the troop strength of the Red Army was down from 80,000 to 30,000. At the town of Tongdao an emergency meeting of the Military Commission was convened. Mao Zedong had been removed from this governing body two years before. He was invited to attend this meeting. He immediately began to dominate the meeting. The question being consider was whether the Red Army should continue on its course to the west or head north to join up with an army group under the command of He Long which had left the Soviet Republic area before the evacuation. Chiang Kai-shek was positioning a large force, as many as 250,000 soldiers, to cutoff any attempt to unite the two groups of the Red Army. Mao proposed that they abandon any attempt to join He Long's forces. Instead he said the Red Army should journey into Guizhou and move west to get beyond the reach of Chiang Kai-shek's forces. The Commission members agreed with Mao, including Otto Braun.
Two days later at the city of Liping a formal meeting of the political bureau (politburo) of the Communist Party convened to accept the proposals Mao had made in Tongdao. Zhou Enlai voiced criticisms of Otto Braun's leadership. Mao expanded his proposal to include occupying the largest city in Guizhou, Zunyi, and spending some time resting and reorganizing. In effect, the meeting Liping returned Mao to the leadership of Communist Party and the command of the Red Army. This, however, was not made official until the Red Army occupied Zunyi.
The Red Army had to cover about 200 miles from Liping to Zenyi, but the terrain was relatively level and the only river to be crossed, the Wu River, was relatively small. On New Year's Eve the Army was about 30 miles from the Wu stopping at a small town of Houchang (monkey town). Mao's four servants prepared a New Year's Day feast for him but Mao insisted that the army move out as soon as possible. (Salisbury calls the servants bodyguards, which they had to be as well, but they spent most of their time functioning a servants. Mao's wife, He Zizhen, had two servants to serve her.)
An advanced unit reached the banks of the Wu on New Year's Day. The local militia guarding the crossing did not surrender and it took three days to secure a crossing. A bamboo bridge had to built and launched across the Wu. After the crossing of the Wu Mao decreed that the army unit procede to Zunyi as soon as possible and take the city by surprise. One unit was able to do this. That unit encountered a squad of the local militia about ten miles from Zunyi and captured all of them. The Red Army unit was able to convince the militia soldiers help them capture Zunyi. This they did by taking the Red Army unit to the city gates and convincing the gate keeper to let them in. The Red Army soon had the city under control. Two days later Mao and the other top leaders arrived.
The top leadership occupied the best houses in Zunyi, but Otto Braun and Bo Gu were assigned lesser housing away from Mao and the top leaders. It was symbolic of the change in control of the Red Army.
For the following week the leadership investigated the Zunyi and the surrounding area. They considered the possibility of setting up a new soviet state. There was however more crucial issues to be decided; i.e., the control of the Communist Party and the Red Army.
On January 15, 1935 the Political Bureau (Politburo) convened an official meeting in Zunyi to assess the recent political and military events. Twenty members attended the evening meeting. Only ten were official members of the politburo. Deng Xiao attended as an observer and as editor of The Red Star, the newspaper of the the Red Army. In the center of the room sat Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai and Bo Gu. Otto Braun was given a seat by the door and he was heavily dependent upon his tranlator for following the presentations and discussions.
Bo Gu who was officially the head of the Communist Party of China spoke first. He tried to explain away the failures of the strategy that had been pursued in the Soviet area and on the march. He acknowledged mistakes but tried to make excuses. Zhou Enlai spoke second. He took the blame for failed strategies that the Military Committee had undertaken. The audience knew that those strategies were the choices of Otto Braum and Bo Gu and were chosen over his opposition. Mao then made a long speech in which he cited specific mistakes and placed the fault on Otto Braun and Bo Gu. Mao received an ovation after he finished his speech. He said what the military commanders believed but had been reluctant to say. A supporter of Mao then gave a speech in which he called for Mao to be again placed in command of the Red Army and that Otto Braun and Bo Gu denied any further official authority over the Red Army. Other speakers, including Peng Duhuai, called the return of Mao to command and the removal of Otto Braun and Bo Gu. Only one speaker, He Kequan, spoke in defense of Braun and Bo. He Kequan had studied in Moscow and he told Mao disparagingly, "You know nothing about Marxism-Leninism. All you have read is Sun Wu Zi's Art of War." Braun apparently tried to defend himself, saying that he had been sent to by the Comintern only as an advisor. Lin Biao was at the meeting but apparently did not speak. Zhou Enlai spoke again, criticizing Braun and Bo and calling for Mao to be given command. Finally the Politburo made Mao a member of the Standing Committtee of the Politburo. Military leadership was left to Zhou Enlai and Zhu De.
The leadership also decided that Zunyi and its region was not suitable for a new base area of the Communist Party. It produced opium but not enough food to support the Red Army. It was decided to cross the Chang Jiang (Yantse River) and move north.
Already north of the Changjiang was the Fourth Front Army under the leadership of Zhang Guotao. Zhang had come from a landlord family but he joined with radicals such as Mao when they were at the university in Beijing. Zhang along with Mao was one of the twelve founders of the Communist Party of China in 1921. Zhang was involved in the Nanjing Uprising which Zhou Enlai had organized in the summer of 1927. Later Zhang went to Moscow for three years. Back from Moscow in 1931 Zhang, member of the Politburo, was sent by the Party organization in Shanghai to administer a soviet enclave in region of Hubei, Henan and Anhui. This enclave had been given the name Eyuwan, a combination of the three provinces name. The Eyuwan Soviet had been initiated in 1927. Between 1927 and 1931 it had grown enough to justifyleadership by a top leader of the Chinese Communist Party.
Chiang tried to destroy the Eyuwan Soviet but failed. However the pressure was great enought that Zhang moved the Soviet to the border region between Sichuan and Shaanxi. From there Zhang moved it further into northwest Sichuan.
At first Zhang declined to set up a Soviet enclave and carry out land redistribution. He was uncertain that he would be able to stay in the area. But finally he did and by 1935 when Mao and the Long March was coming into his region he had about seventy thousand troops and an equal number of noncombatants. His troops were well fed and armed. In contrast Mao had about ten thousand combat troops and little food and only rifles and hand guns for weapons. The Long March had been very destructive to the Jiangxi Soviet's resources. In defense of Mao it should be noted that the Long March was never his idea. Had he remained in south China he would have had troops and resources comparable to what Zhang had in his Soviet in northwest Sichuan.
At this point Mao was once again the commander of the Red Army. He chose to ride a white horse at the front of the Red Army. Mao had previously sent Lin Biao and his Second Division to find a good crossing point of the Red River, which had to be crossed before the Changjiang (Yangtze) could be reached. The target for Lin Biao was the city of Chishui. To the surprise of Lin Biao the approach to Chishui was protected by two strong fortifications. Lin Biao's troops were not able to get past these fortifications.
Meanwhile the main force under the leadership of Mao was being troubled by attacks from behind. Mao thought this was a small force of about two to three thousand troops under the command of Guizhou warlords. Near the town of Tucheng on the Red River Mao decided to to pause and wipe out the troublesome force trailing the Red Army. Peng Duhaui with a force of about ten thousand was to turn upon what was thought to be two thousand or so troublesome marauders. The expectation was that shortly after Peng Duhuai's forces attacked the marauders would flee the battlefield.
This expectation was not fulfilled. Instead of amateurish marauders the trailing force was well-trained and well-commanded Sichuan troops and they numbered four thousand. Furthermore they were soon joined by reenforcements bringing the total up to about eight thousand troops. The top leadership, Mao Zedong, Zhu De and Zhou Enlai took personal command of the battle. Lin Biao was ordered to bring his troops into the battle immediately. Despite this reenforcement the battle was still about even. Giving up hope for a victory Mao ordered the Red Army to withdraw from the battle and head immediately for a crossing of the Red River. Lin Biao had previously captured a floating bridge. This was used for the crossing.
Mao chose a route that took the Red Army into Yunnan. Since the Red Army appeared not to to be invading Sichuan province the Sichuan Army did not pursue it.
The expectation among the troops of the Red Army was that the Red Army would go west in Yunnan and then head north into Sichuan. Mao chose instead to make a surprise maneuver. Instead of pursuing a path that would take the Red Army to a point where it could cross the Changjiang (Yangtze) he chose to backtrack into Guizhou, the area that had just been escaped from. Mao suggested the Red Army again take control of Zunyi. The leadership council of the Red Army approved Mao's proposal. Mao justified this maneuver on the basis of reports that the Nationalist Army was sending units west into the area in Sichuan the Red Army was expected to enter. This was in February of 1935.
At Zunyi the Red Army would be not too far from the Changjiang (Yangtze River) and Zhang's Soviet on the other side. Mao chose not to attempt a march to the river and its crossing. Probably the Red Army would have been too vulnerable to an attack by Chiang's forces at such a crossing. Instead Mao took the Red Army south and led the Nationalist Army on such a chase that its leaders decided finally to stop until they could determine what Mao was trying to do. At that point Mao took the Army on a dash for the Jinshajiang (River of Golden Sands) to make a crossing before the Chiang and the Nationalist Army commanders knew what the Red Army was doing. This is cited as evidence of the brilliance of Mao as guerilla army leader. Jung Chang and her husband give a different explanation for Mao's maneuvers. They feel that Mao was very reluctant to merge with Zhang's forces which were ten times larger than those of Mao. According to them Mao was afraid he would be over-shadowed by Zhang Guotao and his Fourth Frong Army. Lin Biao, who was an exemplary commander of a major portion of the Red Army, also had his doubts about the wisdom of Mao's action. Lin Biao, after leading his troops on the meandering path Mao was taking them on, introduced a motion at a major meeting that Mao relinquish the military command of the Red Army to Peng Dehuai.
One of the enduring legends of the Long March was of the super-heroic capture of the the suspension bridge across the Dadu River at Luding. Mao Zedong found that ferrying the Red Army across the Dadu River might takes months and keep it vulnerable to attacks by air and on the ground by Nationalist forces. He ordered the capture of the Luding Bridge.
The Luding Bridge is a unique structure. It is a suspension bridge held up by thirteen iron link chains. It was built aroung 1700 by the Qing Empire on the border of Tibet. Potentially the capture of this bridge could be very difficult. The chains were covered by cross planks of wood and these could be easily removed or burnt leaving only the chains. Mao Zedong gave the assignment for the capture of the bridge to Lin Biao's unit. Lin in turn gave the assignment to one of his commanders. That commander had to quick march his troops 24 hours in hopes of reaching the bridge before Nationalist troop reenforced its defenses.
The bridge was held by the forces of a local warlord. The relationship between the warlord and Chiang Kaishek was very fragile. Nominally the warlords of the region were allied with Chiang and Chiang was supposed to supply them with weapons and munitions but otherwise let them govern their territories. Chiang was a greater danger to them than the Red Army. The Red Army was just passing through, but if Chiang's forces came into their territory on the pretext of fighting the Communists they were unlikely to leave. For the warlords the best resolution of the situation was for the Red Army to pass through their territories. To engage in a pitched battle was likely to bring Chiang's troops in ostensibly to help them in the battle but more likely to take direct control of the territory.
The warlord's soldiers at Luding were armed only with bolt-action rifles and the ammunition they had would carry only about 100 feet. In contrast the Red Army had superior weapons which they had captured from the Nationalish Army soldiers. Chang had acquired German weapons as a result of his new relationship with National Socialist Germany.
When Lin Biao's troops arrived at the bridge there were about twenty who were willing to carryout the attack across the bridge. There are differences of opinion as to how much of the bridge was without cross planking. Harrison Salisbury says that most of the planking had been removed except for a small section at the west end of the bridge. Jung Chang and Halliday say that most of the planking was intact except for a small section at the west end. There was a guard house at the west end manned by warlord troops armed with antiquated rifles.
In contrast the Red Army soldiers were armed with submachine guns. At some point the Red Army soldiers apparently did have to crawl upsidedown under the chains while the defending soldiers did or could have shot at them. However the Red Army soldiers were apparently able to maintain such a density of fire that the defending soldiers spent most of their time huddled down. In any case, apparently none of the Red Army soldiers were killed in the bridge crossing. There were three or four killed after they made the crossing and went on to capture the town. The warlord soldiers abandoned the guard house soon after the Red Army soldiers started tossing hand grenades in their direction. They may have been advised by the warlord not to try to fight a pitched battle.
What was the truth of the matter? Fortunately we have the authoritative accessment of situation by Deng Xiaoping as told to Zbigniew Brzezinski, the former National Security Advisor to President Jimmy Carter. On March 9, 2005 Brzezinski gave the Michael Oksenberg Lecture for the Asia-Pacific Research Center of the Stanford Institute for International Studies. The speech was entitled America and the New Asia. In it Brzezinski related the following anecdote:
After I left office, I was invited by Chairman Deng to take my family to China and to be his guest, and when the Chinese ambassador came to see me with the invitation, he asked me what it is that I would like to do while I was there. My children were very young teenagers, three of them, as well as my wife, and I invited Mike [Armacost] to join us. David and Debbie Oksenberg came along also. I told the Chinese ambassador that after reflection I didn�t think I wanted to see Shanghai and Beijing. I�d been to both in any case. I wanted to visit Xian, where I hadn�t yet been. I wanted to do something there that no American, no Westerner, had done�namely, retrace the more remote portions of the Long March, to go to the Himalayan Plateau and to retrace the Long March for about two weeks.
The Chinese ambassador was startled. He said, �I�ll look into it and report back to you.� Then he came back some days later and said, �Of course, the Chinese government is delighted by your interest and your request of course would be honored, but, alas, it is not possible because those portions of China are closed to foreigners.� Knowing a little bit from Mike about the importance of face in interacting with the Chinese, I adopted the tactic of looking at him with obvious disbelief, and then slightly laughing, and saying, �Ho, ho, this must be a misunderstanding. Chairman Deng invites me and my family to China and now you�re coming back and telling me that I�m forbidden to go to that part of China I want to go to. It�s clearly a misunderstanding!� He readily agreed that it was a misunderstanding and that he would review the facts.
He went away, came back a few days later and said, �Oh course, you have permission to go to those remote parts of China where no Westerners have been; you can retrace the Long March, but, alas, it�s not possible, because one, there are no facilities in the area at all. You have to sleep on cots in party offices, in small towns or villages. Second, in some areas there are really no roads, and you will have to ride horseback and you will also have to literally walk up mountains, and third, this is not a good time to go into that part of China, because there are a lot of mosquitoes.�
So I said to him, �Well, as far as sleeping on the cots is concerned, my family and I are quite sportive and we like camping, so that�s absolutely a wonderful prospect. We�d love to camp on cots in party cells. As far as riding horses is concerned, we live in Virginia, and we happen to have horses; we love riding horses, so that�s wonderful. We�d love to do it, and we also like climbing hills. And as far as the mosquitoes are concerned, we�ll bring with us something, Mr. Ambassador, that�s called Raid, and we�ll spray them and that will kill them, and therefore there will be no problem with mosquitoes.�
So he said, a day later, �Please come to China and retrace the Long March.� So we did, and after that trip I went to Beijing. I had one of a number of visits that I had in subsequent years with Deng. By this time he didn�t want to talk about anything involving American-Chinese relations. He just wanted to talk about the Long March, and he asked me, �Did you go there? In Zunyi?� �Yes,� I replied, �I was in Zunyi. When I was in Zunyi I slept in the same bed as Mao Zedong.� I even told them we went to Luding Bridge, which was the site of a special, important heroic battle in which the Red Forces were able to cross the river under very difficult and treacherous conditions. If they hadn�t they would have been wiped out. It was a great feat of arms to have crossed that bridge. At that point, Chairman Deng smiled and said, �Well, that�s the way it�s presented in our propaganda. We needed that to express the fighting spirit of our forces. In fact, it was a very easy military operation. There wasn�t really much to it. The other side were just some troops of the warlord who were armed with old muskets and it really wasn�t that much of a feat, but we felt we had to dramatize it.�
Page 3 of the transcript of the speech.
That pretty much tells the story of the capture of the Luding Bridge.
The rest of the Red Army joined the assault force at Luding after a few days. They rested there only a day and, as the warlord anticipated, moved on. The Communist Fourth Front Army, under the command of Zhang Guotao, was in northwest Sichuan at the time. Mao made no effort to join up with Zhang. Harrison Salisbury says this was because the two armies were not in contact with each other and did not know where the other was. Jung Chang says that it was because Mao did not want to join the larger, stronger force and be relegated to second place in command. Mao had the official Communist Party command structure with him, but there would be, if nothing else, a loss of face in meeting up with Zhang.
Mao faced a small range of high mountains, called the Snowy Mountains. He could have taken a route to the west of this range which would have followed a caravan route, but it would have been through a region well populated with potentially hostile Tibetans. He could have chosen a route to the east of the range but that might have exposed the Red Army to attack by Chiang's forces. Instead he chose to take a route through the Snowy Mountains that involved traversing a pass with an altitude of fourteen thousand feet. This was the Jiajinshan. The time was early June but the weather at fourteen thousand feet is that of winter and people have trouble just walking unburdened at that altitude. The typical load carried by the soldiers was on the order of twenty five pounds. Some, such as the cooks, tried to carry loads as heavy as eighty pounds. Frostbite and snow-blindness were a constant threat. The soldiers were advised not to pause at all during the climb up. For the descent on the other side they were advised to try to slide as much as they could.
It was a heroic passage. But the Jiajinshan was not the only snowy mountain. The Red Army had to traverse many snow mountains. On the farside of the Snowy Mountains Mao's First Army was met by a contingent of Zhang's Fourth Army.
Mao and Zhang had never been close. They had last seen each other in 1923 and at that time had taken opposing positions on some policy issue in a Communist Party conference. In a village on the northside of the Snowy Mountains Mao arrangements for his meeting with Zhang to place with great fanfare. Zhang came to meet Mao, a move that acknowledged Mao's superior status within the Communist Party hierarchy but he and the dozen subordinates that he brought with him rode in on horses. Zhang rode a white horse. It was raining heavily. Mao and his group leaders were waiting under an oilcloth shelter. They left the shelter to meet Zhang and his group where they dismounted. Mao and Zhang embraced. Back at the shelter Mao gave a speech to the assembled throng waiting in rhe rain. Zhang also gave a speech. The niceties of proper protocol had been observed. Zhang had demonstrated that he could accept Mao's superior status within the Party and Mao demonstrated that he could treat Zhang as a near-equal. Both Mao and Zhang had been, along with ten others, founders of the Communist Party of China in 1921.
Not everyone conceded that proper protocol was observed. Some felt that Zhang and his party had not halted their horses soon enough as they approached Mao who was on foot. They felt Zhang and his men came close to spattering mud on Mao and his group. But all in all Zhang's behavior toward Mao was an amazing concession. Zhang had close to eighty thousand combat troops, well fed and well armed. He had an equal number of noncombatants under his command. He had control over a large territory with a population of several hundred thousand. Mao on the other hand had less than ten thousand starving and bedraggled soldiers with little ammunition. However, despite Mao and Zhang observing proper protocol, they probably were suspicious and wary of each other.
After the festivities of the coming together of the First and Fourth Red Armies there was a political meeting concerning the very serious business of the future strategy of the Communist forces. At the meeting Mao proposed that the Communist movement move north to where it could be supplied by the Soviet Union through Outer Mongolia. The meeting did not settle upon a definite directive for all who were involved. Outside of the meeting there were attempts to arrange a merging of the First and Fourth Army commands. Zhang promised to transfer two thousand soldiers to the First Army but only one thousand were actually transferred.
Later the combined armies were combined into two columns, denoted Left and Right. Mao and Zhang's troops were equally divided between the two columns. Mao traveled with the Right Column and Zhang with the Left.
So Mao took the group north. Zhang joined in physically but spiritually was following a different course.
The points of divide between the watersheds of two river system are necessarily places of zero slope. The water in those places is not impelled to go either way. These places at the borders of watersheds can be narrow, such as a mountain ridge, or they can be a broad plateau. In this latter case the plateau is a swamp, a place of mud and water without separation. This is the case of the region which is the divide between the watersheds of the Huang-he (Yellow River) and the Changjiang (Yangtze River) in northwest China. It is inaccurately called the Great Grasslands. More accurately it is the Great Morass. It was a territory without roads, without towns and without people.
The crossing was made more difficult by the altitude of ten thousand feet. The time was late August of 1935. At its northern location and altitude the summer has ended and freezing storms can occur in late August. Furthermore there was very little that was edible and almost no firewood. Thus the only food available for the Red Army was what they brought with them and even that often could not be properly cooked. At ten thousand foot altitude water boils at a lower temperature than at sea level and the boiling of food takes an inordinately long time. The soldiers resorted to parching the grains such as wheat and millet rather than trying to boil them.
When soldiers sunk into the morass they could not get out and sometimes those attempting to rescue them were lost as well. Hundreds of people died of cold and exhaustion in the week it took to traverse the Great Grasslands. Those that survived called the crossing the most difficult of all the episodes of the Long March. Ironically the Great Grasslands were beautiful to view, a giant carpet of flowers of multiple colors.
As part of the attempt to merge the armies of Mao and Zhang, the subcommanders from Zhang's army had been put in command of the Right Column, the column Mao traveled with and Mao's subcommanders had the command of the Left Column, the one Zhang traveled with. Most of the soldiers in both columns were from Zhang's forces.
The two columns traveled separately. When Zhang and the Left Column reached the White River (known by the Tibetan name Gequ) they found it in flood and could not cross it. Zhang then proposed that the plan to take the armies north be abandoned and insteand they should go south. Mao and the Central Commission which he dominated rejected Zhang's proposal.
Zhang then sent a coded message to one of his subcommanders who was with the Right Column. The subcommander was too busy to decode it himself and instead one of his subordinates decoded the message instead. That subordinate happened to be loyal to Mao. The message essentially called for the subcommander to take control of Mao and the members of the Politburo. Mao recognized that armed conflict between the forces loyal to him and those loyal to Zhang could break out at any time. Mao extricated his forces and headed north. The subcommander loyal to Zhang chose not to attack the fleeing forces of Mao. The Zhang forces then moved south.
In order to reach Gansu Province the Red Army of Mao would have to capture Lazikou Pass. This pass at some points was as narrow as twelve feet, making it relatively easy to defend. The Nationalist army had built blockhouses equiped with machine guns to defend the pass. Several hundred Nationalist soldiers were defending the pass.
The first assaults on the pass by the troops of the Red Army accomplished nothing. There were rumors that additional Nationalist troops were on their way to the pass.
After midnight Mao assembled about fifty soliers with mountaineering skills. They were sent to climb up the cliff to a point where they were above the blockhouse and could lobb grenades down upon the Nationalist soldiers in the blockhouse. It took the the mountaineers until dawn to make their ascent but when they started drop grenades on the blockhouse the Nationalist soldiers there abandoned it. The Red Army was then able to pass through into Gansu Province. On September 21st of 1935 Mao and his army arrived at the city of Hadapu in Gansu. In Hadapu they found newspapers and the information that a Communist enclave existed in northern Shaanxi Province. It was controlled by someone that Mao knew and trusted, Liu Zhidan. Mao decided to take the bedraggled remnant of his First Front Army to that area. The Long March had not quite ended.
The Red Army of Mao was now down to about six thousand people. The ranks of ordinary soldiers were greatly depleted. Most of the survivors were officers and cadres. But this hardened army could move quickly.
Just before the army entered Shaanxi Province a new complication was revealed. Horsemen brought Mao a message from Liu Zhidan. He had lost control of his soviet to some Moscow-trained Bolsheviks and was in prison awaiting execution.
Sometime before the Communists captured a Nationalist army officer. He claimed he was a Communist acting as an undercover agent in the Nationalist Army and said that Liu Zhidan was verify his story. The Communists shot him anyway and decided that Liu Zhidan was a Nationalist agent. The Moscow-trained Marxists became paranoid. They began purging their ranks of suspect Nationalist agents. Finally they arrest the leader of the soviet, Liu.
When Mao arrived he was able to convince the Bolsheviks to free Liu Zhidan and his fellow prisoners. Mao had been willing to use the Red Army if necessary to save Liu.
(To be continued.)
See the story of the episode of the Great Leap Forward.
For the story of the Cultural Revolution see the Great Cultural Revolution.
For the story of an offshoot of the Cultural Revolution in Heileungjiang Province in North China see People or Monsters.
For other material on the history of China see the Economic History of China.
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