The Long March
Communist Survival
Mao on the Long March in the "Socialist Realiism" Style
Emblem of the People's Liberation Army (with the numbers 8 and 1 representing the Nanchang Uprising of August 1, 1927 -- the first engagement between the Nationalists and Communists in the Chinese Civil War)
Mao Zedong in Yenan (with coffee can)[In October 1927, Mao took] the surviving Autumn Harvest troops — perhaps 1,000 in all — and marched south of Changsha up into the isolated Jinggang Mountains on the border between Hunan and Jiangxi. ... Mao’s own actions during this period were often dictated by practical rather than theoretical considerations. Just before the Autumn Harvest Uprisings he had told the CCP Central Committee that he favored the immediate formation of strong peasant soviets, that such soviets should be bonded together in revolutionary solidarity by a thorough confiscation and redistribution of land, and that he wished to give up all pretense that he still had any loyalty to the Guomindang flag. These positions were angrily rejected by the Central Committee at the time, but by the end of 1927, following changes in Stalin’s stated policies, the Central Committee endorsed all three positions and added that the party should also support an uninterrupted series of uprisings in the countryside. The purpose of these uprisings would not be to establish stable bases, but to keep the masses at a high pitch of revolutionary awareness and to instill that same awareness thoroughly in the armed forces involved.
       By the time the Central Committee had come to these decisions, however, Mao’s practical experiences in Jinggang had led him to abandon essentially all of them. ...
Emblem of the People's Liberation Army (with the numbers 8 and 1 representing the Nanchang Uprising of August 1, 1927 -- the first engagement between the Nationalists and Communists in the Chinese Civil War)
Map showing Communist movement from Wuhan to the Jinggang Mountains then to eastern Jiangxi and south to western Fujian before establishing the Jiangxi Soviet with it's center in Ruijin
At the end of 1928 the sustained level of Guomindang attacks forced Mao to abandon the Jinggang Mountains. After moving steadily eastward, first across Jiangxi province and then into western Fujian, the Jinggang fugitives finally settled in a new border region — the mountainous area between Jiangxi and Fujian provinces. Here they made the town of Ruijin their new base and the center of a new regime, the Jiangxi Soviet, which was to endure until 1934. (SMC, 365-7)
Land Reform: Peasants Confronting Landlord
It should not be imagined that ... the whole of rural China was seething with the hatred of peasants against their landlords. It is true that during the 1920s and 1930s there were thousands of incidents in which peasants either in small or large groups — out of anger or desperation used violence against local authorities. But these attacks were mainly against the representatives of the state: the civil and military officials who gouged them with high taxes and unexpected surcharges, conscripted their labor without adequate compensation, compulsorily purchased their land for public-works projects, or forced them either to plant or uproot their opium-producing poppies, depending on the vagaries of the local and national drug trade. There were, comparatively, far fewer cases of violent action against landlords, although these did occur. Since more resident landlords depended for their rents on some degree of tenant prosperity and contentment, such anger was usually directed against absentee-landlords’ managers or bailiffs when they tried to extract high rents in periods of natural disaster. The skill of Communist organizers like Mao lay in transforming a largely fiscal discontent into class warfare, so as to push effectively for revolutionary change under CCP leadership. (SMC, 367-8)
Karl Marx quote on class struggle
Emblem of the People's Liberation Army (with the numbers 8 and 1 representing the Nanchang Uprising of August 1, 1927 -- the first engagement between the Nationalists and Communists in the Chinese Civil War)
In the area of military planning, too, Mao had been growing more experienced — and more canny. ... The “Red Army,” as [Mao Zedong and Zhu De] had structured it, now became a fast-moving guerrilla force that performed with great courage against the attacks of the Guomindang. Although only about 2,000 Red Army troops were left by early 1929, Mao and Zhu vigorously opposed the directive by Li Lisan that they fragment their forces further by scattering them across the countryside in tiny units to foster local uprisings. As they wrote proudly to Li:
Cover of "Mao Tse-tung on Guerrilla Warfare"The tactics we have derived from the struggle of the past three years are indeed different from any other tactics, ancient or modern, Chinese or foreign. With our tactics, the masses can be aroused for struggle on an ever-broadening scale, and no enemy, however powerful, can cope with us. Ours are guerrilla tactics. They consist mainly of the following points:
Divide our forces to arouse the masses, concentrate our forces to deal with the enemy.
The enemy advances, we retreat; the enemy camps, we harass; the enemy tires, we attack; the enemy retreats, we pursue.
To extend stable base areas, employ the policy of advancing in waves; when pursued by a powerful enemy, employ the policy of circling around.
Arouse the largest numbers of the masses in the shortest possible time and by the best possible methods.
Their very success in consolidating and then expanding the Red Army in Ruijin paradoxically led to the optimistic view of the Central Committee that their troops had grown strong enough to fight outside the soviet area in conventional positional warfare. So in 1930, not long after the Xunwu investigation was completed, Mao and Zhu received direct orders, which they could not disobey, to attack Nanchang. These orders were part of an ambitious plan by Li Lisan to move the Communist struggle back to a revolutionary crest; assaults against Wuhan and Changsha were planned at the same time. All three ventures failed, although Communist forces held Changsha for ten days before the Guomindang retook it. When Mao and Zhu, defeated at Nanchang, were ordered to help the Communist troops at Changsha recapture the city, they reluctantly agreed; but faced with the annihilation of their carefully nurtured forces, they withdrew from the battle without permission and returned to Ruijin. (SMC, 369-71)
Icon of the Nationalist Party
Portrait of German General Von Falkenhausen
Chiang Kai-shek in 1928
Portrait of German General Hans Von Seeckt
In the face of the Guomindang’s military superiority in terms of conventional forces and modern weapons, the CCP had attempted a successful new strategy for survival, one in which it temporarily gave up its urban bases and reliance on the proletariat, and reconsolidated deep in the countryside. Living among poor peasants, on whose support they now depended, CCP leaders had to adjust their thinking. Chiang Kai-shek also had to rethink his strategies and priorities. His Guomindang had won the cities, and defeated or allied with the strongest northern militarists. But to win over the countryside would take a massive and concerted military, political, and economic effort. To help with this endeavor, Chiang turned to a new source of aid and expertise, the Germans, hiring several of their military specialists to help him with logistical and long-range military planning. But it was only in 1932 that Chiang’s growing political power let him move the relationship into high gear. In that year Chiang had arranged that he himself be named both chief of the General Staff and chairman of the National Military Council, which commanded the army, navy, and air force. ... Since the commander in chief was empowered with complete civil, military, and party control in all areas where Communists were active, the five yuan of the national government had essentially no checks on his actions. Nor could they prevent an accompanying concentration of funds in the military.
Nanjing Government’s Military and Debt Expenditures
(in millions of Chinese dollars)
cf. SMC, 373
  Military Expenses Debt Service Military and Debt
Year Amount % of Total Amount % of Total Amount % of Total
1928-29 210 50.8 158 38.3 368 89.1
1929-30 245 45.5 200 37.2 445 82.7
1930-31 312 43.6 290 40.5 602 84.1
1931-32 304 44.5 270 39.5 574 84.0
1932-33 321 49.7 210 32.6 531 82.3
1933-34 373 48.5 244 31.8 617 80.3
1934-35 368 34.4 356 33.2 724 67.6
1935-36 220 21.6 275 26.9 495 48.5
1936-37 322 32.5 239 24.1 561 56.6
As the above table of government expenditures shows, when direct military costs were combined with accrued debt interest — often incurred for military needs as well — the amount left to the rest of the “government” for its expenses was never more than 20 percent of the total until 1934-1935. And these figures do not generally include provincial allocations for military defense and security.
Guomindang Blockhouse
At the same time, the Guomindang put new demands on the people in the form of conscripted labor and heavy surtaxes as — again following the Germans’ strategic suggestions — they began an ambitious program to build airfields and an encircling network of roads in the war zones. The Guomindang also set out to construct a line of sturdy stone or brick block houses around the entire Jiangxi Soviet area. The block houses both helped to consolidate an economic blockade and acted as defensive points, supply storehouses, emergency field hospitals, and the bases for forward operations. These tactics not only reflected German advice based on their World War I experience but were designed partially in emulation of Zeng Guofan’s suppression of the Nian rebels seventy years before. To back up the fourth and fifth suppression campaigns undertaken in 1933 and 1934, 1,500 miles of new road were built, and 14,000 block houses. (SMC, 372-4)
Emblem of the People's Liberation Army (with the numbers 8 and 1 representing the Nanchang Uprising of August 1, 1927 -- the first engagement between the Nationalists and Communists in the Chinese Civil War)
Map showing the route of the Long March
By mid-1934 Chiang Kai-shek’s policy of combining an economic blockade of the Jiangxi Soviet region with a military encirclement based on coordinated road systems and blockhouses had made the position of the Communist forces extremely difficult. In August of that year, the four men most dominant in the military planning of the Jiangxi Soviet — Red Army commander in chief Zhu De, the leading member of the returned Bolshevik group Bo Gu, Zhou Enlai and the Comintern agent Otto Braun — reached general agreement that the soviet should be abandoned by the majority of the Communists. ...
Portrait of Zhu De
Zhu De
Accordingly in September, the Communist troops were readied for a breakout to the southwest. Food, ammunition, clothing, and medical supplies all had to be prepared and allocated, CCP documents and files packed or destroyed, and personnel winnowed to see who would join the marchers and who would stay behind.
The withdrawal strategy was coordinated by Zhou Enlai. The front thrust of the evacuation was to be given by the veteran troops of the First and the Third Army Corps. These troops were commanded by two of the Communists’ finest generals, who had earned their promotions on the Northern Expedition and in the early years of the Jiangxi Soviet: the First Corps was led by Lin Biao, a former Whampoa cadet, now aged twenty-seven, and the Third Corps by the thirty-six-year-old Peng Dehuai. Lin had around 15,000 combat troops in his corps and Peng 13,000, but they could not be armed adequately because of the Guomindang blockade. Each corps was equipped with only 9,000 rifles (each rifle with less than 100 cartridges), 2 field guns, 30 light mortars firing homemade shells, and 300 machine guns. There was a maximum of 500 or 600 rounds per machine gun, allowing for some ten minutes of high-speed firing per weapon in heavy combat. Most soldiers also carried 1 or 2 hand grenades.
Mao leading the Long March on horseback
80th Anniversary Painting of the Long March
Behind these two army corps came the bulk of the Jiangxi Soviet personnel. The “command column” with Central Committee members, intelligence staff, cadets, and a small anti-aircraft unit, was followed by the “support column,” with more party and government personnel, field-hospital units, the supplies of silver bullion carefully hoarded by the CCP, some machinery for making simple arms and ammunition, along with printing equipment and political pamphlets. With their hundreds of recently recruited pack carriers, these two columns were slow and cumbersome to move, comprising around 14,000 men, only 4,000 of whom could be considered combat troops. Three other smaller and less-well equipped army corps defended the flanks and rear of the columns, making a grand total for the breakout of some 80,000 men, each carrying about two weeks’ rations in rice and salt. (SMC, 375-7)
Map showing Phase 1 of the Long March
The initial phase went almost as planned. Peng Dehuai’s Third Corps rapidly broke the second defensive line, although Lin Biao’s First Corps took severe casualties in the mountains to the south. With both regional and Guomindang armies in close pursuit, the Long March forces adopted a round-the-clock policy of four hours’ marching and four hours’ rest, breaking through the third defense line on the Wuhan-Canton railroad. ... Over the next few weeks the Long March troops seized several Guizhou market towns, where they restocked their supplies and reorganized their columns after abandoning much of their heavy equipment, including artillery for which no more ammunition was available. Opposition was growing fragmentary, and ... on January 7, 1935, Communist advance troops entered the prosperous city of Zunyi [Tsunyi] before any of the wealthy merchants or Guomindang officials could escape. Here the Communists seized massive supplies of badly needed food and clothes, though the town’s stores of ammunition were disappointingly low. ...
Emblem of the People's Liberation Army (with the numbers 8 and 1 representing the Nanchang Uprising of August 1, 1927 -- the first engagement between the Nationalists and Communists in the Chinese Civil War)
Luding Bridge (with wooden planks removed)
Map showing the location of Luding within Sichuan and Sichuan's location in ChinaAt Luding Bridge, high over the Dadu River, a group of Communist troops performed an unusually daring military action that is held out as a symbol of the “Long March Spirit,” and is so recorded in Communist sources. According to these records, the only crossing of this swift, wide river was by a chain suspension bridge with a plank floor. Hostile troops had removed most of the planks and commanded a clear field of fire over the bridge. But twenty of the Communist troops — carrying grenades — crawled 100 yards hand over hand across the chains and stormed the position on the other side, routing the defenders. Even if the story has been embellished, it was a remarkable feat, and the maneuver enabled the rest of the Communist forces to cross the river safely by the end of May 1935.
Painting of the Red Army crossing the Luding Bridge with missing and burning planks
Emblem of the People's Liberation Army (with the numbers 8 and 1 representing the Nanchang Uprising of August 1, 1927 -- the first engagement between the Nationalists and Communists in the Chinese Civil War)
Long March: marching through snowy mountains
There followed a grim march across the “Great Snow” mountain ranges, during which Mao, sick with recurrent malaria, had to be carried in a litter at times, Lin Biao endured fainting spells from the thin air, and many soldiers suffered frostbite that later required foot or leg amputations. Harassed by Tibetan troops, sporadically bombed by the Guomindang air force, and climbing over terrain that reached 16,000 feet in places, the Long March troops at last reached the northern Sichuan town of Mougong [west of Chengdu] on June 12, 1935. Their original number had been halved to around 40,000. ...
Mao leading the Long March across snowy mountains
Emblem of the People's Liberation Army (with the numbers 8 and 1 representing the Nanchang Uprising of August 1, 1927 -- the first engagement between the Nationalists and Communists in the Chinese Civil War)
Map showing the route of the Long March
Map showing Zhang Guotao's Soviet in Eastern SichuanThe Communist forces now split up again. Zhang [Guotao, who had abandoned his soviet areas in eastern Sichuan to lead his 50,000 troops to a new base,] moved southwest to rest his troops and prepare supplies and warm clothing for the coming winter, while throughout late August and early September Mao’s exhausted column struggled across the bleak marshlands of the Qinghai-Gansu border region. Dramatic Communist records and memoirs describe how the driving rain and hail, quicksandlike bogs, lack of food, and the impossibility of sleeping on the saturated ground except standing up, led to thousands of deaths from illness and exhaustion among the marchers. By day they groped their way forward, guided by thin grass ropes laid along the ground by advance scouts. Leaving the swamps, Mao’s forces ran into renewed opposition from Gansu and Shaanxi troops as the column crossed below the western bend of the Yellow River and moved through the Liupan Mountains.

Red Army crossing the marshy Qinghai-Gansu border region
Emblem of the People's Liberation Army (with the numbers 8 and 1 representing the Nanchang Uprising of August 1, 1927 -- the first engagement between the Nationalists and Communists in the Chinese Civil War)
Map of the Long March Highlighting Yan'an
At last on October 20, at Wuqizhen in northern Shaanxi, near the Ningxia border, Mao’s troops met up with the north Shaanxi Communist guerrilla forces. About 8,000 to 9,000 of the 80,000 troops who had originally left Jiangxi were still with Mao. Over the course of the following year, surviving troops from Zhang Guotao’s and Zhu De’s “western column” (these units had been badly mauled in heavy fighting in western China) slowly straggled into the same area.
Yan'an: the end of the Long March
Emblem of the People's Liberation Army (with the numbers 8 and 1 representing the Nanchang Uprising of August 1, 1927 -- the first engagement between the Nationalists and Communists in the Chinese Civil War)
Long March Poster: "New Spring in Yan'an"
Summing up the experience in December 1935, Mao wrote: “The Long March is the first of its kind in the annals of History. It is a manifesto, a propaganda force, a seeding-machine. ... 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.” (SMC, 377-81)

How would you evaluate Mao's summary of the Long March?
Do you agree? Why or why not?
Icon of the Nationalist Party
Map of the Long March and Japanese Occupation
Crisis at Xi’an
United FrontPhoto of Zhang XueliangWhen they reached Shaanxi at the end of the Long March, the Communists reiterated the need for a “united front” stance against Japan. ... [Mao Zedong] called for a flexible approach that would draw together all those opposed to Japanese aggression, whether they were the wealthier urban classes, intellectuals, rich peasants, members of the government, Guomindang-controlled labor unions, or warlords. ... One powerful figure who had come to agree with this position was Zhang Xueliang, “the Young Marshal” of Manchuria, whose father had been blown up in his train by the Japanese in 1928 and whose own army had been driven out of Manchuria in 1931. ... Chiang gave him the task of wiping out the Communist soviet in the Hubei-Henan-Anhui border region, which Zhang successfully accomplished. But Zhang Xueliang was dismayed that, at the very time he was using his troops to kill the Communists, the Japanese launched a new series of military threats. They were now planning to establish an independent regime in Inner Mongolia and extend the demilitarized zones established by the Tanggu Truce of 1933 to include all of Hebei province. In November 1935 eastern Hebei, controlled by a Japanese-backed Chinese general, was put under a so-called East Hebei anti-Communist and Self-Government Council that gave the Japanese decisive control in the area. ...
Map showing Japanese Puppet State in Mongolia (Mengjiang) with a more accurate map of the three divisions that became the "Reorganized National Government of the Republic of China" in 1940
When Communist forces routed some of his best troops, causing heavy casualties, the Young Marshal confided to a friend that he had begun to wonder if the time had not come for “using ‘peaceful’ means to solve the communist issue.” In January 1936 the Communists appealed directly to Zhang’s troops — most of whom were in exile from their Manchurian homeland — to join “the workers’ democratic government and the Red Army” so as “to fight the Japanese jointly.” By February Zhang had held at least one meeting with the Communist negotiators, and in a brilliantly successful propaganda move the Shaanxi Communists released all the Manchurian army prisoners they had captured and indoctrinated with united-front anti-Japanese attitudes. ...
Chiang Kai-shekAlthough aware of these growing sentiments, Chiang Kai-shek continued to be tenacious in his desire to finish off the Shaanxi Communists before making any moves against Japan. ... In early December [1936], Chiang Kai-shek flew back to Xi’an, despite warnings from close friends and others that it was a dangerous thing to do. There he conducted a series of private interviews with the generals in the Young Marshal Zhang Xueliang’s army to test their loyalty, and moved decisively to break the Communists once and for all. ... Determined now to take an anti-Japanese stand, Zhang Xueliang and his senior officers held a final tense, protracted meeting on December 11, and at dawn on December 12 units of Zhang’s Xi’an army stormed Chiang Kai-shek’s headquarters in the hills outside the city. They killed most of Chiang’s bodyguards and finally captured the shivering, injured generalissimo, who had escaped in his night clothes, scaled a back wall of his compound, and hidden in a cave on the mountainside before being seized by Zhang’s men. (
SMC, 383-5)
The Xi'an Inicident
Zhang Xueliang & Yang Hucheng
The 8-Point Program
It is now over five years since Japan occupied China. National sovereignty has been infringed upon, and more and more of our territory lost to the enemy. ... At this very moment, the central authorities should do their utmost to encourage the army and people to launch nationwide resistance against Japan. But while our officers and men are engaged in bloody fighting against the enemy at the front, our diplomats have been doing their best to reach a compromise with alien invaders. ... When the students in Xi’an demonstrated for national salvation, police were ordered to open fire at these patriotic youths. Anyone with a conscience could not have let things go so far! Having for long years been colleagues of the Generalissimo, we could hardly sit by idly. So we offered him our last remonstrance for the sake of his personal safety and in order to stimulate his awakening.
       Now the army and people in northwest China unanimously demand:
1. Reorganize the Nanjing government to admit representatives of all parties and groups to jointly share the responsibility of saving the nation;
2. End all civil war;
3. Immediately release all the imprisoned leaders of the patriotic movement in Shanghai;
4. Release all political prisoners in the country;
5. Give a free hand to the patriotic mass movement;
6. Safeguard the political freedom of the people, including the freedom of assembly;
7. Earnestly carry out Dr. Sun Yat-sen’s Will; and
8. Immediately convene a conference on national salvation. (DC, 313-4)
Negotiations continued until Christmas Day 1936, when Chiang Kai-shek, who had steadfastly refused to issue any written statements since his kidnaping, offered a “verbal agreement” to Zhang and the other Xi’an leaders that he would review the situation. ... Chiang reached Nanjing at noon on December 26, to a rapturous greeting from a crowd of 400,000. The kidnaping and his own steadfastness had clearly revived Chiang’s popularity as a national leader. (SMC, 386)
Admonition to Zhang and Yang
Chiang Kai-shek
It is an ancient Chinese saying that a gentleman should correct his mistakes as soon as he realizes them. The present outcome of the coup d’état shows that you are both ready to correct your own mistakes, and that is creditable to you as well as auguring a bright future for the Chinese race. Since you are now so convinced by my sincerity towards you that you have courage to acknowledge your wrongdoing you are entitled to remain as my subordinates. Furthermore, since you can be so readily converted it will certainly be easier for your subordinates to follow suit. ...
       “The policy of the Central government for the last few years has been to achieve peace in and unification of the country and to increase the strength of the nation. Nothing should be done to impair this strength. During the present crisis, as you engineered the coup, you are responsible for bringing about warfare in the country. But as you have expressed remorse, I shall recommend the Central government to settle the matter in a way that will not be prejudicial to the interests of the nation.
       “In short you now know the situation of our country as well as my determination to save it. I always give first thought to the life and death of the nation as well as the success or failure of the revolution and do not pay any attention to personal favours or grudges. Questions of personal danger or loss are of no interest to me. I have had the benefit of receiving personal instruction from Dr. Sun concerning broad-mindedness, benevolence and sincerity, and am not vindictive with regard to things that have passed. As you felt remorse very early, it shows that you know that the welfare of the nation is above everything else. That being the case, you ought to obey unreservedly the orders of the Central government and carry out whatever decisions it may make. This is the way to save the nation from the dangers it is facing, and this is the way to turn a national calamity into a national blessing.” (
DC, 315-7)
At some levels, however, the subsequent events were anticlimactic. Zhang Xueliang was court-martialed for insubordination, tried in Nanjing, and sentenced to ten years in prison, soon commuted to house arrest. The Xi’an armies hostile to Chiang, after attempting further coups, were transferred to other regions, while troops of proven loyalty to Chiang were substituted. The CCP dramatically offered to submit its military forces to Guomindang leadership if a full national front against the Japanese were announced; but after extended meetings in February 1937, the Guomindang plenum responded by reiterating the need for anti-Communist vigilance and refused to make a full commitment to the united front. (SMC, 387)
Chiang Kai-shek and Mao Zedong Bobbleheads