On 12th March 1925, Sun Yat-sen, the leader of the Kuomintang died. He was replaced by Chaing Kai-Shek who now carried out a purge that eliminated the communists from the organization. Those communists who survived managed to established the Jiangxi Soviet.
The nationalists now imposed a blockade and Mao Zedong decided to evacuate the area and establish a new stronghold in the north-west of China. In October 1934 Mao, Zhou Enlai, Lin Biao, Zhu De, and some 100,000 men and their dependents headed west through mountainous areas.
The marchers experienced terrible hardships. The most notable passages included the crossing of the suspension bridge over a deep gorge at Luting (May, 1935), travelling over the Tahsueh Shan mountains (August, 1935) and the swampland of Sikang (September, 1935).
The marchers covered about fifty miles a day and reached Shensi on 20th October 1935. Only around 30,000 survived the 8,000-mile march.
During the Great Revolution, Chairman Mao was already aware that the peasants were the largest ally and that the people's revolution could not triumph without them. And sure enough, the revolution suffered defeat because his views weren't listened to. Later, when we got to the countryside. Chairman Mao saw that in order to carry out the revolution it is necessary not only to rely on the peasants, but also to win over the middle and petty bourgeoisie. As Chiang Kai-shek's counter-revolutionary treachery became further exposed, only the comprador-bureaucrat and feudal landlord classes supported him. But a group of people inside the Communist Party made "Left" deviationist mistakes and were very narrow in their outlook, holding that the middle and petty bourgeoisie were unreliable. They didn't listen to Chairman Mao, and the result was that the revolution suffered another setback and we had to march 25,000 li.
The conditions under which the Long March began could not have been worse, with totally inadequate food supplies, much cumbersome and useless baggage, no battle plans in relation to enemy troop movements. Li Teh was the man chiefly responsible for the conduct of this evacuation. Backed by Chin Pang-hsien, he overrode the opinions of other members of the Revolutionary Military Council, as he had done persistently during the fifth counter campaign.
During the last four months, up till the final day of departure, peasants of the base had laboured at earth fortifications and trenches; the new recruits in the Army had very poor training, severe shortages had affected their health. "Where were we going? Some were told we were going to beat the landlords and make revolution . . . We were told many different things. We did not know where we were going."
It appears that all that Li Teh knew of military science was the straight, straight line. He drew a straight line and that was the line of march. But one important detail had been forgotten. Maps. There were no maps except the maps Mao had collected. These maps did not indicate the straight, straight roads which Li Teh wanted for marching on. The Red Army men, exhausted after months of combat, of malnutrition, lack of salt, defeats, had had no time to rest. Yet these incredible peasants and workers hurled themselves at the lines of blockhouses, machine gun nests, trenches, fortifications, barbed wire entanglements, which surrounded the Juichin base, and broke them. Nine battles were fought against 100 regiments of the Kuomintang; 25,000 Red Army men died in the breakthrough.
During the first ten days the orders were to walk by night and rest by day; but there was no rest, as the open columns were pitilessly strafed by German-manned airplanes. The orders were changed to four hours of marching and four hours rest, day and night. But again there was no rest, for they were attacked, had no time to eat, to find shelter, water, before they were on the march again.
We fought every day, we were outnumbered. We could only pluck up courage, and sing: "The Red Army fears not
death/Who fears death is not a Red Army man." From the rear, from both sides as well as from the air, in front of them, the enemy attacked. "We were so tired, we strapped ourselves to trees, to our guns, we strung ourselves to each other. We slept standing up, we slept walking. We had only one thing in mind, sleep. But there was no sleep. The strong pulled the weak. We did not want to straggle, to be left behind. Long rows of us roped ourselves together so as to keep on the march. We called it sleep flying.
Always going straight as a ruler, the Red Army arrived on the east bank of the Hsiang river. It had to be crossed, for now the "plan" was to march straight across Hunan and then northwest, to join the base of the Second Front Army, although by then the bulk of the Second Front Army was elsewhere. A vast Kuomintang force barred the way, yet the river had to be forded. The Red Army waded through, the tall carrying the short; the children of 12 and 13 who in their hundreds had come to the Army and served as orderlies, cookboys, carriers and trumpeters hitched themselves onto the veterans' shoulders.
The Red Army fought (how they fought!) with marvellous courage, stood in two columns to allow their noncombatants to
use the lane between them to cross the river. There were not enough stretcher-bearers, many wounded lay in heaps dying. They stuffed cloth in their own mouths to keep from screaming. Many cadres also died, fighting side by side with the soldiers. Mao Zedong went to the wounded, but could not do very much except cover one with his overcoat.
The battle of the Hsiang river lasted a week, with horrifying losses. The dead and the dying littered the bank. This insane
attempt cost another 30,000 men. "We had to leave some of the wounded behind, there was no way to carry them. By now we had no footwear, some of us did not eat for four days; yet we fought." "I remember how it rained and it rained, we wallowed in mud, we sank in it; but we went through." According to Liu Po-cheng, by now half of the troops had been either killed or wounded grievously. But the "Head on, straight on" Li Teh would not change the orders.
From Kangmaoszu, the marshes stretched like a great sea, vague, gloomy and illimitable. In sunless days, there was no way to tell the direction. Treacherous bogs were everywhere which sucked a man down once he stepped off the firmer parts, and more quickly if he tried to extricate himself. We could advance only with minute care, stepping on grass-clumps. Even so, one could not help feeling nervous, for the grass mounds sank with the pressure and black water would rise and submerge the foot. Soon after one passed, the grass mound would rise to its original position, leaving not a trace of the footprint. It was really like traversing a treacherous quicksand. Fortunately, the advance unit had left a course hair rope which led meanderingly to the depth of the morass. We proceeded carefully along this rope, fearing that we might break it, for we knew clearly this was no ordinary rope, but a "life-line" that was set up by fraternal units at the cost of the lives of many good comrades.
We tried out almost all kinds of wild plants along our way. Later we discovered a sort of prickly, stumpy tree denuded of
leaves but with tiny red berries the size of a pea, and with a sour-sweet taste like cherries. This was accounted the best of our discoveries. Whenever this tree appeared in the distance, we would run straight toward it with a sudden flush of vigour. And some comrades, forgetting they were in a swamp, would run headlong into the mire and disappear. Those who reached the tree would begin eating, and when they had their fill, would pluck the rest for the wounded and sick comrades.
On the sixth day, someone dug out a kind of aqueous plant the size of a green turnip which tasted sweet and crisp. Everybody at once searched for it. It proved poisonous. Those who ate it vomited after half an hour; several died on the spot. Death, however, could not be allowed to delay our progress. Unfastening the quilts of the martyrs and covering their bodies we paid them the deep tribute all Red Army heroes warrant, and continued to push forward.
Today I discovered a comrade struggling in the muddy water. His body was crunched together and he was covered with muck. He gripped his rifle fiercely, which looked like a muddy stick. Thinking he had merely fallen down and was trying to get up, I tried to help him stand. After I pulled him up he took two steps, but the entire weight of his body was on me, and he was so heavy that I could neither hold him up nor take a step. Urging him to try and walk alone, I released him. He fell on the path and tried to rise. I tried again to lift him but he was so heavy and I so weak that it was impossible. Then I saw that he was dying. I still had some parched wheat with me and I gave him some but he could not chew, and it was clear that no food could save him. I carefully put the parched wheat back in my pocket, and when he died I arose and passed on and left him lying there. Later, when we reached a resting place I took the wheat from my pocket but I could not chew it. I kept thinking of our dying comrades. I had no choice but to leave him where he fell, and had I not done this I would have fallen behind and lost contact with our army and died. Yet I could not eat that parched wheat.
The higher we went, the narrower the path became. The slope was getting steeper, the air thinner. It was very dangerous to ride, so I dismounted and, grasping the tail of the mule, continued to struggle upwards. On this path rising through the sombre, virgin forest, were several other comrades who like me, were ill. They climbed, gritting their teeth, following closely the footsteps of the comrade in front.
At eleven a.m. we had, after much difficulty, reached to within six li of the summit when the bugle sounded for a rest. All sat down on the side of the path. Some ran down to the gully to drink water. Others took out their rations and began to eat. We would give the final battle to the snow mountain after we had eaten.
Though this section was not long, every step demanded the strength of my whole body. I purged less frequently, but I felt
awfully weak, as if I had not eaten for a long, long time. The air suddenly became thinner when we were some two hundred metres from the summit. Breathing became more difficult. With head spinning and eyes blurred, I could hardly stand, let alone go forward. 'Now I am done for', I said to myself. But immediately thought: 'Am I going to be defeated when the summit is in sight? I must not fall, for that would be the end of everything.'
I controlled myself with the utmost effort. I was struggling desperately when, luckily, comrades from the signal squad came up and gave me a hand. Just at this moment there was a thud from behind, followed by an outcry. I looked back. A carrier had fallen to the track, pole and all. Steadying my gaze, I saw that it was the young comrade Li Chiu-sheng who, so short a time before, had challenged me to a competition. I was racked with grief. We had lost another close comrade-in-arms.
The Supply Section head, hearing what happened, quickly hurried back and, with tear-filled eyes, buried Li Chiu-sheng's
Without warning there came a blast of wind. The sun was quickly shrouded by a heavy black cloud, and soon the whole sky darkened. Rain, intermixed with hail, came pattering down. The storm gathered force, and hailstones, the size of potatoes, beat down on us. The men covered their heads with basins, or shrouded them in quilts. I struggled with all my might to fold up two sheepskins. One I gave to my chief; the other I wrapped over my head.
Eventually the storm passed. Strewn on the track were ice and snow which were soon trodden into a lane as deep as a man's height as the troops proceeded. On both sides of this lane lay numerous dear comrades who, for the future of the people of the motherland, had struggled until they breathed their last. They sleep everlasting on this snow mountain. 'The nation's heroes are immortal.'
My chief, pole on his shoulder, leading me by the hand, continued to advance towards the last stretch.
'It is no easy task to carry on the revolution', he kept saying to me. 'And aren't those comrades who now lie on the roadside heroes who sacrificed themselves for it?'
As he talked, I saw his eyes redden. A few hot tears fell on my hand.
'We are still alive,' he went on, 'we mustn't slacken our effort. We must take up the cause of the martyrs and continue to
Hearing his words I was too moved for speech. Though I had not eaten for days and was racked by illness, I was a Communist. I was still quite young. But so long as I had one breath left in me, I would exert my last ounce of strength to scale the mountain. Gritting my teeth, I climbed and climbed and at last was at the summit.
In June 1955, after crossing the Dadu River, we came to the foot of Jiajin Mountain, a towering, snowcovered peak. The June sun had not yet set but its heat had lost its power in the face of this great icy mass.
We paused for a day at its foot. Chairman Mao had advised us to collect ginger and chilli to fortify ourselves against the bitter cold as we climbed the pass over the mountain. We started the climb in the early morning of the next day.
The peak of Jiajin Mountain pierced the sky like a sword point glittering in the sunlight. Its whole mass sparkled as if decorated with a myriad glittering mirrors. Its brightness dazzled your eyes. Every now and again clouds of snow swirled around the peak like a vast umbrella. It was an unearthly, fairyland sight.
At the start the snow was not so deep and we could walk on it fairly easily. But after twenty minutes or so the drifts became deeper and deeper. A single careless step could throw you into a crevasse and then it might take hours to extricate you. If you walked where the mantle of snow was lighter, it was slippery; for every step you took, you slid back three! Chairman Mao was walking ahead of us, his shoulders hunched, climbing with difficulty. Sometimes he would slip back several steps. Then we gave him a hand; but we too had difficulty in keeping our foothold and then it was he who caught our arms in a firm grip and pulled us up. He wore no padded clothes. Soon his thin grey trousers were wet through and his black cotton shoes were shiny with frost.
The climb was taking it out of us. I clambered up to him and said: "Chairman! It's too hard for you, better let us support you!" I stood firm beside him. But he only answered shortly: "No, you're just as tired as I am!" and went on.
Half way up the mountain a sudden, sharp wind blew up. Thick, dark clouds drifted along the top of the range. The gusts blew up the snow which swirled around us viciously.
I hurried a few steps forward and pulled at his jacket. "Snow's coming. Chairman!" I yelled.
He looked ahead against the wind. "Yes, it'll be on us almost at once. Let's get ready!" No sooner had he spoken than hailstones, as big as small eggs, whistled and splashed down on us. Umbrellas were useless against this gusty sea of snow and ice. We held an oilskin sheet up and huddled together under it with Chairman Mao in the centre. The storm raged around us as if the very sky were falling. All we could hear were the confused shouts of people, neighing of horses and deafening thunder claps. Then came a hoarse voice from above us.
"Comrades! Hold on! Don't give up! Persistence means victory!" I lifted my head and looked up. Red flags were flying from the top of the pass. I looked enquiringly at Chairman-Mao.
"Who's that shouting there?"
"Comrades from the propaganda team," the Chairman replied. "We must learn from them. They've got a stubborn spirit!"
The snowstorm dropped as suddenly as it had started, and the warm, red sun came out again. Chairman Mao left the oilskin shelter and stood up on the snowy mountainside. The last snowflakes still whirled around him.
"Well, how did we come out of that battle?" he asked. "Anyone wounded?"
No one reported any hurts.
As we went up higher, the going grew more difficult. When we were still at the foot of the mountain, the local people had told us: "When you get to the top of the mountain, don't talk nor laugh, otherwise the god of the mountain will choke you to death." We weren't superstitious, but there was some harsh truth in what they said. Now I could hardly breathe. It seemed as if my chest was being pressed between two millstones. My heartbeats were fast and I had difficulty in talking, let alone laughing. I felt as if my heart would pop out of my mouth if I opened it. Then I looked at Chairman Mao again. He was walking ahead, stepping firmly against the wind and snow. At the top of the mountain the propaganda team shouted again:
"Comrades, step up! Look forward! Keep going!"
Finally we gained the summit of the mountain pass. White snow blanketed everything. People sat in groups of three or five. Some were so exhausted that they lay down.
Popa was the largest mountain village around there, with 900 Tibetan families living in stone houses that looked like square fortifications. The Tibetans had all fled before the troops arrived. We could see red cloth strips hanging at all the doors which were sealed with charms or even locked. The yards were bare of everything, excepting a bit of firewood. To show our respect for minority people, the leadership decided that we should not enter the houses but bivouac outside the village.
The weather in early spring was still cold enough to make one shiver. More so, sleeping in the open at night, for a fire warmed the front but left the back icy cold. All one could do against the damp ground was to spread some straw over it.
Food posed a serious problem, for there was not enough even of grass roots and tree bark to suffice for all. The number of the wounded and the sick was mounting every day.
We decided to rest, recuperate and reorganise here.
It was said that a melon couldn't be detached from its stem, nor a child from its mother. So how could the Red Army exist apart from the people? But no troops had ever come here before, and the Tibetans were far from knowing that we were troops of the people. When they heard that troops were coming, their headman led them off to the mountains-, driving away sheep and cattle. The llamas in the temple also left.
We must get our strength, the people, to come back. The leadership issued orders that mass discipline should be strictly observed; that the customs and habits of the national minority should be respected; that the red cloth strips and charms on the doors should be left untouched; that the streets should be swept every day; and that we, the propaganda section, should all go out with the interpreters (one or two Hans who knew Tibetan were attached to every company) and try all we could to find the people and persuade them to return.
We divided our section into several groups. Some inscribed on walls big characters in Tibetan in conspicuous places in the village, slogans of the "three disciplines and eight points for attention" of the Red Army, and the Party's policy towards national minorities. Some went to the mountains to look for the people. We spent three or four days each trip, passing the nights in the wild mountains, in the forests or on the unbounded grassland. Often we would hear human voices and spot fresh dung of sheep or cattle without seeing a human shadow.
We had been on the job a dozen days when luck directed us to a stone cave in which the Tibetan headman was hidden. After much explaining and propagandising we learned that he longed for a horse. That would have been no difficulty at all in the past; but now all horses had been killed for food except the one ridden by the divisional commander. When on our return we mentioned this, he at once ordered his orderly to send the horse over.
The headman was extremely happy with the gift; yet he did not feel completely assured. He sent some men back with us to have a look at things. When these people saw the slogans at the village entrance, and discovered that the locks, the red cloth strips and the charms over the doors were untouched, that not one of the articles hidden within the seams of the walls was missing, that the streets were swept clean, and that we bivouacked outside the village in the cold, with stewed wild vegetables for food, they were profoundly moved and, palm to palm, saluted to us. Some did not wait but ran straight back to the mountain and related to the headman and their countrymen what they had seen in their village.
One by one the Tibetans returned from the mountains and the grassland, driving some 37,000 sheep and cattle laden with bags of barley and chanpa (a food made of barley flour and butter). With the headman in the lead, they opened the doors of their houses and, despite our protestations, took us into their homes with great fuss and ceremony. Some unearthed bacon which had been buried underground and presented it to us. They also made a gift of 300 sheep and cattle to us.
Sixteen names were called. Looking at these husky fellows, I thought the battalion commander had chosen well.
Suddenly a fighter broke from the ranks. 'I'll go too! I must go!' he cried, running towards the battalion commander. It was the messenger of the 2nd Company.
The battalion commander looked at him. 'Go!' he said, after a while. He was moved by the scene and approved this exception. The messenger brushed away his tears and ran quickly to join the crossing party.
The eighteen heroes (the battalion commander himself included) were equipped each with a broad sword, a tommy-gun, a pistol, half a dozen grenades and some working tools. They were organised into two parties. The one led by Hsiung Shang-lin, commander of the 2nd Company, was to cross first.
The waters of the Tatu rushed and roared. I scanned the enemy on the opposite shore through my field-glasses. They seemed very quiet.
The solemn moment had come. Hsiung Shang-lin and his men - eight in all - jumped on to the boat.
'Comrades! The lives of the one hundred thousand Red Army men depend on you. Cross resolutely and wipe out the enemy!'
Amid cheering the boat left the south bank.
The enemy, obviously getting impatient, fired at the boat.
'Give it to them!'
Our artillery opened up. Chao Chang-cheng, our magic gunner, swung his gun into position. 'Bang! Bang!' The enemy's
fortifications were sent flying into the sky. Our machine-guns and rifles also spoke. The sharp-shooters, more tense than their fellow fighters crossing, fired away feverishly. Shells showered on the enemy fortifications; machine-gun fire swept the opposite shore. The boatmen dug their blades into the water with zest.
The boat progressed, tossing on the surging waters. Bullets landed around it, sending up spray. The eyes of everybody ashore were glued on the courageous team.
Suddenly, a shell dropped beside the boat, creating a wave which shook the craft violently.
'Ah, it's the end!' My heart was in my mouth. The boat rose and fell with the wave, then resumed its normal course.
On it went, nearer and nearer the opposite shore. Now it was only five or six metres from it. The soldiers stood at the bow, ready to jump.
Suddenly a grenade and a hand mine were rolled from the top of the hill, exploding with a loud report halfway down, sending up a pall of white smoke. It seemed the enemy was really going to make a charge. I looked through my field-glasses and, just as I had expected, the enemy soldiers were sallying out from the hamlet. There were at least 200 of them against our few. Our crossing party would be fighting against overwhelming odds with the river at their back. My heart tightened.
'Fire!' I ordered the gunners.
Followed two deafening reports. The mortar shells directed by Chao Chang-cheng exploded right among the enemy. The heavy machine-guns rat-rattled.
'Come on! Give it to them hard!'
Shouts arose from the slope. The enemy scattered in a fluster, running for their lives.
'Fire, fire!' I ordered.
We pumped another shower of metal at them. Our heroes who had landed dashed forward, firing with their light and heavy weapons. The enemy retreated. Our men occupied the defence works at the ferry. But the enemy was still around.
The boat came back quickly. The eight other men, led by the battalion commander, went on board.
'Advance with the greatest possible speed, support the comrades who have landed!' I heard the battalion commander say to his men.
The boat pushed away and made quickly for the opposite shore. The enemy on the hill, trying to organise its entire fire to
destroy our second landing party, fired desperately towards the middle of the river.
The little boat dashed through wave after wave and dodged shower after shower of bullets.
A whole hour passed before it reached the shore. I took a deep breath of relief.
There ensued a duel of artillery fire between us and the enemy on the hill. The enemy threw a shower of hand mines and began to charge at the call of the bugle.
The two groups of landing heroes joined forces - eighteen of them - rushing towards the enemy, hurling their grenades, firing their tommy-guns and brandishing their swords. Utterly routed, the enemy ran desperately towards the rear of the hill. The north bank came under the complete control of our landing party.
After a while the boat returned to the south bank. This time I brought with me a number of heavy machine-gunners to consolidate the defence of the position.
It was getting dark. More and more Red Army men crossed safely. Pursuing the enemy, we captured two more boats on the lower reaches which sped up our crossing. By the forenoon of the next day, the whole regiment was on the opposite bank.