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The Long March brought to life...,
This review is from: The Long March (Paperback)
In 1934 the Chinese communists of the first red army were fighting a drawn out campaign against the Nationalist Kuomingtang forces led by Chiang kai-shek. The communists, based in the mountains of southern Jiangxi, about 250 miles north of Hong Kong, were losing the war. With the Kuomingtang troops closing in on them they evacuated their bases in Ruijin and Yudu and began to walk, first West and then North, until eventually they reached Wuqi, not far from the border with inner Mongolia. Perpetually short of food and water, and battling the Kuomingtang troops most of the way it is estimated that only about 1 out of every 20 people who left Yudu in October 1934 made it to Wuqi, 4000 miles and a whole year later.
The `Long March' of the Red Army has become part of the folklore of modern Chinese history. It is a story of individual courage, fortitude and resilience, and the rise to pre-eminence of Mao Zedong. Yet recently, particularly in the wake of Jung Chang and Jon Halliday's biography of Mao, it has been fashionable to denigrate the achievements of the marchers. To suggest that the march wasn't actually that difficult, that the Kuomingtang aided the marchers rather than fought them, and that the whole legend was a fraud.
In 2002 Ed Jocelyn and Andy McEwen, two English journalists who were working in Beijing, set out to walk for themselves the Long March. This book follows their adventure. I found that the book worked well on two separate levels. First, it is a modern travelogue through the rural backwaters of China. Places where very few westerners ever visit. Second, it is a history of the Long March itself. The narrative flips between the experiences of the writers and the experiences of the Red army at the same locations. It is a great mix. Their modern experiences meeting the few veterans of the March along the way that are still alive, and encountering the possible abandoned daughter of Chairman Mao, brings to life the Long March in a way that a simple history could never achieve. Moreover, their experiences on the road are more than just a humorous catalogue of events that span extreme frustration and extraordinary kindness, because their trip ultimately has a destination and purpose. I was hooked from the end of Chapter one. As the story evolved it became clear that the original Long March really was a superhuman feat. Without the intervention of modern healthcare McEwen would never have made it. Without the need to fight pitched battles along the way it still took them 20 days longer than the Red Army. Jocelyn and McEwen's evaluation as they finished their journey of whether the March was a fraud "What rubbish". This is living history, illuminating and a great read.