THANKS to the lawyers of Pakistan the term ‘long march’ has become familiar to most of us. But the original long march, undertaken by the Red Army of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in 1934-35, is probably one of the most important events in human history. It impacted not just Asia but the whole world.
Mao Zedong, the hero of the long march, was born in late 1893, at a time when China was in deep crisis. The Qing dynasty, which had ruled China for over 200 years, was getting weaker by the day. The country was disintegrating internally due to the presence of numerous warlords. Externally it was reeling under the attacks of the imperialist powers, which included Japan, Britain and France. The situation was reminiscent of the last days of the Mughal empire in India.
At that time Sun Yat-sen, a physician turned politician, emerged as a saviour. He managed to get rid of the monarchy in 1911 with the support of the public and an alliance of revolutionary groups, and shortly thereafter formed the Kuomintang (KMT) or Nationalist Party. China was declared a republic. This was a great achievement but China remained divided between the KMT and the Communist Party.
On Sun’s death the KMT was taken over by Chiang Kai-shek, a devout Christian and staunch anti-communist. He was strongly supported by the US which provided KMT with modern weaponry and finances. Following this the KMT forces started attacking communist bases in South China and thousands of communists were massacred in Shanghai. The Red Army was no match for the KMT forces and decided to beat a retreat so as to avoid encirclement. Thus was launched the famous long march.
The long march extended over 8,000 miles, in the course of which the Red Army crossed many turbulent rivers, lofty mountains and vast swampy grasslands. It was an unbelievable act of endurance. Its aim was to reach the north-west city of Yan’an in Sha’anxi province, as far as possible from the reach of the KMT forces.
The Red Army was made up of many factions and Mao was in charge of the First Army which started with 82,000 troops. But by the time it arrived in Sha’anxi there were only 8,000 survivors, the rest having been killed by Chiang’s forces, starvation and disease. Amongst the casualties were Mao’s two children and a brother. In February 1935, Mao’s wife He Zizhen gave birth to a daughter. Given the harsh conditions the infant was left with a peasant family. She was never seen again.
While costly in terms of casualties, the long march gave the Red Army time to recuperate and rebuild its strength at its new base in Yan’an. The communists gained support from the peasantry throughout the long march because of their dedication, sacrifice and courteous behaviour. In addition, many units of Chiang’s army deserted him and joined them.
The Red Army also had 2,000 women who also handled cooking, laundry and other cleaning jobs. Their experiences are described by Helen Praeger Young in her book Choosing Revolution.
Mao wrote in praise of the long march in 1935: “The long march is a manifesto. It has proclaimed to the world that the Red Army is an army of heroes while the imperialists and their running dogs, Chiang Kai-shek and his like, are impotent. It has proclaimed their utter failure to encircle, pursue, obstruct and intercept us. The long march is also a propaganda force. It has announced to some 200 million people in eleven provinces that the road of the Red Army is their only road to liberation.”
Following the Second World War and the defeat of the Japanese, the much stronger Red Army, now called the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), returned to drive the KMT forces out of mainland China. Chiang Kai-shek with a small entourage of his followers fled to the island of Taiwan under the protection of the US navy. China was at last free of foreign domination and feudalism. The PLA is now not only a mighty fighting force but also a nation builder as was seen after the recent earthquake in China.
On Oct 1, 1949 Mao and senior leaders of the CCP climbed to a reviewing stand on the great Tiananmen Gate in Beijing and Mao proclaimed to a thundering crowd, “The Chinese people have stood up.” The world now knows how true this claim was.
Coming back to the lawyers’ long march, in my opinion it will be a mistake to undertake yet another one. The people are now too engrossed in their day-to-day problems. I am doubtful if even the eloquence of Aitzaz Ahsan can induce them to join the march in large numbers. The lawyers will have to wait for a political solution to their very just demand.
Source: Daily dawn, 17/7/2008