Years of struggle and sacrifice that led to success
It’s hard to imagine now what it must have been like to be a Red Army soldier on the Long March. Two years of effort, struggle and sacrifice ultimately succeeded in allowing the armies of the Communist Party of China to make their grand plan of a strategic shift a reality.
But the victory came at a terrible cost, with barely more than a quarter of those who began the march making it to the end.
I was invited to retrace the steps of those soldiers through Sichuan province, and as I was whisked along in one of four air-conditioned buses on smooth, modern highways, through tunnels and over bridges, it was easy to underestimate what was required of them 80 years ago.
Even as I looked out, on our first day, across the river at Anshun, where those tired soldiers— already eight months into their journey— had packed themselves into ancient boats to cross the raging torrent, I found it hard to visualize how much they must have suffered for their cause.
But suffer they did, especially at this point in the mass tactical shift, because although they ultimately succeeded in traversing the province, Sichuan proved costly to the army, both in terms of time and lives.
Countless hundreds died from the exertion required and the battles they fought as they passed through the rough, unforgiving terrain to be reunited with their comrades— so many, in fact, that an authoritative figure for the death toll doesn’t exist, even now.
It’s thought that at least 370 soldiers from Sichuan’s Aba prefecture were killed, yet the army beat on— circling through the mountains and striking further north to the relative safety in Northwest China.
It was only on the third day of our trip, following in the footsteps of those brave soldiers, that some small part of the suffering they endured finally came home to me.
We had been driving for almost two hours through a cold September morning up a steep, winding mountain track that was eaten away by landslips from below and strewn with boulders from above. As we climbed ever higher, the clouds descended around us until all that could be seen ahead or to the side was a blanket of white.
When we finally reached the summit of JiajinMountain, 4,600 meters above sea level, we clambered out of our bus into the thin air. Snow dusted the ground, and it was only thanks to a thick, woolen sweater and some short, sharp blasts on a can of supplemental oxygen that I was able to avoid feeling dizzy.
It was at this moment, in the bitter cold, that I first began to truly appreciate what those Red Army troops went through.
In all, those tens of thousands of soldiers crossed dozens of mountain ranges like this one to reach their final destination.
And as I stood looking out across the windswept peaks, the torment they had endured was finally revealed to me.
What a relief it must have been, I thought, for those troops to finally reach the grassland that rounded off our trip.
Their determination, heroism and courage formed the basis of the modern China we know today.
And just as in theWest, where we remember the many who gave their lives in bothWorldWars to ensure that future generations would not live under tyranny, China rightly remembers its heroes of the LongMarch, whose bitter struggles would ultimately help build a better tomorrow.
Itwas at this moment, in the bitter cold, that I first began to truly appreciate what those Red Army troops went through.”