Years of strug­gle and sac­ri­fice that led to suc­cess

China Daily (USA) - - CHINA -

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.”

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