The Long March (长征) was a retreat by Communist forces from Kuomintang (Nationalist) armies in 1934 and 1935, and is considered a strategic feat that directly led to the foundation of today's People's Republic of China. Long March veterans — Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai, Lin Biao, Deng Xiaoping and others — became leaders of the Communist Party and important figures in 20th-century Chinese history.
The March was in response to Chiang Kai Shek's determination to wipe out Communists strongholds in Jiangxi and Fujian once and for all. Their strategy was to encircle and crush, moving slowly and building fortifications. The Communists broke out of the encirclement and set off west. Eventually they settled in a new base at Yan'an in Shaanxi.
Exact numbers in various sources differ, but all say the journey took more than a year, covered several thousand kilometers mainly on foot, and crossed eight provinces. Over 80,000 men set out and not many over 10,000 completed the journey. Whatever else it is, the Long March is quite a tale of persistence in the face of adversity — climate, terrain and enemies.
There were several Communist armies which took different routes.
The main Red Army
The main Red Army started in Jiangxi and Fujian and travelled by a very circuitous route to finally reach Yan'an in Shaanxi.
- Ruijin on the Jiangxi/Fujian border
- Start from Yudu
- across south of Hunan (Rucheng, Yizhang)
- Northeast of Guangxi (Xing'an, Guangyang, Quanzhou)
- Southwest of Hunan (Tongdao)
- into Guizhou (Liping). At a conference in Zunyi, Mao was first appointed to the Central Committee.
- Southern Sichuan (Gulin, Xingyi)
- into Yunnan (Weixin)
- through the Kunming region
- North to Haili
- into western Sichuan, passing near Xichang, Luding, Barkham, Maoergai
- into Gansu
- into Shaanxi, Wuqi, Yan'an became their headquarters in the North.
The second and sixth Red Armies
Other Communist units started in Northern Hunan, around Hefeng and Longshan, and went southwest. They crossed the path of the main army in Guizhou, then went on to Kunming and from there up into Western Yunnan (near the modern routes described in Yunnan tourist trail). They went north on a route more or less parallel to the main army but further West, passing through Gatze and Aba into Gansu, and finally linking up with the main army near Yan'an.
The fourth Red Army
The fourth army started near Tongjiang in Sichuan, went more or less due west to link up with other forces at Gatze, then swung north through Aba to Gansu. Once in Gansu, it split with some troops going to Yan'an while others moved west to hold some Silk Road areas and try (unsuccessfully, as it turned out) to connect with Russian forces who might provide arms and other support.
Following the route today
Young Chinese all learn about the Long March (of course, the official Party version) in school and some retrace its route.
Some fairly expensive tours with English-speaking guides are available.
Starting in 2002 two British travelers retraced the route on foot, and one of them wrote a book about it, The Long March: The true story behind the legendary journey that made Mao's China. The book was controversial and is banned in China. Among other things, it claimed the route was quite a bit shorter than the 9,000 km in the official histories.