Historians’ Interpretations of the Long March and Chinese Civil War
Tom Ryan, Woodleigh School
Ross Terrill: “After Japan’s assaults on China began in 1931, Mao brilliantly presented the Communist movement as a national crusade against “imperialists” as well as a plan to recast society. Following bitter intraparty conflicts, he climbed to the party leadership during the Long March of 1934-35, when the Communists found their souls while almost losing their bodies in a trek twice the distance of the breadth of the United States, hotly pursued by Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists and assorted warlords and hostile non-Chinese tribes.”
Jung Chang and Jon Halliday: “There can be no doubt that Chiang let the CCP leadership and the main force of the Red Army escape.”
Edgar Snow: “It is impossible not to recognize the Long March as one of the great triumphs of men against odds, and men against nature. While the Red Army was unquestionably in forced retreat, its toughened veterans reached their planned objective with moral and political will as strong as ever…Their conviction had helped turn what might have been a terrible defeat into an arrival in triumph.”
Harrison E. Salisbury: “As General Qin Xingha of the National Military Museum pointed out 50 years later, the Long March was not just guns and bullets: it was three battles all in one – the battle with Chiang and his regional warlords, the battle against nature and the elements, and key of keys, the battle within the Communist Party, the battle of leader against leader and policy against policy.”
Maurice Meisner: “Measured by any standard of human accomplishment, and quite apart from one’s political persuasions, few would disagree with Edgar Snow’s assessment that the Long March was “an Odyssey unequaled in modern times.” But the heroism and great human drama of the epic should not be allowed to obscure the fact that it was born out of political failure and the prospect of military catastrophe and ended in a near military disaster. Having successfully withstood Chiang Kai-shek’s first four “encirclement and annihilation” campaigns (1930-33), the Communists had neither the economic or military resources to resist the new “blockhouse” strategy that Chiang’s imported German military advisors had devised for the fifth campaign. Abandoning the Chinese Soviet Republic and leaving the peasants who had supported them to the terrible reprisals of the Kuomintang marked a political defeat of very considerable magnitude. And the fact that the largest part of the Red Army was destroyed during the ordeals of the next year can hardly be seen as a victory. The exhausted survivors of the Long March who reached Shensi celebrated little more than the sheer (and fantastic) fact that they had managed to survive.”
Edgar Snow: “Adventure, exploration, discovery, human courage and cowardice, ecstasy and triumph, suffering, sacrifice, and loyalty, and then through it all, like a flame, this undimmed ardour and undying hope...