Imperial China Collapses: The Long March
The Long March
By 1930, Nationalists and Communists were fighting a bloody civil war. Mao and other Communist leaders established themselves in the hills of south-central China. Mao referred to this tactic of taking his revolution to the countryside as “swimming in the peasant sea.” He recruited the peasants to join his Red Army. He then trained them in guerrilla warfare. Nationalists attacked the Communists repeatedly but failed to drive them out.
In 1933, Jiang gathered an army of at least 700,000 men. Jiang’s army then surrounded the Communists’ mountain stronghold. Outnumbered, the Communist Party leaders realized that they faced defeat. In a daring move, 100,000 Communist forces fled. They began a hazardous, 6,000-mile-long journey called the Long March. Between 1934 and 1935, the Communists kept only a step ahead of Jiang’s forces. Thousands died from hunger, cold, exposure, and battle wounds.
Finally, after a little more than a year, Mao and the seven or eight thousand Communist survivors settled in caves in northwestern China. There they gained new followers. Meanwhile, as civil war between Nationalists and Communists raged, Japan invaded China.
The Long March of the Chinese Communists from the south of China to the caves of Shaanxi [shahn•shee] in the north is a remarkable story. The march covered 6,000 miles, about the distance from New York to San Francisco and back again. They crossed miles of swampland. They slept sitting up, leaning backto-back in pairs, to keep from sinking into the mud and drowning. In total, the Communists crossed 18 mountain ranges and 24 rivers in their yearlong flight from the Nationalist forces.
In one of the more daring and difficult acts of the march, the Red Army crossed a bridge of iron chains whose planks had been removed.
The Red Army had to cross the Snowy Mountains, some of the highest in the world. Every man carried enough food and fuel to last for ten days. They marched six to seven hours a day.
After finally arriving at the caves in Shaanxi, Mao declared, “If we can survive all this, we can survive everything. This is but the first stage of our Long March. The final stage leads to Peking [Beijing]!”
Civil War Suspended
In 1931, as Chinese fought Chinese, the Japanese watched the power struggles with rising interest. Japanese forces took advantage of China’s weakening situation. They invaded Manchuria, an industrialized province in the northeast part of China.
In 1937, the Japanese launched an all-out invasion of China. Massive bombings of villages and cities killed thousands of Chinese. The destruction of farms caused many more to die of starvation. By 1938, Japan held control of a large part of China.
The Japanese threat forced an uneasy truce between Jiang’s and Mao’s forces. The civil war gradually ground to a halt as Nationalists and Communists temporarily united to fight the Japanese. The National Assembly further agreed to promote changes outlined in Sun Yixian’s “Three Principles of the People”—nationalism, democracy, and people’s livelihood. As you will learn in Section 4, similar principles were also serving as a guiding force in India and Southwest Asia.