Edgar Snow on the Long March (1937)

Writing in Red Star over China (1937) Edgar Snow praises the bravery and endurance of Red Army and CCP personnel who survived the Long March:

“In the grasslands there was no human habitation for ten days. Almost perpetual rain falls over this swampland, and it is possible to cross its centre only by a maze of narrow footholds known to the native mountaineers who led the Reds. More animals were lost, and more men. Many foundered in the weird sea of wet grass and dropped from sight into the depth of the swamp, beyond reach of their comrades.

There was no firewood; they were obliged to eat their green wheat and vegetables raw. There were even no trees for shelter, and the lightly equipped Reds carried no tents. At night they huddled under bushes tied together, which gave but scant protection against the rain. But from this trial, too, they emerged triumphant – more so, at least, than the White troops who pursued them, lost their way, and turned back, with only a fraction of their number intact.

The Red Army now reached the Kansu [Gansu] border. Several battles still lay ahead, the loss of any one of which might have meant decisive defeat. More Nanking [Nanjing], Tungbei [Dongbei] and Moslem [Muslim] troops had been mobilised in southern Kansu to stop their march, but they managed to break through all these blockades, and in the process annexed hundreds of horses from the Moslem cavalry, which people had confidently predicted would finish them once and for all.

Footsore, weary, and at the limit of human endurance, they finally entered northern Shensi [Shaanxi], just below the Great Wall. On October 20th 1935, a year after its departure from Kiangsi [jiangxi], the vanguard of the First Front Army connected with the 25th, 26th, and 27th Red Armies, which had already established a small base of Soviet power in Shensi in 1933. Numbering less than 20,000 survivors now, they sat down to realise the significance of their achievement.

The statistical recapitulation of the Long March is impressive. It shows that there was an average of almost a skirmish a day, somewhere on the line, while altogether 15 whole days were devoted to major pitched battles. Out of a total of 368 days en route, 235 were consumed in marches by day, and 18 in marches by night. Of the 100 days of halts – many of which were devoted to skirmishes – 56 days were spent in north-western Szechwan [Sichuan], leaving only 44 days of rest over a distance of about 5,000 miles, or an average of one halt for every 114 miles of marching. The mean daily stage covered was 71 li, or nearly 24 miles – a phenomenal pace for a great army and its transport to average over some of the most hazardous terrain on earth.

Altogether the Reds crossed 18 mountain ranges, five of which were perennially snow-capped, and they crossed 24 rivers. They passed through 12 different provinces, occupied 62 cities, and broke through enveloping armies of ten different provincial warlords, besides defeating, eluding, or outmaneuvering the various forces of Central Government troops sent against them. They entered and successfully crossed six different aboriginal districts, and penetrated areas through which no Chinese army had gone for scores of years.

However one may feel about the Reds and what they represent politically (and here there is plenty of room for argument!) it is impossible to deny recognition of their Long March – the Ch’ang Cheng [Changzheng] as they call it – as one of the great exploits of military history.

While the Red Army’s March to the North-west was unquestionably a strategic retreat, it can hardly be called a major disaster, for the Reds finally reached their objective with their nucleus still intact, and their morale and political will evidently as strong as ever. The Reds themselves declared, and apparently believed, that they were advancing towards the anti-Japanese front, and this was a psychological factor of great importance. It helped them turn what might have been a demoralised retreat into a spirited march of victory.”