Books: The Long March: the True History of Communist China’s Founding Myth (2007)
Profession: Historian, writer, filmmaker
Perspective: Post-Mao revisionist
Sun Shuyun was born and raised in a small village in central China. Her father was a loyal communist and a soldier who saw action during the Korean War. Sun’s childhood coincided with the Cultural Revolution. Like her father, she remained loyal to the party, though she was also influenced by her grandmother’s Buddhist beliefs. Sun studied English literature at Beijing University, later winning a scholarship to Oxford. She continues to divide her time between London and Beijing while working on writing and filmmaking projects. Among her published works are studies of the 7th-century Buddhist monk Xuanzang and of modern-day Tibet.
In 2007 Sun published arguably her most significant work: an investigation into the Long March and a deconstruction of the communist myth that surrounds it. Returning to China in 2004, the 70th anniversary of the Long March, Sun spent months retracing the steps of the marchers. She spoke to 40 people who witnessed it, both Red Army veterans and the civilians who encountered them. Their testimony is often at odds with official communist histories. While party propaganda has depicted Mao’s Red Army as disciplined and respectful of peasants, eyewitness accounts collected by Sun tell a different story. The Red Army, they claim, was often willing to plunder food, conscript young men and boys and threaten or inflict violence on civilians. Sun also exposes other holes in the Long March myth. The Red Army’s heavy losses at the Battle of Xiang River were largely because of desertions – and the Red Army encountered hardly any opposition or serious fighting at the fabled Luding Bridge crossing.
“Every nation has its founding myth. For Communist China, it is the Long March, for us a story on a par with Moses leading the exodus out of Egypt. Any Chinese can tell it.”
“The myth was born and it remains the enduring emblem of China today. We can hardly escape it… [Propagandists] took the idealism, optimism and heroism of the Long Marchers and imprinted them on our minds… With the imprimatur of the Chinese Communist Party, they made the myth close to impregnable.”
“Few have challenged or even modestly questioned the myth. It is just part of who we are. But the questions remain… Books about the March fill yards of shelves but they rarely ask all these questions or provide answers.”
“I record here the voices of these men and women. This is the Long March with the embroidery of adulation and in all its humanity. It is not my story. It is theirs.”
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