Excerpt of The Long March by Sun Shuyun
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Sisters and brothers, grandfathers and grandmothers, the Red Army is at its most critical time now, with many wounded every day. But in a war, there is always winning and losing. If we stop fighting just because we have lost a few battles, our Revolution will never succeed and we will always be exploited by the rich. You are strong. Do you want to be trampled on for the rest of your lives? If not, join the Red Army now!
There was no reply.
Wang nodded to the militiamen who were standing close by, and continued: Dont be afraid. We will win. Use your brain. This village has hundreds of poor people, and only one or two landlords. Arent we more powerful than them? All we need to do is to unite, but there is a traitor who does not want this to happen. He seems to care about you, telling you to keep your men at home, but if we all stay at home, our enemy will come, taking our land and raping our women. Is that what you want?
Of course not! shouted the militiamen.
Then lets bring the traitor out. Wang waved her hand. Two militiamen appeared from behind the shrine gate, each holding the arm of a man, followed by a third with a pistol in his hand. Silence fell and the villagers looked at each other speechless. The accused was none other than the Party secretary of their district, Mr. Liu. Suddenly, a Red Pioneer raised his arm, shouting, Down with the traitor! Kill the traitor!
Tell me, what do you want done with him? Wang asked several times.
Kill him, yelled a militiaman.
Kill him now! a chorus of voices followed.
Two shots at pointblank range and Liu fell to the ground. Wang announced grimly: This will be the fate of anyone who dares to sabotage the Revolution.
It was hard to believe, when I met Woman Wang, that she had ever done such things, or suffered more than I could bear to think about. She had started as the quintessential supporter of the Revolution. Poverty had made her family sell her into a marriage which she did not want; joining the Communists represented hope. Chosen as one of only 30 women to go with the 1st Army among 86,000 men, she survived and rose to head the Red Armys only womens regiment. A year later, she was captured, raped, and given to a Nationalist officer as a concubinea crime for which she was denounced by the Party, remaining under a cloud for the next fifty years. Still, she remained loyal to the Party, which she regarded as dearer to her than her parents. I remember thinking to myself after reading her biography: if there was ever a true Communist faithful, it must be Wang.
What better way to start my journey than by talking to her? I set out in October 2004, exactly seventy years after the Chinese Communist Party and the 1st Army abandoned their base in Jiangxi and began their escape from the Nationaliststhe Long March as it became known. From Beijing I took the train, eighteen hours due south, and then after two hours more by bus through green-clad mountains and hills I found myself in Taihe in southern Jiangxi. It was a big town, with a grand new avenue, beautifully surfaced and complete with modern lightingnot many buildings yet, but looking for twentyfirstcentury growth. I wondered if I would have trouble finding Wangafter all, Taihe had a population of half a million people and all I had was her biography, which I had been rereading on the train. I took a rickshaw from the longdistance bus stop and mentioned Wangs name hesitantly; I was relieved when the driver told me to take it easy. What a woman! How many went on the Long March from Jiangxi? Eighty thousand? I guess not many of them are left today. Three in this town, and forty in Jiangxi. If you come next year, they will probably all be gone. He took me down the big avenue and then into the old quarter. Dusty, narrow, busy, and crowded, just like the photographs of provincial towns in the 1930s. I was dropped off next to a dumpling shop with a queue of hungry customers. Behind it was Wang's courtyard, shaded by a pomegranate tree with its dark red fruit just bursting open. Beneath it, there she sat, looking gentle, serene, and elegant, belying her 91 years, and without a trace of the toughness of the Red Army commander.
Excerpted from The Long March by Sun Shuyun Copyright © 2007 by Sun Shuyun. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.