Summary and book reviews of The Long March by Sun Shuyun

The Long March

The True History of Communist China's Founding Myth

by Sun Shuyun

The Long March
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2007, 288 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2008, 304 pages

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Book Summary

The Long March is Communist China’s founding myth, the heroic tale that every Chinese child learns in school. Seventy years after the historical march took place, Sun Shuyun set out to retrace the Marchers’ steps and unexpectedly discovered the true history behind the legend. The Long March is the stunning narrative of her extraordinary expedition.

The facts are these: in 1934, in the midst of a brutal civil war, the Communist party and its 200,000 soldiers were forced from their bases by Chiang Kaishek and his Nationalist troops. After that, truth and legend begin to blur: led by Mao Zedong, the Communists set off on a strategic retreat to the distant barren north of China, thousands of miles away. Only one in five Marchers reached their destination, where, the legend goes, they gathered strength and returned to launch the new China in the heat of revolution.

As Sun Shuyun journeys to remote villages along the Marchers’ route, she interviews the aged survivors and visits little-known local archives. She uncovers shocking stories of starvation, disease, and desertion, of ruthless purges ordered by party leaders, of the mistreatment of women, and of thousands of futile deaths. Many who survived the March report that their suffering continued long after the “triumph” of the revolution, recounting tales of persecution and ostracism that culminated in the horrific years of the Cultural Revolution.

What emerges from Sun’s research, her interviews, and her own memories of growing up in China is a moving portrait of China past and present. Sun finds that the forces at work during the days of the revolution—the barren, unforgiving landscape; the unifying power of outside threats from foreign countries; Mao’s brilliant political instincts and his use of terror, propaganda, and ruthless purges to consolidate power and control the population—are the very forces that made China what it is today.

The Long March is a gripping retelling of an amazing historical adventure, an eye-opening account of how Mao manipulated the event for his own purposes, and a beautiful document of a country balanced between legend and the truth.

1. DRAIN THE POND TO CATCH THE FISH

I’m sending you to the Army my man,
You must see the reason why
The Revolution is for us.
I’m sending you to do or die.


Here’s a towel I've embroidered
With all my love to say:
Revolution for ever!
The Party you must not betray!



The song pierced the silence of Shi Village, which nestled at the foot of a hill covered in thick bamboo groves. It was mid–October, 1935, in Jiangxi Province, southern China. The autumn harvest was already in and the land surrounding the village was yellow with the stubble of rice stalks, but some fields stood as if wasted, with grass sprouting in the dried–out paddy, already turning brown. A few water buffalo were plodding home, only stopping when they came to their favorite place, the village pond, where they drank, ducks and geese swam, children bathed, women washed their clothes, and men asked one another about their day. Nearby stood the giant camphor tree, whose overhanging ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Readers brought up on the history of the Long March, will be riveted from the opening words. For those of us brought up in a Western culture who know of the Long March only as a vague piece of history, it will take a little longer to get into; but within a chapter, two at the most, readers with the remotest interest in history will be fully engrossed in the first person accounts of foot soldiers such as Woman Wang, Soldier Huang, Orderly Liu, Propagandist Wu, Fighter Li, whose stories Sun Shuyun so ably interweaves with archival research and official history.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

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Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Her interviews with veterans are among the book's highlights, but just as fascinating as the interviews and archival research is her travel through China.

The Spectator (UK)

[Sun] has written an affecting and insightful book, one that not only illuminates China’s recent past but also manages to throw some light on its equally murky present.

Financial Times (UK)

A mixture of engaging lively travel writing and impressive historical reconstruction . . . Offers a rewarding journey into the experience of people, within living memory, who needed endurance beyond the comprehension of most of us.

The Guardian (UK)

A beautifully told story of one of the great legends of modern China . . . utterly compelling reading.

The Asian Review of Books - Kerry Brown

This is not a book that aims to debunk or deconstruct what seems to be a settled, accepted part of history. In some ways, Sun almost retreats into a resignation to the fact that the 'true' history of the march is almost unavailable now, and the best route to understanding it is through the dwindling voices of those that still survive. Those who seek to know what really happened at Zunyi, or Luding Bridge, or any of the other key moments along the epic journey must search elsewhere. To those who want to relive the adventures of this grand epic, then this is a readable and accessible account.

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Beyond the Book

The Long March

The 1934-35 massive military retreat of the Red Armies from the opposing Nationalist Party army was not one march but several, as various different Communist armies escaped from the south to the north and west. The best known of these is the journey taken by the 86,000 members of the First Army who started out from Jiangxi province in October 1934 and traveled approximately 6,000 miles (9,500 kilometers) over about 370 days (about 16 miles a day) through some of the ...

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