China’s Xi hails courage on Long March 80th anniversary

President says China should carry forth the spirit and advance in ‘a new long march’

China's president Xi Jinping has rallied Communist Party members on the 80th anniversary of the Red Army's "Long March", a foundation tale filled with tales of courage, brutal battles and heavy losses. A two-year tactical retreat by the communists to evade Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist Kuomintang (KMT), it was the event that put Mao Zedong on the path to power.

Chairman Mao called the Long March a "manifesto" and "a propaganda force", and Mr Xi, who does not shy from using old-fashioned party rhetoric to push his message, told party members in Beijing's Great Hall of the People that he aimed to mobilise to realise his idea of a new "China Dream".

"No matter which stage our undertaking has developed to and how great the achievements we've made, we should carry forth the Long March spirit and advance in 'a new long march'," said Mr Xi, whose father Xi Zhongxun was a Long March hero who later became vice-premier.

Mr Xi’s stirring remarks come a week before a key gathering of the party elite, the sixth central committee plenum, which is due to begin on October 24th and last until October 27th.


In an hour-long speech broadcast live on state television, Mr Xi said the Long March was a “human epic composed of will and courage” and “an epic of mankind’s unremitting efforts to pursue truth and brightness”.

There are many differing accounts of the Long March, about how may took part and died in the conflict, although at least 80 per cent of the Red Army perished in the trek.

Military significance

The military significance of the Long March is a subject of debate, as the KMT was more focused on defeating the Japanese than on combating the communists, but the Long March has left a powerful legacy in China, and veterans are held in the highest respect.

For many years after the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, top positions in the Communist Party were reserved for Long March veterans and the trek has been mythologised in paintings and films.

Schoolchildren learn Long March eulogies by Chairman Mao and rousing marching songs are still sung at Communist Party events.

It was on the Long March that Mao cemented his position as supreme leader of the party, and other leaders who took part were later premier Zhou Enlai, the architect of economic liberalisation Deng Xiaoping, military chief Zhu De, and Lin Biao, Mao's anointed successor who later died in mysterious circumstances during the Cultural Revolution

The Long March was not a single event but a series of marches over two years, beginning in 1934 in the southeastern city of Ruijin, when about 100,000 Red Army troops retreated to the north and west to try to break through encirclement by Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang soldiers.

The troops went along different routes, covering 12,500km (or 9,000km by other calculations), and en route they faced hunger, disease and hardship as they crossed hazardous terrain.

Mr Xi said the campaign involved more than 600 battles, traversing more than 100 rivers, climbing over 40 steep mountains and lengthy treks across grassland, and it finally ended in Yan'an in Shaanxi province, with only around 20,000 left of the original force. The trek's place in history was assured.

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan, an Irish Times contributor, spent 15 years reporting from Beijing