Thu, Nov 06, 2003 - Page 1 News List

Long March not so long after all

MYTH REVISED Two men who followed the route taken by Mao Zedong in the 1930s found that the journey was a lot shorter than China had made out


Two British men who spent more than a year retracing the rugged route of the 1930s "Long March" by Mao Zedong's (毛澤東) communist guerrillas said yesterday it turned out to be about one-third shorter than reported by Communist Party propaganda.

Ed Jocelyn and Andy McEwan said their findings showed the trek -- a major event in the formative years of the party that took power in 1949 -- to be some 6,000km.

History books often say the Long March covered 10,000km. Some say it was as long as 13,000km.

"Some will get upset at what they see as an attack on a central myth of the revolution. The Long March is the founding myth of the party," McEwan said by mobile telephone from near Yanan, where Mao's forces settled in western China following the march.

Jocelyn, 35, and McEwan, 37, said they had worked in Beijing as editors for English-language publications by the city government. Their background is not in geography or history.

Between 1934 and 1935, fleeing the forces of Chinese Nationalist Party leader Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石), Mao and his Red Army followers walked through some of China's poorest, most remote areas, from Jiangxi Province in the southeast to Shanxi in the north.

Jocelyn and McEwan completed their journey on Monday. They based their estimate of its length on timed walks, maps and distance markers along the way.

McEwan said the men were "astonished" by the relative freedom the enjoyed during the trek. Many of the areas they passed through were closed to outsiders after the 1949 revolution.

However, he said the pair were detained four times by suspicious local authorities, and once held overnight and bused out of the area the next day. Hardships also included sickness, dog bites and harsh weather.

But McEwan said people along the way were welcoming and excited about the project, often correcting their route and pointing out trails taken by the communists.

Jocelyn said the pair hope to exhibit photographs and other documentation collected during their trip, in part to remind younger generations of Chinese of their history.

"It was still a remarkable achievement in endurance and courage. The fact that it's shorter than originally believed doesn't diminish that in any way," Jocelyn said.

The pair also said they met a woman during their 384-day walk who they claimed might have been a long-lost daughter of Mao, the communist founder who died in 1976.

The woman, 68-year-old Xiong Huazhi, was born at about the same time and place as a daughter reportedly born to Mao and his third wife, He Zizhen, McEwan said.

Mao's child was left with a family in Sichuan Province as the Red Army fled attacks by Chiang. Xiong's family and neighbors told Jocelyn and McEwan that she was Mao's daughter, although no genetic link or other hard evidence has been provided.

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