On the 20th October 1935, the 6,000 mile Long March by the Red Army of the Communist Party of China ended when the columns of troops led by Mao Zedong arrived in Shaanxi. Although the three armies involved in the march didn’t fully unite until two days later, Mao’s arrival at the foot of the Great Wall marked the successful end of the Red Army’s flight to safety.
Having fought a Civil War against the nationalist Kuomintang since 1927, by 1934 the Jiangxi Soviet was surrounded by Chiang Kai-Shek’s anti-Communist troops. Facing certain starvation if the siege was allowed to continue, the Communists opted to abandon the Soviet in a controlled breakthrough manoeuvre that began on the 16th October 1934.
Numbering nearly 100,000 people, the fleeing Communist army faced almost daily assaults from the Nationalists as they struggled north on a year-long journey that covered up to 16 miles a day. Although the primary aim of the march was to establish a safe base away from Nationalist interference, the Long March also served as a useful propaganda tool as Red Army troops came into direct contact with the local peasantry. The Eight Points of Attention, a set of orders for the good behaviour of troops, was central to this as the Red Army treated peasants with respect and gratitude, in stark contrast to the Nationalists.
It was during the Long March that Mao Zedong emerged as the leader of the Chinese Communists, and his survival alongside less than 10% of the original troops mythologised him as a leader and reinforced his authority.