On October 16, 1934, 100 000 Chinese Communist troops set out on a 6,000 mile trek from their base in Kiangsi. 1 This trek, later to be known as the Long March, began after Chiang Kai-shek and his Nationalist armies (the Kuomintang) frustrated the Communist organization in Southeast China. The Long March was a difficult journey; approximately 90,000 men and women died before it was over. 2 However, communism was not eliminated in China. This paper argues that the Long March galvanized commitment to the communist cause and thus, was the key precursor to the eventual victory of the Communist Party in China in 1949.
By narrowly escaping defeat and destruction through the Long March, the Communists were able to re-build support to fight the Nationalists once again, and this time they won. The Chinese Revolution began in 1911 with the overthrow of the Manchu government and the establishment of the New Republic of China. Before the Revolution, the Chinese lived mainly in competing clans and were ruled by rival war lords. During Chinas long history, its people had never functioned as one cohesive unit.
Because of the threat of Japan, Great Britain, and the Industrial Revolution, China needed to become a stronger unit. The unification of China was an important development for a number of reasons. Most important was that unification served to defend China against Japanese invasion and also set the stage for a national economy. China was extremely xenophobic, and the beauracracy did not want to change. Some individuals, however, dreamed of a united Chinese nation, and it was this dream that encouraged the revolutionaries in China.
Of these individuals, the most important was Sun Yat Sen, the Father of Republican China. Sun was born on November 12, 1866 in the southern province of Guangdong. 3 At age thirteen Sun went to live with his brother in Honolulu, Hawaii where he attended a missionary school. After four years in Hawaii, Sun moved to Hong Kong where he studied medicine. However, at age twenty-eight Sun returned to Hawaii, and left the medical profession for politics. After the defeat of China in the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895, Sun returned to Guangdong.
During the next sixteen years, he began to develop his revolutionary ideas. He attracted many supporters, financial and otherwise, and staged a number of unsuccessful attempts to overthrow the Manchu government. Sun realized that the only way to ensure Chinas survival as a country was to make radical changes inside the government. He felt that it was imperative for China to westernize in terms of scientific and social progress. 4 In 1905, Sun established the Tung-meng Hui (United Revolutionary League) that was based on his Three Principles of the People.
His three principles were: Nationalism: to supersede the narrow provincial and clan loyalties of the Chinese; Democracy: to carry into national life the self-governing processes prevalent in the villages and; Peoples Well-Being: to improve the material standards of the ordinary mans life. 5 Sun Yat Sens dream of a new republic was not fulfilled until October 10, 1911. By 1916 Sun Yat Sen was the President of the New Republic of China. During his reign, Sun founded the Kuomintang (Nationalist Party), which had support from not only the Soviet Party but the Communist Party in China as well.
In 1924, Sun admitted the Chinese Communists into the Nationalist Party. During his career, Sun attempted to unify all of China. Sun Yat Sen died on March 12, 1925 with his dream of unification unfulfilled. With the death of Sun Yat Sen, internal struggles plagued the Kuomintang and the Chinese Communist Party. During these struggles Chiang Kai-Shek emerged as chief of the National Revolutionary Army. The dream of a unified China did not die with Sun Yat Sen. Chiang Kai-Shek was heavily influenced by him. Chiang was born October 31, 1887 in the coastal province of Chekiang.
Unlike Sun Yat Sen, Chiang was born to wealthy parents. In 1906 he began his military career in Northern China at the Paoting Military Academy. After one year, he began his four year military education in Japan. Chiang served in the Japanese army from 1909-1911, but when he received word of the uprisings in China, he returned home and began to try to overthrow the Manchu government. By 1918, Chiang Kai-Shek was a member of the Kuomintang. Chiang, along with Sun Yat Sen, believed in the unification of China.
While visiting the Soviet Union for the first time in 1923, Chiang studied not only the Soviet institutions but the Red Army as well. Upon returning from his visit in the Soviet Union, Chiang became a commandant of a military academy, established on the Soviet model, at Whampoa near Canton. 6 The admission of the Chinese Communists into the Kuomintang which occurred during Sun Yat Sens presidency, later became a great problem for Chiang Kai Shek. There were tensions among the two parties that outweighed any positive factors of the alliance.
The far right of the Kuomintang and the far left of the Chinese Communists rarely ever agreed. The collaboration between the two parties was essential for the overthrowing of the warlord regime during the Northern Expedition in 1927, but as soon as that was over, the two parties did not need one another anymore. According to Wilson: While the Party Central Committee respected the motion of the Internationale, most of the comrades had only approved a democratic revolutionary united front and were quite doubtful about entering the Kuomintang.
The] Chinese Communist Party was able to pursue its goal of organizing mass support under the Kuomintang umbrella — and retained control of this organization after the united front collapsed. 7 Tensions mounted between the Nationalist Party and the Chinese Communist Party until 1927 when Chiang finally expelled the Communists from his party. At this time, Chiang lost the support of the Soviet Union. While Chiang was struggling to deal with the Chinese Communist Party, he was also working to unify all of China. A large number of warlords maintained control over their lands and the people on them.
Facing the imminent invasion of the Japanese, the pressure to quickly unite China into one cohesive unit was immense. In 1926 Chiang began a campaign against the warlords in the northern part of the country. After two years, the fighting ended when the Nationalist Party entered the capital, Peking. Chiang then established a new central government at Nanking. Although Chiang was the leader of the government he still did not have complete control. The warlords in the northern part of the country and the Chinese Communists were still opposed to Chiang Kai Shek.
Facing the war with Japan in 1931, Chiang decided not to resist the Japanese invasion until he defeated the Chinese Communists. 8 At this time, he launched a number of encirclement campaigns in an attempt to defeat the Communists in their base area on the Kiangsi-Fukien border. The Communists, using guerrilla warfare, successfully fought off the Kuomintang four times. But in 1934, they finally lost their base to the Nationalists. Chiang believed that when the Kuomintang captured the Communist base that the Communists would give up. Instead, they abandoned their base and began a long trek from one side of China to the other.