On Oct. 16 in 1934 the “Long March,” a tactical retreat of Mao Zedong and 60,000 Communist supporters, commences. The embattled Communists had broken through Nationalist enemy lines and began an epic flight from their hopeless siege which lasted 368 days, covered 6,000 miles, and saw Mao reascend to worshipful master status among his people.
As for Mao himself, he was born in 1893 near the village of Shaoshan in Hunan province, the son of a former peasant who had become affluent as a farmer and grain dealer. He grew up in an environment in which education was valued only as training for keeping records and accounts. From the age of eight he attended his native village’s primary school, where he acquired a basic knowledge of the Wujing, or Confucian Classics.
Mao continued his education during turbulent times, studying the works of cultural reformers and revolutionaries. He enlisted in a unit of the revolutionary army in Hunan in 1911, and came to believe the idea that, as he later put it, “political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.” Mao continued to study both warrior-emperors of China and Western leaders, including Napoleon and George Washington.
In September 1920 Mao became principal of the Lin Changsha primary school, and in October he organized a branch of the Socialist Youth League there. Eventually turning to Marxism and turning outlaw himself, Mao became part of the historical fulcrum between conservative traditional forces, nationalist reformer Chiang Kai-shek and the invading Japanese Imperial Army. Rising steadily and entering into the early phases of his 22-years in “the wilderness,” 1934 would finally find the seasoned guerrilla leader Mao at the head of a vast, Red Army on the move.
After enduring starvation, aerial bombardment, and almost daily skirmishes with Nationalist forces, Mao halted his columns at the foot of the Great Wall of China on October 20, 1935. Waiting for them were five machine-gun- and red-flag-bearing horsemen. “Welcome, Chairman Mao,” one said. “We represent the Provincial Soviet of Northern Shensi. We have been waiting for you anxiously. All that we have is at your disposal!” The Long March was over.
When he and his forces finished fighting the Japanese invaders for a decade, Mao’s bloody Chinese Civil War resumed in 1945. Four years later, in 1949 the Nationalists were defeated, and Mao proclaimed the People’s Republic of China.
He served as chairman until his death in 1976.