A retreat is a withdrawal of a military force from a dangerous position or from an enemy attack. The above quote originates from source C and as such portrays purely a GMD view on the significance of the Long March, which is therefore bound to be a negative view. However the Long March undeniably had a great long term impact, as the communist ideals formed by Zedong now form the basis for China’s constitution. Therefore it is questionable as to how much The Long March really was a ‘Great Retreat’ if such an outcome was achieved. Though how far do the other sources and my own knowledge help to contradict or support this view?
Interestingly, the word ‘Great’ can be interpreted differently depending on the view of the historian. For example it could be seen that the Long March was a beneficial retreat and that the word ‘Great’ is a positive way of describing the March. However it could also be seen that the Long March was ‘Great’ in the terms of the size of the retreat and is therefore not such a positive thing as source C demonstrates. If 1934 was considered as an isolated year then it would be possible to agree with the question statement that yes, the Long March was a ‘Great Retreat’.
This can be supported through the other sources. Source B indicates that initially the Long March was a retreat as they were ‘getting out of the bases’ and had to ‘break through one ring of fortifications and then another’. This can also be supported through my own research, which has revealed the CCP had decided a ‘strategic retreat would be best to avoid annihilation’. This evidence confirms the opening statement in the question. It would have been impossible for the Long March to begin if there had not been some form of retreat to escape from the GMD.
In source G Mao said ‘The Long March has ended in victory for us and defeat for the enemy’. The fact he said that the March ‘ended’ in victory for the CCP suggests that there was initially some form of retreat or at least a period where victory looked less likely. This is also echoed in Source B where Han Suyin makes reference to ‘defeat after defeat’ at the hands of the GMD. At this point it is important not to undermine the CCP by making reference to the fact the Long March was initially a retreat. The long-term objective of the Long March was to break into the peasant base of support.
It would have been impossible to do this without some form of retreat and the word ‘great’ within the statement could therefore refer to Mao’s tactical excellence in choosing to make this decision. However, Philip Short says that, in truth, the Long March was ‘Mao’s great experiment’ which can be interpreted as an uncertain and unexpected journey, possibly even as a retreat, as Source C states. Therefore, as an isolated year it is undeniable that the Long March began as a retreat, yet how far did this continue, and when did it cease to be a retreat?
The answer can be obtained when analysing Source C. A key date which is vital to the interpretation of the Long March is 1935, when the CCP reached Zunyi and assessed their position. At this point the focus of the Long March altered, it was no longer a retreat as they had reached their destination. From here the aim of the March became to unite peasants against the GMD, the retreat can be seen as over. From Zunyi onwards the Long March became things Zedong referred to in Source G; propaganda, a message and a seeding machine.
However the motive of this Source should be taken into consideration, as Zedong may have glorified his version of the Long March. Thus lessening the focus on the fact it began as a retreat. After the March was seen by historians such as Graham Hutchings as a ‘road to victory’, rather than a retreat. Hutchings also believed that the CCP’s area of control was expanding, which contradicts directly with the definition of retreat, as determined by Source C. This is also supported by other authors with the Long March being described as ‘one of the great military feats of history, an impressive example of tenacity of faith’.
This was true, it illustrates the CCP’s bravery and skill to turn a retreat into ‘a great military feat of history’ and use this as a platform to generate the support they needed for a revolution. Jonathan Fenby, a journalist said in a recent article ‘The Long March was spun from a defeat into a triumph’. This quote illustrates that the Long March was both a defeat and a triumph. It is possible to agree in part with this statement, the Long March may have initiated, as a retreat by this does not equal a defeat as the definition mentioned previously shows.
It was true Mao used the Long March as a chance to glorify his party but in the end the Long March was a triumph, which has to be accepted by looking at Sources C and G. However when was this triumph? Although 1935 was a key date, marking the fact the CCP was able to survive the persecution of the GMD; it was not a victory. However Mao had not achieved his real goal to be leader of China and therefore 1949 is the real victory. It is clear, that the further forward you go in time, the further the focus of the Long March moves away from being a retreat.
It was of course necessary for the CCP to break through the fortifications as illustrated in Source B, and yes, as mentioned in Source C they ‘fled to the west’. It is difficult for any historian to conclude that the Long March overall was a retreat, when it is clear so much of China’s constitution today is based on CCP ideas and not GMD ones. For example, research has shown that Article 2. of China’s general principles states clearly; ‘All power in the people’s republic of China belongs to the people’.
The Long March can only be seen as a victory in a modern context, as China, a communist country has been accepted by the world and this is evidenced through the fact they will be holding the Olympics in 2008 and how Mao’s face remains on all currency in China. In conclusion, the Long March was both a retreat and a road to victory yet neither could have been possible without the other. The initial retreat was inescapable, but at the same time can be seen as an example of tactical excellence on Mao’s part as it allowed him to generate the support he needed.
Hence it would be incorrect to assume that the word ‘Great Retreat’ always has negative associations for the CCP, especially as Source C portrays the Long March as negative. This retreat proved beneficial in the end. Once the CCP had reached Zunyi this was the turning point. The March was no longer a Great Retreat but became a long-term road to victory. Here it altered into the seeding machine Mao referred to, and this fact is proven by the fact the CCP were victorious and communist theories are still in practice today.