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Review: The Long March, Sun Shuyun

Communist China’s Long March is famed throughout the country.  Children, like the author Sun Shuyun, are taught the story over and over again in school and there are plays and films about it.  The author decides to do her own version of the Long March, following in the footsteps of the Red Army and visiting the few remaining veterans along the route, with some diversions for research purposes.  Through her journey, she attempts to uncover the truth of what these people endured, and of the Long March itself.

Recently, and somewhat unexpectedly, I have become very interested in China, and this book seemed like a good choice to continue with non-fiction.  And it was; I liked it and I learned a surprising amount about The Long March.  The author’s experience on her own Long March took a definite backseat to her exploration of the experiences of those she met and her explanations of the historical background.  I was pleased with that because this could easily have become about how difficult the trip was for the author, given that it was, but she often emphasized the fact that if she was struggling, how much harder must it have been walking the whole time with threadbare clothes, no food, and no help?

I was most interested in the veterans’ stories, and how even though almost all of them endured horrifying hardships and were later targeted during the Cultural Revolution, most of them were still devoted Communists.  I found this hard to believe, given all they suffered in the name of communism, and did wonder if they were genuine, but it’s impossible not to admire their devotion, courage, and resilience, so it’s hard to come out of the book without feeling the same.  I felt like each of them were individuals and their stories were each fascinating and sometimes just horrifying.  The women’s stories in particular were so affecting and hard to read.

What came out clearly was how difficult the Long March was, and the author did find a kind of truth in comparing the words of the survivors with official records.  As she says, definitive answers are hard because documentation was destroyed, and Mao’s version of the Long March has become Chinese history.  This is disturbing to me and I was glad she was driven to reveal some of the truth.  The author’s surprise at her discoveries is palpable throughout the book.  At one point she sees a filmmaker who is also interviewing people about this subject, and he quite blatantly tells her what they’ll have to cut out because it doesn’t fit the official version, even if the stories are true.

Overall, I found The Long March a really fascinating memoir/historical investigation.  I would definitely recommend it to those who are interested in learning more about Chinese history.

I am an Amazon Associate. I borrowed this book from my local library.

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