The Long March

Orly Mercado

Posted on October 27, 2006

What the Chinese youth should remember

As China commemorated the 70th anniversary of the end of the Long March the China Youth Daily proclaimed that the overwhelming majority of the youth of the country still value its legacy. “Unity and hard struggle” and “braving hardship and danger” were cited as crucial values. So what’s new with Chinese propaganda?

Recently, not a few books and articles have tried to “unmask the myth” and write a “more realistic version” of one of history’s most immortalized strategic retreats that brought the Red Army close to being completely decimated. In the end, what was left of the 80,000 strong First Division (about 7,000 soldiers) prevailed, and the People’s Republic of China was established in 1949.

For me, whether the Long March account is “good propaganda” or “bad history” is not as important as what the youth of China feel today.

I was a young student leader when I first went to China with a delegation of the student council of the University of the Philippines in 1967 at the height of the Cultural Revolution. At the end of our visit I was singled out for an invitation by the All China Youth Federation to remain and study Mao Zedong thought and visit Yan’an, the revolutionary base established at the end point of the Long March. “Unity and hard struggle” and “braving hardship and danger” were very much part of the sloganeering of the day. Never mind if the mistakes and abuses of the Cultural Revolution would later reveal the dark side of the propaganda we so willingly imbibed.

For all its faults, the Cultural Revolution gave us a reason to struggle. It imbued in us a sense of selflessness that may now seem out of place in the highly competitive market economy China now thrives in.

For me, the four volumes of Mao I studied then, are now more history than political science. But of all Mao’s writings the most unforgettable is his tribute to Norman Bethune, a Canadian doctor who served in China during the revolution. Mao clearly defined what it takes to be of value to the people. He said that no matter what our abilities are, if we are imbued with the spirit of selflessness, we can rise above vulgar self interests.

As China’s powerhouse economy changes the lives of its people, the younger generation must rightfully dip into the well of spiritual lessons from events like the Long March. But more than daring to struggle and facing hardships bravely, Mao’s call to “Serve the People” is the timeless call. It is more relevant today as its economy marches to greater heights.

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