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Last Updated: Friday, 7 November, 2003, 12:19 GMT
China's Long March falls short
Two British men, Andy McEwen and Ed Jocelyn, have retraced the steps of Mao Zedong's Red Army on its epic Long March. Ed told BBC News Online about their journey, which was a little shorter than expected.

We're surprised to find our conclusions about the length of the Long March have stirred up so much interest and controversy.

Picture from www.longmarch2003.com
Andy McEwen, 37, and Ed Jocelyn, 35, met many who witnessed Mao's journey
We always thought it would be well short of the 25,000 li (12,500 kilometres) Mao mentioned in his speech at Wuqi in Shaanxi province in October 1935, but we were pleasantly surprised to find it was only about half of that distance (and we always thought Mao was only 30% wrong).

Chinese journalists and officials seem almost affronted by this conclusion, and seek ways to show we must be mistaken.

I'm sure we're far from perfect, but I don't think we've mislaid 6,000 kilometres.

We've been represented in some reports as "backpackers", which makes us feel as if our project is regarded as some big holiday jaunt.

It was actually conceived as a serious piece of historical field work, and the results have far exceeded our expectations.

The most exciting meeting of the journey was in early February, in Weixin County, Yunnan, where local rumours led us to the home of a 68-year-old lady named Xiong Huazhi, a Miao-minority peasant.

We believe she may be the lost daughter of Mao Zedong and his third wife, He Zizhen, born on the Long March, then left with peasants and never found.

The only way to prove Xiong's identity conclusively would be through a DNA comparison with Mao's only known surviving child, Li Min.

Mao on the long march
From Jiangxi to Shaanxi
Took 370 days
Through 11 provinces
Through 18 mountain ranges
100,000 set out
10,000 survived

Unfortunately, for reasons that we do not know, Li Min refuses to countenance such a test.

Xiong's health is very poor - she is literally dying for an answer to her identity crisis.

When we set out, we thought we would be lucky to meet a handful of witnesses.

In fact, we met dozens.

Our biggest enemy was time - walking on average between 20 and 30 kilometres a day left us with little time or energy for research and interviews, and so we found the New Long March a round-the-clock job.

We were often up past midnight, updating photo logs and writing diaries.

Sickness also robbed us of at least two months.

Andy was hospitalised with gastritis and oesophagatis. He was also bitten by a mad dog, which obliged him to take a few days off while seeking rabies jabs.

Coincidentally, Ed was bedridden for a week with diarrhoea at the same time.


Witnesses were also important in helping us find the route.

Picture from www.longmarch2003.com
Followed Mao's route
Took 384 days
Met 11 Long March veterans
Met 100 Long March witnesses

Our records were full of holes, and so often we arrived in villages or towns not knowing where to go next.

The only option was to ask around until we found someone who either remembered, or knew through family history which way they had gone.

A fortnight ago in Ningxia, we were stuck for an answer - the local government was no help, and none of the locals hanging round our noodle restaurant knew anything.

We were on the verge of giving up and just taking our best guess, when a 30-something man walked in, heard what we were doing, and announced that his grandfather had acted as a guide for the Reds.

He gave us the route in great detail.

As for the scenery, one thing we learned was to fear beauty.

The more attractive the countryside, the greater the likelihood of walking into some nightmare of a mountain trail - no people, no food.

Generally, the uglier the scenery, the easier the going.

Country profile: China
24 May 03  |  Country profiles

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