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Choosing Revolution

Choosing Revolution: Chinese Women Soldiers on the Long March

Copyright Date: 2001
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    Choosing Revolution
    Book Description:

    Some two thousand women participated in the Long March, but their experience of this seminal event in the history of Communist China is rarely represented. In Choosing Revolution, Helen Praeger Young presents the oral histories of twenty-two women veterans of the Red Army's legendary six-thousand-mile "retreat to victory" before the advancing Nationalist Army. In addition to their riveting stories of the march itself, Young's subjects reveal much about what it meant to grow up female and, in many cases, poor in China during the first decades of the twentieth century._x000B__x000B_

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09298-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Pronunciation Guide
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Chronology
    (pp. xv-1)
  6. [Map]
    (pp. 2-2)
  7. Introduction
    (pp. 3-18)

    Forced by encircling Nationalist troops to abandon their Base Areas in eastern and central China, the Chinese Red Army struck out across China in the mid-1930s. They strove to move north to join their comrades but were constantly prevented from doing so by enemy forces. The Red Army retreated to the southwestern border of China, finally turning north through the mountains on the edge of the Tibetan plateau into the treacherous grasslands. Starving and in tatters, the decimated First Front Army emerged from the grasslands and fought their way across yet another mountain range to converge with other Red Army...

  8. 1. Newborn on the March
    (pp. 19-59)

    Jian Xianren and her younger sister, Jian Xianfo, joined the Red Army as a means of self-protection. Jian Xianren’s revolutionary commitment had been forged during student days by the exciting ideas she and her brother encountered in the newly established schools they attended during the 1920s, which they passed along to their younger siblings.

    Jian Xianren was born in 1909 in Cili, Hunan province, two years before the end of the Qing dynasty and the founding of the Chinese Republic. Her family home was in the eastern edge of the Wuling Mountains. Cili was physically and culturally isolated from the...

  9. 2. Revolutionary, Mother
    (pp. 60-81)

    Chen Zongying and I stand side by side. The top of her head does not quite reach my shoulder, although she is stretching tall on her abnormally small feet. Even knowing the resilience of Chinese country people, I find it hard to believe that this fragile woman in her mid-eighties had spent her childbearing years as an underground Communist activist and a Red Army soldier during twenty-five years of civil war and the War Against Japan. During the Long March, she climbed the rugged snow mountains of Yunnan province a few weeks before her seventh child was born. Before she...

  10. 3. Little Devil
    (pp. 82-118)

    The picture Ma Yixiang paints of her childhood is extremely grim, without any folksongs, stories, or legends to lighten the image of ceaseless drudgery and anguish that poverty and hunger can bring. Her father was continually disappearing to avoid his debts and family responsibility, her mother disliked her and blamed her for the deaths of her siblings, and her foster family seemed to take great pleasure in tormenting and abusing her. Yet she reflects little hopelessness and was resourceful in finding solutions to her problems, sometimes following her father’s pattern of running away, sometimes persuading others to change their minds...

  11. 4. From Soldier to Doctor
    (pp. 119-130)

    The Chinese Communist armies on the March were small mobile cities. One women’s regiment was actually a clothing factory; there was a print shop, and of course there were hospitals. Probably the most unusual service was a medical school that conducted classes and graduated students during the March. He Manqiu was one of two women who graduated from this medical school and was among the first of the women army doctors in China.

    Like many of the women who had run away to join the Red Army in their midteens, He Manqiu was already something of a rebel, someone who...

  12. 5. Why We Joined
    (pp. 131-145)

    The women soldiers on the Long March whom I interviewed told stories of leaving children behind with peasant families, crossing glacier mountains in the third trimester of pregnancy, leaving babies where they were born, or carrying them along a day or two after birth. They described the work they did as soldiers, carrying stretchers, doing propaganda work, recruiting laborers and soldiers, and carrying gold for the army. Rich as these stories are, the greatest wealth of material came in response to the question, “Why did you join the party and the army?” Their answers, framed by their understanding of Marxist...

  13. 6. Women at Work
    (pp. 146-161)

    The following stories about the work done by women during the Long March are drawn from translations of a series of interviews by the author between 1986 and 1989. The twenty-three women who were interviewed represent a fair selection of Long March veterans. When they began the Long March, their ages ranged from twelve to thirty-two; fourteen were seventeen years old or younger when they joined Chinese Communist Party (CCP) organizations and the Red Army. They came from seven different provinces and quite varied backgrounds. Eleven were sold or given to other families as infants or small children; twelve were...

  14. 7. First Front Women
    (pp. 162-215)

    In this chapter, twelve women give voice to their experiences on the Long March in a chorus of voices that is greater than the sum of its parts. The same story told from the different perspectives formed by their various backgrounds, experiences, and personalities emphasizes the collective nature of Chinese Communist society in an immediate way. And because the First Front Army was under the direction of the top Communist party leadership and therefore the most strictly disciplined of the troops that made the Long March, hearing the story from many sources allows readers to assess the differences in the...

  15. 8. Left Behind
    (pp. 216-240)

    Three of our First Front Army women did not complete the Long March. Li Guiying and Xie Xiaomei, whose husbands were wounded in fierce fighting after the Zunyi conference, were left behind with their husbands to work in the civilian sector. Li Guiying and her husband were sent into southern Sichuan to join the guerrilla troops. Xie Xiaomei and Luo Ming were assigned to work underground in Guiyang, capital of Guizhou province. The third, Wang Quanyuan, stayed with the First Front Army until they met the Fourth Front Army in western Sichuan several months later. Wang became ill, was sent...

  16. Conclusion
    (pp. 241-246)

    When Wang Quanyuan’s sister soldiers from the First Front Army reached northern Shaanxi province in autumn 1935, their welcome sense of relief at being with their comrades in a place that seemed safe was tempered by the hard conditions facing them. They immediately joined in the business of enlarging the Shaan-Gan-Ning Soviet Base Area, developing it into a military base and a social, economic, and political base in one of the poorest areas in China.¹ As the only remaining Chinese Soviet Base Area, Shaan-Gan-Ning became the seat of the Communist government. Shortly after their arrival the leaders held a Politboro...

  17. Notes
    (pp. 247-262)
  18. Bibliography
    (pp. 263-268)
  19. Index
    (pp. 269-282)
  20. Back Matter
    (pp. 283-284)