The Long March

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01Escape20140226

The Long March, which started in October 1934, is the founding myth of modern China. Mao Zedong and 86,000 Red Army men and women started the epic journey in Jiangxi province, battling their way across 8,000 miles of plains, rivers and mountains to escape Chiang Kai-Shek's Nationalists. Only a few thousand of them made it to the end a year later. Mao called the march "a manifesto", a symbol of the endurance needed to build a new China, but in a way the March has never ended - it has endlessly been retold in speeches, books and films and reinterpreted to meet China's changing preoccupations. In these programmes Edward Stourton follows in the footsteps of the Long March to explore what actually happened and why it still matters so much today. In his journey he uncovers the raw reality of the March and the way it is remembered in the official histories and meets a remarkable 98 year old veteran who survived it all.

Producer: Phil Pegum.

02The Battle Of Luding Bridge20140305

Mao Zehdong understood very early the value of the Long March as propaganda. Shortly after it ended he wrote "The Long March is a manifesto. It has proclaimed to the world that the Red Army is an army of heroes, while the imperialists and their running dogs, Chiang Kai-shek and his like, are impotent. The Long March is also a propaganda force. It has announced to some 200 million people that the road of the Red Army is their only road to liberation."

Mao was so successful in manipulating the image of the Long March that it very quickly became a common phrase in English. Our second programme starts at the Luding Bridge, the site of one of the most celebrated battles of the whole march. The legend has it that the Nationalists had removed all the planks leaving Mao's army stranded and cornered on one side of the high gorge. But Red Army volunteers, under heavy fire, went hand over hand along the chains to establish a bridge head on the other side saving the day. Edward Stourton talks to witnesses of the battle to find out if it lives up to its mythological status. He also hears more first hand accounts of the suffering of the marchers and the ruthless determination it took to survive. On some sections people were so hungry they gathered undigested grains from the faeces of those who'd gone before to wash and eat again. We'll also tell the story of Mao's secret daughter - his wife, like other women who gave birth on the March, was forced to leave her child behind - mystery still surrounds the fate of the little girl who was left with a peasant family.

Producer: Phil Pegum.

03 LASTThe Legacy20140312

The end of the Long March and our journey is in Shaanxi province. When Mao started he was looked down on as an ill-educated son of a farmer. By the time it had finished he'd taken control of the Communist Party of China and used the base in Shaanxi to cement a hold on power that would last for four decades. Mao called the march "a manifesto", a symbol of the endurance needed to build a new China. In this 80th anniversary year we look at the lasting legacy of the March and how its roots still reach to the highest levels in the Chinese Communist Party.

Producer: Phil Pegum.