Hell Tours : China: The Long March

Have you been yearning for a trekking experience that will push you to your mental and physical limits?

Are you seeking a journey more challenging than the Camino de Santiago, more extreme than an Everest base camp expedition, more punishing than a Patagonian hike?

Then look no further than the trip historian Jonathan Spence described as “a nightmare of death and pain” –

Hell Tours China: The Long March (1934 – 1935)

Experience all the Chinese countryside has to offer as you spend over a year covering almost 8, 000 km (approx. 4900 miles) on foot with the Chinese Communist Party’s Red Army.

Traverse treacherous mountain ranges, flooded rivers and lethal grasslands all while Chiang Kai-shek and his Nationalist forces bombard you with artillery and aerial attacks in an attempt to wipe out you and your comrades.

Why tour the highlights of China in luxurious, air-conditioned buses when our tour leaders Mao Zedong and Zhu De can take you on a journey of “Adventure, exploration, discovery, human courage and cowardice, ecstasy and triumph, suffering, sacrifice and loyalty”? (Edgar Snow, 1937)

Hell Tours guarantees this is one trip you’ll never forget, if you survive of course.   

DAY ONE:

16 October 1934

“The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.” Lao-Tzu

Your single step is taken in Jiangxi with 80,000 or so members of the Red Army retreating from Nationalist attacks. Pack light because this is an exodus and you’ll be expected to help carry everything but the kitchen sink from the communist party offices as we flee.

Why not ‘volunteer’ as a porter so you can dodge bullets whilst hauling everything from radio transmitters to printing presses and X-ray machines on bamboo poles?

Or maybe you’ll be one of the ‘lucky’ ones carrying party leaders around on homemade sedan chairs so that they may read, rest and ruminate during the march. Whatever your responsibilities, you won’t have experienced anything like it – and it’s only your first day!

DAY TWO onwards: 

Let’s face it, it’s impossible to cover every horrendous day of more than a year long trip, so here are some highlights that await you –

HELL TOURS HIGHLIGHT: THE BATTLE OF XIANG RIVER
(November 25 – December 3)

Around a month into our trek we say goodbye to many of our comrades and a great deal of our equipment as we fight the brutal week-long battle of Xiang River. When it concludes our ranks will have dropped to around 30,000 but our spirits will remain aloft as we begin the unpredictable route north.

We’ll use brilliant military tactics to put a greater distance between ourselves and the enemy such as: walking in circles, zig-zagging and backtracking for months. Sure, it may seem dumb but this is all well thought out “strategy” and nothing to do with the march being poorly organised and at the mercy of leaders more interested in becoming sole ruler of the party than the well-being of its lower ranked members. 

HELL TOURS HIGHLIGHT: THE GREAT SNOWY MOUNTAINS
(July 1935)

Enjoy the Summer at 14,000 feet as we cross the Great Snowy Mountain Ranges in nothing more than thin cloth uniforms and grass woven footwear. The trip will only take a day but conditions are icy and hazardous and by this point you are already worn out, malnourished and possibly injured so watch your step!

Stick together and avoid the urge to take a much-needed forty winks at the summit or you may find this is one nap you do not wake up from.

HELL TOURS HIGHLIGHT: THE HIGH GRASSLANDS
(August 1935)

10 months into your trip having survived hails of bullets, aerial bombings, freezing temperatures, flooded river crossings, disease, malnutrition and the wrath of local warlords and indigenous tribes; prepare yourself for a deadly game of “stuck in the mud”.

The deceptively beautiful high grasslands of Sichuan represent the most lethal leg of the trip. Not unlike a punishment from Dante’s Inferno, below the grass lies sucking, suffocating black mud capable of swallowing men whole. Watch your step, as those who trip and fall will quickly become human stepping stones for those behind in this real-life swamp of sadness where every step could be your last.

If all that weren’t enough, none of the vegetation that surrounds you is edible. Those who try nibbling on the tough, indigestible grasses will succumb to agonising stomach cramps, diarrhea and dysentery. So, if you do find yourself getting peckish, why not try boiling your leather belt for a quick snack?

Or, if you’re a little more desperate adventurous you could pick through your comrades’ faeces for undigested grain!

Your dining options are limited only by your imagination.  

FINISHING POINT: YAN’AN
(October 1935)

After more than a year on foot, our trip concludes in dusty, rural Yan’an in Shaanxi province. Home to a large communist contingent, Yan’an provides the perfect place to rest, re-group and refine the revolutionary ideologies of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Ideologies that will lead to the eventual defeat of the Nationalists and the establishment of the People’s Republic of China. But all that is more than a decade away, so why not kick back with a beer and take it easy?

You’ve most definitely earned it.

FINE PRINT:

MEALS: None included. (Although high ranking officials and leaders will be provided for.)

MEDICAL TREATMENT: Minimal. Those injured by shrapnel during bombings will be treated with a topical cream and sent on their way.

PREGNANT WOMEN: Please note, babies born during the march will be given away to local villagers and never reunited with their mothers.

CODE OF CONDUCT:

Familiarise yourself with Mao’s Three Rules of Discipline and Eight Points of Attention; a code of behaviour for Red Army soldiers interacting with civilians. It is Mao’s wish that the Red Army be a be a kinder, gentler more respectful military force than the Chinese people have seen before.

It may not be true, but it makes for great PR.  

HYPERBOLE: While every care is taken to confirm the details of this tour, certain aspects, such as the Battle of Luding Bridge, may be less spectacular and heroic than promised.

This is due to the heavy mythologising of the march by Mao, the CCP and journalists such as Edgar Snow whose account of the journey was heavily influenced by Mao and the CCP propaganda machine.

DISCLAIMER: All distances and participant numbers are approximate.

Photos do not represent actual places on or participants of the march.

SIMILAR TOURS YOU MAY ENJOY:

1842 British retreat from Kabul, Afghanistan

BIBLIOGRAPHY & FURTHER READING:

Websites:

http://afe.easia.columbia.edu/special/china_1900_mao_march.htm

https://www.history.com/topics/china/long-march

http://factsanddetails.com/china/cat2/sub5/item60.html

Books

Colin Mackerras China in Transformation 1900-1949, Longman Limited, London.,1998

Franz Schurmann and Orville Schell, Republican China: Nationalism, War and the Rise of Communism 1911-1949, Colonial Press Massachusetts., 1967

Jung Chang & Jon Halliday Mao: The Unknown Story, Jonathan Cape, 2005
Stephen Uhally, Mao Tse Tung: A Critical Biography, New Viewpoint Publishing, New York, 1985

T.P. Phillips, China since 1911, St Martins Press, New York., 1997

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