Capsule Review

The Long March: The True History of Communist China's Founding Myth; Zhou Enlai: The Last Perfect Revolutionary

In This Review

The Long March: The True History of Communist China's Founding Myth

The Long March: The True History of Communist China's Founding Myth
By Sun Shuyun
Doubleday, 2007, 288 pp. $26.00 Purchase

Zhou Enlai: The Last Perfect Revolutionary

Zhou Enlai: The Last Perfect Revolutionary
By Gao Wenqian
PublicAffairs, 2007, 345 pp. $27.95 Purchase

These two books dramatically illustrate that the story of Chinese communism is in a constant state of revision. What at one point in time seemed like solid history turns out to have been myth and make-believe. Sun grew up with a father who had been a high officer in the Red Army, and when she decided to retrace the Long March, interviewing people who had had firsthand experiences with a central story in the rise of Chinese communism, she was determined to get the true story. Gao, meanwhile, wanted to get the true story of Zhou Enlai's role in the history of Chinese communism -- and thus had to debunk some myths. Other historians and scholars have found fault with the Communist Party's account of the Long March, but Sun's research provides a new baseline for all future treatment of that major propaganda event. Sun is able to demonstrate that the Xiang River Battle, which the official history of the Long March identifies as the "longest and most heroic" battle of the entire campaign, was in fact a major defeat for the Communists, with casualties and desertions reducing the First Army from 86,000 to 30,000 people. Sun's objective reporting of what she learned about the sufferings of the marchers adds up to a more impressive story than the party's propaganda version.

Gao's biography of Zhou is further proof of the payoffs of telling the truth about politically sensitive matters. Gao has brought together the full story of Zhou's revolutionary accomplishments, beginning with his early years in building Communist cells among Chinese students in France and Germany. In tracing Zhou's career, Gao explores in detail the highly personalized factional battles of the Chinese Communist leadership. The story comes to a dramatic conclusion with Zhou on his deathbed, in excruciating pain from bladder cancer but able to call on his wife and Deng Xiaoping to keep up the fight against Mao Zedong and the Cultural Revolutionaries. This book will certainly help secure a positive memory of Zhou.

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