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Chinese President Xi Jinping Wants To Revive The 'Spirit of the Long March'

The Red Detachment of Women (image by Byron Schumaker via Wikimedia Commons)

On May 1 China adopted a new law that promotes "patriotism and socialist core values" and criminalizes acts that "defame heroes and martyrs," or "distort and diminish their deeds." The law also makes it illegal to "glorify invasions."

The law is part of a larger scheme which the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has been pursuing since President Xi Jinping took office in 2012. His vision is to end the era of political indifference brought about by economic development.

In 2005 The New York Times remarked that the CCP had been "plagued by the loss of ideological enthusiasm and the rampancy of corruption among its members for the past two decades." Xi Jinping has sought to reverse that trend. Using traditional tools of Communist brainwashing, he wants Party ideology to be once again at the centre of people's lives.

In a 2013 speech Xi emphasized the importance of ideology. "The aim of our public opinion and ideological work must be to consolidate the leading position of Marxism-Leninism and the common ideological foundation of the Party and the people of the whole country in our united struggle. Party members and officials must firmly believe in Marxism and Communism ..." (Xi Jinping, The Governance Of China, Chapter VI).

Xi's predecessors had paid lip service to Communist ideology, yet had done very little to bolster the faith of the people in its principles. Most Chinese were more interested in material well-being than they were in the tenets of Marx, Lenin or Mao. The Party seemed to be losing its ideological grip on society to materialism and individualism. That threatened the very legitimacy of Communist rule.

In order to strengthen the leadership of the Party, Xi launched the most severe crackdown on free speech since 1989, demanded unconditional faith in Party ideology, emphasized the importance of Mao Zedong Thought, and turned media and education into instruments of relentless propaganda.


Recently the Chinese government has launched a new campaign to revive what Xi Jinping has called the "spirit of the Long March" (长征精神). Worshipping martyrs and heroes of the Chinese Communist Party is a linchpin of Xi's ideology. "A hopeful nation needs heroes," he argued in 2016.

Chinese authorities announced a series of activities aimed at promoting the Communist myth of the Long March. All over the country Party cadres as well as business people put on uniforms of the Chinese Red Army (the forerunner of the People's Liberation Army), walked the route of the Long March, and professed their loyalty to Xi Jinping. 

Party cadres at the renowned Sichuan Conservatory of Music were required to wear Red Army uniforms and take part in study sessions. Pictures of the event went viral, sparking an online controversy.  



He Weifang (贺卫方) , professor at Beijing University and advocate of judicial reform in China, criticized the school's propaganda activity . "Can this country still be saved?" he asked in a post.

The Long March has always played a key role in Communist China's mythology. Between October 1934 and October 1935, the Red Army was encircled by Guomindang forces in Jiangxi. The Communists escaped to the Northwest. Out of the 80,000 troops who left Jiangxi, less than 10,000 were still with Mao at the end of the Long March.

In December 1935, Mao extolled the Long March as "the first of its kind in the annals of History." He remarked that it was "a manifesto, a propaganda force, a seeding-machine" which had "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" (Jonathan D. Spence, The Search for Modern China, 1999, 402-403). 

The Long March has indeed, as Mao rightly noted, become a propaganda force. Xi Jinping seems determined to inculcate this myth into young people and punish whomever questions the Party's version of historical events. 

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