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A Masterpiece on China's National Image
Late U.S. journalist Harrison Salisbury's book presents the Long March to an international audience
By Bao Shixiu | NO. 42 OCTOBER 20, 2016


Cover of The Long March: The Untold Story (FILE)

In the 1980s, an experienced U.S. journalist and writer, Harrison Salisbury, came to visit China. Accompanied by Qin Xinghan, Curator of the Military Museum, and diplomat Zhang Yuanyuan, he repeated the route of the Chinese Red Army's Long March and subsequently produced a masterpiece, The Long March: The Untold Story. This year marks the 80th anniversary of the end of the Long March. It's thus meaningful to reread this book at this time, and to learn about the writer, who showcased China's real image and spread it worldwide.

By experiencing the tremendous and unimaginable difficulties that the Red Army endured, Salisbury felt the final victory was not easily attained. He also felt that the key to the victory lay in Mao Zedong's political farsightedness and exceptional military wisdom. He appreciated Mao for his flexibility on the battlefield as well as his commanding skill and fighting talent, which kept the enemy on the run.

After completing the trip, Salisbury tried to find a Chinese expert familiar with Mao's military strategy so that he could discuss the leader's secrets of how to win battles.

I was at that time studying Mao's military thought in the Academy of Military Sciences of the People's Liberation Army. Later I became the first director of the academy's Institute for Studies of Mao Zedong Military Thought. Having such a specialist academic background, I came to know Salisbury.

Two reasons prompted Salisbury to follow the route of the Long March. First, the Long March is of huge human and historic significance. Second, he wanted to fulfill Edgar Snow's long-cherished dream. Salisbury wrote that he came to know about the Long March through Snow's Red Star Over China. Snow once expressed his wish to make this expedition into a complete epic but he failed to do so due to various reasons.

What does national image mean? A common explanation is the most striking impression when outsiders look at a nation. It is often exemplified by prominent figures, such as a respected leader, who represent the highest interests of the nation. It can also be illustrated by a heroic group that rises up during a country's fight against foreign invasion to achieve national independence and liberation. As every member of the group is devoted to the highest national interests, such a group can be seen as the backbone of the nation.

The masterpiece by Salisbury conveyed to the public a moving picture of Chinese national leaders and the heroic groups surrounding them in the 1930s. Some people misunderstood foreigners like Snow and Salisbury as communists as they spread the People's Republic of China's national image around the world by means of the written word. I believe what these journalists did reflected a pursuit of progress and justice in the 20th century. This is a commendable phenomenon in the global community in highly volatile international situations during special periods.

Salisbury and I came to know each other in 1987. He passed away in 1993, and thus there were only five years of friendship between us, but he left an ineradicable impression in my memory. He was both common and uncommon—common, because he was just a journalist; uncommon, because he spent his lifetime pursuing a lofty goal.

I saw many outstanding traits in him. He was full of a sense of righteousness and sympathy for the weak. He abhorred all forms of bullying of the weak by the strong. In the 1940s, he entered the frontline of the fighting between the forces of the then Soviet Union and Nazi Germany in Leningrad (present-day Saint Petersburg). He stayed in the city for three years and subsequently wrote his first masterpiece, The 900 Days: The Siege of Leningrad. He retraced the route of the Long March while in his 70s and fitted with a pacemaker, after which he wrote The Long March: The Untold Story.

Salisbury was a frank, humble and easy-going person. He wrote a couple of books on China before gaining a deep understanding of the country, albeit with some incorrect perspectives. When giving me copies of his books, he didn't neglect to point this out, and in doing so, he apologized to me. After completing his tour of the Long March route, Salisbury had a good understanding of Mao's military thought and also of some features of his combat command techniques. However, he never showed off this knowledge when discussing the subject with me, always humbly calling himself a layman.

Salisbury was knowledgeable, he had a rich experience, and he was blessed with a strong memory and writing capability. I was deeply impressed by these traits during our talks on all sorts of topics as well as by his masterpieces.

The author is a senior research fellow with the Academy of Military Sciences

Copyedited by Chris Surtees

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