Marching on the road to romance
By Li Xing (China Daily)
Updated: 2006-10-10 06:43

Dragon from Sichuan

Stories of Liu abound. For Wang at the summer time in 1935, the most intriguing was how in April, Liu led the advanced detachment to get hold of boats from a local Kuomintang county magistrate, occupied the Jinsha River pier and enabled the 20,000-strong Central Red Army to sail across the river into Sichuan.

This file photo shows the Red Army soldiers trekking on the snow mountains during the Long March.
In fact, late Chairman Mao Zedong had predicted that Liu, as the "Dragon from Sichuan," would "carry" the Red Army across the river. By crossing the Jinsha River, the Red Army successfully shook off some 100,000 Kuomintang troops which had been pursuing and trying to drive the Central Red Army into the turbulent Jinsha River in Yunnan. Instead, the Kuomintang army could only watch the ships burn and picked up some straw shoes left by the Red Army.

In May, the Red Army were blocked on their way in the Liangshan mountains through the villages of the Yi people, who were embroiled in their own tribal fights. It was Liu who cleared the way by winning over Xiao Yedan, a Yi chieftain.

In a traditional Yi ceremony, Liu and Xiao Yedan drank from a bowl of water with fresh blood from a rooster, thus forging an alliance between the Red Army and the Yi people.

In June the two main forces of the Red Army shook hands. A few days later, a delegation of the Central Red Army came to meet the commanders of the Fourth Front Army.

Standing in the rank and file welcoming the entourage, Wang asked a colleague of hers who was the officer wearing a pair of glasses. She was told that officer was the famous chief of staff of the Red Army, Liu Bocheng.

"I was surprised that Liu appeared so common," Wang later recalled, "but underneath his commonness was the power of an army man and steadfastness and resourcefulness of a military strategist."

While reflecting her initial finding about Liu in person, Wang, at that time, did not realize that she herself stood out as a pretty, witty and honest young woman, who was tall and strong.

Ren Bishi, a senior leader of the CPC, and his wife, tried match-making Liu and Wang. In August, Wang was transferred to work in the headquarters of the chief of staff, but she was hesitant after hearing about Ren's proposal. "I told him I was young and simple, and I didn't think I could bring him joy and happiness," Wang recalled.

Ren didn't push it, allowing the two the time to get to know each other.

The days dragged on as the soldiers were haunted by hunger, illnesses, capricious weather, erroneous commands within the Fourth Front Army and above all, constant skirmishes as the Kuomintang army and local warlords were out to wipe out the Red Army.

They had to tramp across the marshes of the grassland the second time in late autumn, when most of them had only late summer clothing. "I saw with my own eyes a horse sinking fast into a mire," she said. In a few days, they had eaten all barley flour and a handful of salt that they'd brought with them. They dug out grasses and also found some cattle skins. "A lot of us succumbed to hunger," she said.