Stepping into history
( 2003-11-23 15:46) (China Daily)
Two friends who had the courage and dogged determination to turn "a big and beautiful dream" into reality have completed the adventure of a lifetime.
But in the oft-repeated words of The Carpenters, Ed Jocelyn and Andy McEwen have only just begun. Ahead of them lies months more work - compiling books and setting up a high-profile photo exhibition in Beijing.
The self-styled New Long Marchers set themselves the enormous goal of retracing what is arguably the 20th century's most remarkable feat of endurance.
Surrounded and facing destruction by Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist forces, in October 1934 the First Front Army of the Chinese Communist Party abandoned its base in the South China province of Jiangxi. Eighty thousand men, women and children left their homes to walk into the unknown.
Thousands died in combat or from starvation and disease. Others fell from fatigue and altitude sickness, or were sucked into the poisonous swamps of northern Sichuan Province. Twelve months later, only 4,000 were left when Mao Zedong led the remnants of the Red Army into the Shaanxi village of Wuqi. The legendary effort was to lay the foundations for the creation of New China and pass into the folklore of a nation.
The length of the journey has been estimated at up to 10,000 kilometres.
Jocelyn and McEwen came up with the idea of interviewing as many Long March survivors as they could find whilst retracing their steps, almost 70 years later.
After Beijing Weekend exclusively revealed details of the project, the pair set out on 16 October, 2002 from Yudu, Jiangxi Province.
Some 384 days later, the pair were greeted by a 1,000-strong throng of well-wishers at Wuqi in Shaanxi Province, having completed a trek many tried to convince them was impossible.
Between start and finish, they passed through 10 provinces, crossing mountains and raging rivers, battled through the SARS outbreak, recovered from chronic ill health, were bitten by dogs...and lived to tell the tale!
Jocelyn, who said he had never been so tired in his life, also described the final step as "one of the happiest moments of my life."
Their exploits have been reported by media around the world.
Their remarkable adventures en route are now to be parlayed into what promises to be an engrossing book, which will be released to coincide with next year's 70th anniversary of the original march.
They have amassed an amazingly rich archive of material on which to draw: it includes no fewer than 20,000 photographs which Jocelyn is this week sorting through.
They hope to repay the kind-hearted sponsorship of Cao Jian of the Jinglida Photo Studio in Beijing - who donated 400 rolls of film and developing costs - "with an amazing photo exhibition" early next year.
Guizhou Provincial Tourism Bureau honoured the pair with the title "Image Ambassadors of the Red Army Trail" while many other friends and well-wishers helped boost flagging spirits and defray the enormous costs of the venture.
Before finally setting foot there, McEwen described Wuqi - the finishing point which so often seemed impossibly far away - as "a kind of dreamland."
Along the way, the pair have been touched by messages of support from ordinary people from all walks of life.
Primary school sixth grader Luo Shujing from Guangxi told them: "I am taking the first step on the long march to study English. I hope you can make greater efforts and encourage and guide me."
Many others from around the world urged them on with inspirational messages of support.
Back in Beijing, Jocelyn and McEwen have been able to enjoy much-missed access to everything from football, coffee and pizza - and, of course, their beloved cats.
Jocelyn was this week setting about another major task - fulfilling a promise to send out photographs to many of those ordinary Chinese who helped them en route.
The pair assiduously took down contact details of those they met and have every intention of repaying their kindness.
How many photographs might that entail? "Oh, around 1,500," said Jocelyn. "It's a big job and will cost a lot of money which we have yet to raise. I'm looking for some sponsorship backing for that now."
An eagerly anticipated Christmas reunion with family and friends back in England will precede a return to Beijing for the publication of a book and photo album and a photo exhibition.
Further information is available on www.longmarch2003.com.
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