The Longish March

For millions of Chinese, the Long March is a seminal historic event. In 1934, the more-than-80,000-strong Red Army, having been routed by Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalists, retreated from its base in southeast China on a harrowing yearlong slog that killed 9 out of 10 soldiersóbut ultimately, by saving the core cadre to fight another day, set the stage for the Communists' victory, launched a nation and turned a little-known guerilla fighter named Mao Zedong into a hero.

Mao said his troops wandered roughly 12,000 kilometers through the hinterlands, and that's what most of the history books say. But two...

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