President Xi rallies party on Long March anniversary

Visitors at the National Museum in Beijing on Oct 12, during an exhibition to mark the 80th anniversary of the Red Army's Long March. According to Communist Party lore, tens of thousands of marchers including Mao Zedong travelled 12,500km through rem
Visitors at the National Museum in Beijing on Oct 12, during an exhibition to mark the 80th anniversary of the Red Army's Long March. According to Communist Party lore, tens of thousands of marchers including Mao Zedong travelled 12,500km through remote, hazardous terrain during their civil war against Nationalist forces.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Leader seen as trying to channel Mao's authority as China tackles corruption, economic slowdown

BEIJING • China's President Xi Jinping attempted to rally his ruling Communist party yesterday by praising the Red Army's epic Long March which ended 80 years ago.

The March is a foundational story for the party, which faces challenges including entrenched corruption and slowing economic growth. According to Communist Party lore, tens of thousands of marchers including Mao Zedong travelled some 12,500km through remote and hazardous terrain during their civil war against rival Nationalist forces.

In an hour-long address broadcast live on state television, Mr Xi praised the March as "an epic of mankind's unremitting efforts to pursue truth and brightness".

"On the new Long March, we must maintain our ideals and faith... and consciously stay faithful to the shared ideals of communism and socialism with Chinese characteristics," he said at Beijing's Great Hall of the People.

He also called for the building of a solid national defence and strong armed forces that are commensurate with China's international status and national security and development interests.

The anniversary has been marked with newspaper articles and dozens of TV dramas, documentaries and special exhibitions.

PLAN FOR WORLD-CLASS MILITARY

In the new Long March, we must build a world-class military led by the Communist Party of China to safeguard our country and our people.

PRESIDENT XI JINPING

But some historians have said the true length of the March was shorter than the official version; survivors have spoken of rapes, executions and forced grain requisition by the Communist troops. Such accounts are tightly censored by the party.

Mr Xi has declared the party must emulate the March's spirit in pursuit of his "Chinese Dream", a vaguely defined promise of national rejuvenation.

Analysts say his embrace of the Long March reflects his desire to gather the party around him and channel Mao's authority.

Under Mr Xi, China's governance has become more focused on the leader - a style which some have compared to that of Mao. The latter's position in the party was cemented by the Long March.

"He is putting himself in place as the most important leader since Mao Zedong," party historian Zhang Lifan told AFP.

But President Xi "faces a lot of problems, and factional infighting is very intense", he added.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, XINHUA

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 22, 2016, with the headline 'President Xi rallies party on Long March anniversary'. Print Edition | Subscribe