sometimes witty book reviews
Of the 86,000 individuals who began the Chinese Red Army’s Long March in 1934, only 30 of them were women. Only 10,000 men made it through, but every single woman recorded in the history of the trek survived. Dean King’s Unbound is a narrative, non-fiction account of these 30 women’s stories. Using previously un-translated archival material and research, including a interview with the last of these female survivors, King has constructed a flowing narrative of a part of history so often found to be inaccessible due to political and language barriers.
King faithfully follows these women over the 370 days it took the First Army to circumnavigate Western China to the then communist stronghold of Yan’an. While covering some 4,000 miles of desert, quick sand, marsh, river crossing, mountain passes and exposed grasslands, King recounts these 30 lives in a frank and objective manner. The women included former school teachers, nurses, peasant-women previously sold into slavery and children as young as 10. The book is called ‘Unbound’ as these women were among the first generations not forces to bind their feet. Though several unlucky women on the march had been subjected to the tail-end of this fashion craze did trek the entire distance on feet badly mutilated by the practice. Others, falling pregnant just before or during the First Army’s flight from Southern China, marched right up to the point of delivery – and then carried on marching.
King’s research for this text took four and half years of data collection, translation, interviews and re-creation of the trek at various points. This included a hike up Dagushan Mountain on the Tibetan Border. A feat most of the 20,000 marchers who had survived to this point completely with no special equipment and wearing hastily-made straw shoes. This book is an incredibly feat in discerning an accurate account of this histories bearing in mind the mythology and propaganda that still accompany the Long March in China today.
For any enthusiast of modern Chinese history, this is an essential text detailing one of the key narratives of early Communist Party History. For everyone else, this book contains an approachable history of the powerful life-stories of some truly remarkable women. They are figures who deserve to be rescued from the statistics of history given there singular positions in one of the major military movements of the last century.