BEIJING- China’s President Xi Jinping attempted to rally his ruling Communist party on Friday 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 traveled some 12,500 kilometers through remote and hazardous terrain during their civil war against rival Nationalist forces.
In an hour-long address broadcast live on state television, 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, surrounded by top officials at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People.
The anniversary has been marked with a drumbeat of newspaper articles plus dozens of TV dramas, documentaries and special exhibitions.
But some historians have said the true length of the March was shorter than the official version, and survivors have spoken of rapes, executions and forced grain requisition by the Communist troops.
Such accounts are tightly censored by the party.
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.
China’s governance has become more focused on the leader under Xi — a style some have compared to Mao, whose position in the party was cemented by the March.
“He is putting himself in place as the most important leader since Mao Zedong,” party historian Zhang Lifan told AFP.
But Xi “faces a lot of problems, and factional infighting is very intense”, he added.