• A Woman's Journey Through Long March
    2011-04-27Editor: Wang Yuxia
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    This old lady's average day does not resemble that of a typical 98-year-old.

    She spends one-third of a year traveling and attending various social events. Wherever she goes, she receives the highest level of reception.

    On the wall of her home are photos of her with top Chinese leaders, including President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao.

    Amongst her various portraits, one in particular stands out. In the photo, she wears a grayish blue military uniform, with a red star on the front of her hat.

    Her name is Wang Dingguo, one of the female soldiers who trekked with the Red Army in the mid-1930s in a military retreat from the Nationalist besiege. They swept across a distance of over twice the width of the continental United States on foot.

    The epic trek through 11 provinces was later coined the Long March. Historians say the journey salvaged the Communist Party of China from the brink of breakdown.

    "My mother is no ordinary woman," said Xie Yaxu, Wang Dingguo's son.

    "Her revolutionary past has left her with an invincible faith...At such an old age, she doesn't care about rules. She simply lives in her own spiritual world," the son added.

    JOINING REVOLUTION

    Wang Dingguo was born in 1913 into a peasant family in southwest China's Sichuan Province.

    In the turbulent years, the war-ridden Sichuan fell into the hands of five warlords. Without their own house and land, Wang's family were forced to take shelter in a derelict hut.

    "Wang Dingguo was born in a time, when children, particularly girls, were treated as small adults," said Zhou Lei, assistant research fellow with Women's Studies Institute of China.

    When Wang Dingguo was six, her mother sent her to work at a noodle restaurant in her village. Her job was to grind grains with a millstone. As the millstone was too heavy, she had to lean herself against it with her full body weight to turn it.

    At the age of 15, Wang was sold to another family as a child bride. But the marriage didn't last, and her uncle bought her back.

    But Wang Dingguo was a rebel of her time.

    At that time, girls with bound feet had a higher chance of marrying a rich man. But for the young Wang Dingguo, it meant nothing.

    "I did two things back then," said Wang. "I undid my bound feet and cut my pigtails. I couldn't walk properly with bound feet.And once the adults held my pigtails, I couldn't run away. So I got rid of them both."

    The turn of Wang's life came in 1933, as the Red Army came to her village. She not only joined the army herself, but also rallied 400 others to go with her.

    "We would've had nowhere to go, had we not trekked with the Red Army.We didn't have what could call homes," said Wang.

    She left Sichuan in the mid-1930s, but avoided visiting her hometown for the next five decades.

    Most of the 400-or-so women who ran away with her did not survive to see the fruit of their revolution.

    "You couldn't blame my mother for that. How could she explain to the families who had lost their daughters or wives?" said Xie.