Chairman Mao Zedong (R) grants a medal to Li Zhen (L2). [Xinhua]
During the 1930s, soldier Li Zhen was a participant in the Long March. With strong belief and great tenacity, she witnessed the success of China's Liberation War and later became the country's first female general.
Li was born into a poverty-stricken family in Liuyang County, central China's Hunan Province, and was given away by her parents as a child bride at the age of 6.
At the age of 18, she took part in the revolution during the First Chinese Civil War (1924-1927) and joined the Communist Party of China in 1927.
Determined to Join the Long March
In July 1934, having suffered a defeat in breaking through the fifth round of encirclements launched by the Kuomintang army, the Sixth Red Army Group planned for a westward March, a strategic retreat, to evade the enemy's pursuit.
At the time, Li served as director of the Political Department of the Red Army. At first, Li's leaders did not add her to the name list for those taking part in the Long March because her younger sister was expecting a baby.
Hearing about the arrangement, Li rushed to Ren Bishi, president of the Military and Political Committee of the Army Group, and came straight to the point: "I don't agree with staying. I want to go with the army. Which one is more important, to fight wars or to tend to my sister?"
"I came to conduct a revolution. How can I stay before it has been successful? I must go with the army," she added.
Ren, who knew Li's personality well, said: "Okay. I will discuss this with other leaders later. But it's not an easy road to take."
Hearing his words, Li's face shined with joy.
Fighting Bravely During the Long March
On August 7, 1934, the Sixth Red Army Group broke out of the blockade of Jiang's army and kicked off the epic Long March. Li, alongside the Red Army School, set out from east China's Jiangxi Province.
Three days later, after the Army Group reached Guidong County in central China's Hunan Province, it held a conference to celebrate its successful breakout. During the conference, it established its leading authorities and appointed Li as minister of the organization department.
Upon their arrival at Ganxi, a town in southwest China's Sichuan Province, Li's troops were subjected to a violent attack. Greatly outnumbered by the enemy, they were surrounded and separated into several sections.
To break through the encirclement, Li was assigned to transmit instructions from the head of the Sixth Red Army Group to their separated troops.
Whilst climbing over a steep mountain, she encountered heavy rains. Li picked up a stick, continuing forward through the muddy path with great difficulty.
At the time, she saw a vague image of a person in front her. After she got closer to him, the man turned out to be the guard of the political commissar of the sixth division.
Seeing that the guard carried a basin, an idea hit her mind. Li borrowed the basin, sat in it and slid down the mountain at a high speed.
However, she hit a big tree on the hillside and cut her arms and legs. Bloodstains ran all over her clothes.
Li endured her severe pains and continued right away. Finally, she found the troops one after another before it got dark.
Thanks to Li's prompt completion of her task, the scattered troops gathered with great speed, shrugged off the enemy's pursuit and soon met with the Second Red Army Group.
The head of the Sixth Red Army Group shook hands warmly with Li and praised her as a smart and brave female warrior.
Adopting Children of Martyrs
Li was already pregnant when she started the March. At that time, apart from fighting, she also took on work for the Party, officials and wounded soldiers.
Due to long-term anxiety and exhaustion, however, she suffered a miscarriage when the troops advanced towards Kunming, capital of southwest China's Yunnan Province.
Unable to rest properly amid fierce, frequent battles, Li lost her fertility forever.
Nevertheless, she and her husband brought up over 20 war orphans throughout their life. Basked in warmth and care, these children all became talented and successful adults.
In 1955, Li was honored as a major general and became the only female general among the founding pioneers of the People's Republic of China.
Li Zhen (R) and her husband [Xinhua]
(Source: Xinhua/Translated and edited by Women of China)