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CROSSING THE •sRIDGE OF IRON CHAINS•: A VARIANT ACCOUNT Karen Gernant One of the best-known and most heroic tales of the Chinese Communists ' Long March (1934-35) is that of the sprint over the Luding Bridge in late May 1935. Under attack from the enemy on the opposite side of the Dadu River, twenty-two Red Army shock troops started across the bare bridge of iron chains. As the men drew close to the opposite shore, enemy forces set the bridgehead ablaze. The fire burned the men's clothing and caps, and singed their eyebrows and hair--and yet they dashed through it. With the aid of timely reinforcements, these shock troops destroyed most of the defending enemy's two regiments. Red Army forces sustained only three casualties .[!] In brief, that is the conventional account of the crossing of the Luding Bridge over the Dadu River--the account that has been repeated in one form or another for the past 50 years, the account that made myth. There is one other account--a story told some years later to Su Weiguang who interviewed veterans of the Long March. Its plausibility makes it worth recounting.(2] The anonymous interviewee notes that his company had •accepted the responsibility for holding the bridge. The whole company had run ninety li in two hours [sic.), and reached the side of the Dadu River.• Once there, they saw •an iron-chain bridge without planks •• the headman.• In a distant cave, they also located •a rawhide boat hidden by the headman.• The boat was tiny, capable of holding only two people, and it was slow, consuming a half hour to make one round trip. In a trial crossing, two men were overturned and were carried seven or eight li by the rushing current. The bridge was the only realistic hope for making the river crossing. As recalled by the interviewee, the bridge was two meters wide and 200 meters long. It was made from nine iron chains, four serving as handrails and five as the bridge itself. At each extremity, a wooden bridgehouse held winches. In a strong wind, the chains were loosened to relax the tension. It was clear that crossing the bare iron chains was impossible. Old Liu personally led more than thirty comrades to a small village to buy planks. They went to five or six villages before gathering enough. • Because wood materials were hard to buy, anything could be used. These wooden materials included large boards from doors, old wooden beds, and broken wooden windows •••• 37 When they returned, the troops placed the planks on the chains, flush against each other, leaving no cracks. They fastened the planks securely to the chains with iron wire. Some of the men working on this more than 100-foot-high bridge grew dizzy, and everyone was fearful. •r chanced to .•• look at the shore. The •.• turning of the earth and sky immediately stopped. I became calm. I quickly announced this method (of preventing dizziness].• With fear and tension taking their toll in exhaustion, people rotated the work. The cook, a certain Sun, also took a turn. He became dizzy. I went to help him. He grabbed my leg •• I gripped the iron chain tightly. The plank on the bridge suddenly overturned. His body then left the body of the bridge and was suspended in air. If he hadn't had a death hold on my leg, he probably would have toppled into the river. My hand grasping the iron chain was in pain. It was as if the bones would all snap. • •• But I didn't relax my grip. Although I could swim. I estimated correctly my own strength. In this violent current, I would not be able to save old Sun and bring him ashore. Relaxing my hand would be the same as sacrificing him. • If only my arms didn't break, I would not let old Sun fall into the river. Another three minutes elapsed. Noticing the men's plight, a third person tossed aside his plank to run up and rescue them. This rescuer knotted a rope around the narrator's waist, •secured it on the iron chain,• and then--with...


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