Sangzhi folk songs tell revolutionary history and prosperous life today

By Tao Wei | Updated : Feb 22, 2021
One day in the summer of 1928, He Jinzhai, a commander of the Red Army, bade farewell to his beloved wife Dai Guixiang through one Sangzhi folk song. Over a month later, He died a hero’s death in the battle of Nisha Town, Shimen County when he was only 27.

In the summer of 1931, Dai Guixiang, who was shocked by the bad news, was extremely sad. She remained a widow in plain clothes all her life. For more than 60 years, she went to her husband’s grave to sing this folk song and picked several mulberry leaves almost every day. She left a wooden box filled with mulberry leaves when she died.

There are countless romantic stories like one of He Jinzhai and Dai Guixiang in the revolutionary base areas of Hunan, Hubei, Sichuan and Guizhou provinces. Zhangjiajie City, Hunan Province, the core area of the revolutionary base areas in the past, is now a world natural heritage and well-known scenic spot. Hou Zongyuan, who enjoys his old age in the Homes for Disabled Veterans in Darongxi Town, Yongding District, joined the Red Army at the age of seven with his seven family members. “A bomb exploded next to me, and its shock wave drove me into the river. Fortunately, I grabbed one horse’s tail and survived. However, my father was hit by a bullet in his abdomen and died after a few days. Most of my family members died in the battle,” said Hou.

The Second Army of the Chinese Workers’ and Peasants Red Army which consisted of the Second and Sixth Red Army in the revolutionary base areas of Hunan, Hubei, Sichuan and Guizhou contained more than 500,000 troops of Nationalist Party, making great contribution to the Long March and Chinese revolution. In the Long March Memorial Hall, where the Second Army of the Chinese Workers’ and Peasants Red Army started their journey, there is a statue of three one-armed soldiers. They are He Bingyan, Yu Qiuli, and Yan Fusheng, three founding generals, said Tan Zhangheng, deputy director of the hall.

On December 21, 1935, He Bingyan, the 22-year-old commander of the Red Army, was shot in his right arm in a fierce battle. He had to have his arm amputated because his injury worsened. Since there was no anesthetics, he asked the doctor to use a carpenter’s saw to saw through his injured arm. “It takes more than two hours to complete the operation. During the long process, He Bingyan was so painful that he bit out a few big holes in the towel in his mouth. After hearing the news, He Long came to pick up some blood-soaked broken bones from the ground and said to the other cadres and soldiers, ‘Look! These are the bones of He Bingyan, the bones of the Communists, how hard they are!’”

From 1927 to 1936, in Zhangjiajie City, more than 200,000 people participated in the revolution, over 20,000 people joined the Red Army, and more than 60,000 people sacrificed honorably for the Chinese revolution, including many families. Chen Meilin, chairman of the Construction Promotion Association of the old revolutionary areas of Zhangjiajie City, said that the feats of the Red Army soldiers gave birth to Sangzhi folk songs.

The former residences of the martyrs, the Red Army hospital, the remains of the battlefield, the former site of the Red Soviet in the hinterland of Wuling Mountain remind us countless heroic deeds of revolutionary martyrs.

Wei Tianlu, a veteran of the Red Second Army, said that the troops often run out of food and had to collect wild vegetables and dig tree roots to eat. In that case, a cooked potato was extremely delicious and rare to them. Sometimes when there was not enough potato, they mashed it and mixed it with wild vegetables, and then shared with others. The Red Army sent the assets confiscated from local tyrants to the masses, helped farmers to plant land, carry water, and repair houses, and refused to receive any gift from them. The Long March Memorial Hall still preserves ten silver coins paid by the Red Army to vegetable farmers, which was far higher than the price at the market.

Just like the Sangzhi folk song sings, the soldiers of the Red Army faced death unflinchingly on the battlefield. He Guiru, the commander of the First Regiment of the First Division of the Fourth Red Army, shouted on the battlefield, “Comrades, for the next generation, go!” He took the lead in rushing into the rain of bullets and died in a heroic way with seven bullets when he was only 33. In 1951, the letter from He Long to his sister-in-law Chen Guiying (He Guiru’s mother) wrote that Gui Ru’s nephew died a glorious death, as his death won the victory of the Chinese revolution.

Nowadays, the Sangzhi red folk songs can be heard and the scenes of prosperity can be seen everywhere, no matter whether in the depths of the dense forest, in the banks of the river, or in the urban and rural cultural and sports squares, on the CRH (China Railway High-speed) or the bus driving on the expressway.

In the former site of the Xikou Soviet Government in Zhangshu Village, Xikou Town, Cili County, pears, grapes, watermelons, and peaches grow widely in the fields, and outdoor tourism projects are carried out on the river sides. On the side of the He Jinzhai’s Cemetery, there is the Hongjiaguan Homes for Disabled Veterans of Sangzhi County surrounded by mulberry trees. He Xiaoying, the 60-year-old dean, proudly presented her re-employment certificate to us. She has served more than 100 revolutionary elderly people including Dai Guixiang for more than 30 years. “Guided by the Party’s policies and under the support of all sectors of society, it is much easier for us to do the work,” said He. Last year, though affected by the COVID-19 and the rare heavy rainfall, Sangzhi County still made efforts to lift 98,575 people in 29,106 poor households out of poverty.

Sangzhi folk songs were born out of the cries of the ancestors fighting against natural disasters and enemies, and as well narrate the happy and prosperous life in the new era, according to Xiang Zuorong, the inheritor of Sangzhi folk songs.

Edited by Li Ling 

2019 Zhangjiajie Bureau of Culture, Tourism, Broadcasting and Sports