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'When I take roads walked by others, I learn much more history'

SHANGHAI men are generally considered gentle, considerate and eager to please, and easily managed by their wives - unlike their northern brethren. This stereotype, like all generalities, has its exceptions.

Suntanned, athletic 52-year-old Wang Longxiang, former manager of a local wine plant, is not only a nice guy but a tough one, too, as he explores the nation by motorcycle.

Though he holds master's degrees in chemistry and biology, Wang would rather hit the road. Biking and exploration, especially following routes of Chinese history, have been his love for 30 years, worked in with his professional life.

For 80 days in 2004, Wang covered the route taken by the Red Army during the Long March (1934-35). A year later, he spent another four months on motorcycle exploring nearly 200 cities that were once battlefields during the War of Resistence against Japanese Aggression (1937-45).

In 2000, Wang crossed the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and traversed the Taklimakan Desert (the Sea of Death) in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, as well as other environments not for the faint of heart.

Wang holds the Guinness World Record for being the first man to ride a motorcycle across the Taklimakan Desert and Lop Nur - a feat accomplished in 2002 on his made-in-China motorcycle.

On March 26, however, Wang began his most arduous and significant journey, a six-month odyssey that will pay tribute to the historic sites, memorials and museums dedicated to the Chinese Communist Party during the Chinese Civil War (1945-49).

Wang will cover 31 provinces and regions, famous battlefields and historic sites and conclude his journey in time for ceremonies celebrating the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949.

"This year marks the 60th anniversary of the founding of the PRC," Wang says. "My journey holds great meaning and gives me a chance to look back at history," he tells Shanghai Daily.

Though he has ridden many motorcycles over the years - and he collects them - for this journey he has chosen a domestically produced Longxin 150cc. It's loaded with camping equipment, extra fuel, water and a national flag displayed at the rear.

He also carries a map of China and at each major historic site, he will receive an official postal stamp. The map, his bike, video and other memorabilia will later be placed on public view in a museum.

He is strong and energetic, after all, 52 isn't old. will carry daily updates about Wang's journey. Photos and detailed stories will be posted on his Internet blog.

Wang began preparations for his journey last year, arranging his itinerary, setting up interviews with retired soldiers, historians and others familiar with the period in each region.

"You can never prepare too much, because you can never foresee what may happen in the wilderness," he says.

He has endured extremes of temperature, ferocious unpredictable weather, long roads or no roads, little food, sometimes just bread or fried rice with an egg.

"I enjoy challenging nature," says Wang. "The biggest difficulty for a motorcyclist is to avoid accidents caused by rugged or nonexistent roads, and wandering livestock."

He plans to visit around 100 historic sites, including memorial museums and the battlefield at Xichang, Sichuan Province, a memorial to the Communist victory in the Civil War.

Wang's motorcycle, map and flag, as well as photos and video clips from the journey will be displayed in the Military Museum of the Chinese People's Revolution in Beijing.

When he returns, Wang will meet students of Changzheng Middle School in Shanghai, sharing his experience, and his photos.

Wang says it's the process of riding and discovery that brings the greatest satisfaction - the satisfaction is in the journey itself.

"Today, what we learn about history mostly comes from movies and books," Wang says. "However, after I took the roads of our predecessors on my own, I learned and understood more about those remarkable events."

Watching the Peking Opera "Sha Jia Bang" was popular for his generation. It is set during the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression.

Wang has over 30 years of motorcycling experience, and in the early years he was the envy of other young men. And young girls, too, liked to go for a ride.

"Young girls liked to sit on the back and they would loosen their braids and let their hair fly in the wind," he recalls.

Now he has his own garage housing dozens of motorcycles from dozens of journeys.

Wang is not the only well-known Shanghai adventurer. Yu Chunshun was trying to cross the Lop Nur Desert on foot, but he died in 1996 after he lost his way and ran out of water.

Wang attributes his success to good luck, being careful and using technology wisely.

"My motto is that adventure doesn't mean risking or gambling one's life blindly," Wang says. "This outdoor exploration fever will last for many years." Before setting off, he says, adventurers must have an accurate assessment of their own abilities, survival skills and physique.

"Keep in mind," says Wang, "that you should never surpass your limits."


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