He Long was a number of the Tujia ethnic group. Born in Sangzhi, Hunan province, he was the son of a minor military officer who was a member of the Gelaohui , a secret society dating back to the early Qing dynasty. A cowherd during his youth, he received no formal education. He killed a local government tax assessor who had murdered his uncle, and afterwards became an outlaw .
By the mid-1920s, he had emerged as an important local military figure, rising to command the Nationalist Twentieth Army in 1923. During the 1926 Northern Expedition, He commanded the 1st Division, 9th Corps of the National Revolutionary Army. In 1927 He joined the Communist Party of China , serving as commander of the 20th Corps, 1st Column and leading the main force of the Nanchang Uprising. Chiang Kai-Shek continuously tried to make him rejoin the Kuomintang , but, failing to succeed, Chiang ordered one hundred of He's relatives killed, including three sisters and his brother.
After the failure of the Nanchang Uprising, He turned down an offer by the CCP Central Committee to study in Russia and returned to Hunan where he raised a new force.
In 1930 he let the Second Army in attacking Wuhan, then retreated to Western Hunan. During the Long March, he emerged as a supporter of Mao Zedong's peasant-oriented approach. The Second Army of the Chinese Red Army under He Long's command was the only communist force that instead of having its number reduced, its number actually increased slightly during the Long March.
After the Liberation
After the communist victory and the founding of the People's Republic in 1949, He headed the National Sports Commission. He was made a marshal in 1955, and was also made vice-premier. During the Cultural Revolution he was branded an anti-Party element and purged in 1966. He died in custody from diabetes, beatings and starvation.