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"One historical fact differentiates the Chinese Communist Party from Communist movements in any other country outside of Soviet Russia, a fact essential to a clear understanding of what has been happening in China during the last quarter of a century," wrote Dr. Hu Shih, China's foremost scholar and onetime ambassador to the U.S. "The Chinese Communist Party, partly by design and partly by extraordinary circumstances, has possessed a formidable army of its own almost from the very early years of its founding. This unique feature has been the most important source of its strength, which Stalin, the masterful strategist of world Communism, has been able to nurture, support, and in the course of 25 years develop into a most powerful instrumentality for subjugating China and thereby dominating the whole Asiatic continent."
Stalin himself, in a telegram sent through the Comintern in 1926, ordered the Chinese Communist Party to raise its own army (20,000 tested comrades to lead 50,000 armed peasants). At that time the Reds were still accepted in the Kuomintang (Nationalist) revolution, which Chiang Kai-shek had led up from the south to subjugate the warlords and unify the nation. A Red army had already been urged by Mao, then one of the Communist Party's lesser figures and often berated by his less realistic comrades as a starry-eyed opportunist dreaming of "romantic Soviet republics in the mountainous wilderness." The Stalin-Mao decision to form an army, was, in effect, an undeclared war on Chiang Kai-shek and the Nationalist regime. Chiang hit back hard, sent his Soviet Russian advisers packing, dispersed the Comintern agents, forced Mao into the "mountainous wilderness" of inland China.
While Chiang fought the northern warlords, Mao became a warlord in his own right. On Chingkan Shan, celebrated bandit mountain lair, he joined forces with the local outlaws, soon merged them in his new Red army.* It was a guerrilla force, highly mobile, terroristic, levying an ever-expanding countryside for recruits and supplies, fighting not for the ordinary warlord's booty but for a Red revolution within the Nationalist revolution.
Through Defeat. All of Mao's cunning in guerrilla tactics could not save the first Chinese Red army. By 1930 it had grown to 60,000 men. Then Chiang, advised by a German, General Alexander von Falken-hausen, closed in with overwhelming numbers. Five years of dark and bloody Nationalist "annihilation" campaigns against the Reds finally drove Mao's remnant into the retreat now famous as the Long March, an epic ordeal of one year and 6,000 miles. Less than 20,000 Red army survivors reached their chosen base around Yenan, in remote northwest China, as near as practical to Stalin's Russia.