The Red Army was Mao’s lifeline during such incidents as the Long March. Without the dedication of those people in the Red Army, the Chinese Communist Party would have collapsed in the late 1920’s and 1930’s.

The Red Army was formed after Mao had led his followers into the mountains on the Hunan-Jiangxi border. To start with, the Red Army only numbered 1000 men but by 1928, it stood at 12,000 strong as many peasants came to join Mao. For them, Mao offered a future. Here was a political leader ordering his followers, and especially his army, not to harm the peasants. This group had been the victims of attacks by the Guomintang and the war lords who seemingly roamed areas of China free from authority. Here was a group of people who actively helped them – hence, why so many peasants joined the Communist Party.

To start with the Red Army was very poorly equipped. Bamboo spikes were the most common weapon to start with and guns were extremely rare. Therefore, the communists had to adapt. They became experts in guerrilla warfare. Some modern military historians consider Mao to have been the father of modern guerrilla tactics. In the case of the Communist Party, it was a matter of having to introduce tactics they could use. It was pointless training the Red Army in conventional tactics when they did not have the equipment necessary.

Mao’s tactics were very simple:

“The enemy advances, we retreat.
The enemy camps, we harass.
The enemy tires, we attack.
The enemy retreats, we pursue.”

Mao’s army was very different from the Guomintang. Officers were forbidden from beating men in the ranks. Though officers had the right to decide orders etc. they were of equal importance to the men and all soldiers were encouraged to speak their minds freely. However, it would be wrong to portray the Red Army as a force without problems. In 1930, Mao ordered 2000 Red Army soldiers to be shot for staging a revolt.

The Red Army was sent out to help the peasants in Hunan. This help, given free of charge, converted many to the cause of Mao. The Red Army also had to abide by the “Six Principles of the Red Army”.

Put back all doors when you leave a house
Rice-stalk mattresses must all be bundled up again and returned
Be polite. Help people when you can.
Give back everything you borrow, even if it’s only a needle.
Pay for all things broken, even if only a chopstick.
Don’t help yourself or search for things when people are not in their houses.

In time, local communities in Hunan did not see the Red Army as a threat. It was this unexpected treatment that converted many to the Communists. It also lead to a big increase in the number of people who wanted to join the Red Army.

In 1929, Mao lead the Red Army to southern Jiangxi as the supply of food in Hunan was not large enough for the growing communist population. The journey lead to the deaths of about 50% of those on the march from cold, hunger and attacks by the Guomintang. Those who survived got to southern Jiangxi where they removed the landlords from power and gave the land to the peasants. This, obviously, proved to be a popular move and the numbers joining the Red Army soon got it back to strength and many saw that joining the Red Army would help to protect their new asset – land. By 1931, the land controlled by the communists contained a population of 1 million people.

The Red Army also protected the rights of women. Traditional peasant society had kept women as second class citizens. They were expected to do what their husbands told them to do or as their family said if they were unmarried. Under the Communists, this was not so. Women were given far more rights though, perhaps, not full equality. Hu Yepin, a communist writer, claimed that “women are like birds soaring in the skies.” Though this may have been a biased statement, women, under the rule of the communists, were a lot better off than they had been.