After decades of sporadic conflict, the Chinese Communists triumphed over the Nationalists due to superior military strategy and the ability to mobilize the masses. Chiang Kai-shek was no military genius. Neither was he so incompetent that he could be blamed for losing the Civil War. Communist strategy, guided by Mao Zedong, was brilliantly executed. What made Mao’s strategy so successful was the manner in which it utilized mutually supportive guerilla and conventional armies (Dederer, 115). The Communists launched harassing raids, baiting Chiang’s armies to go on the offensive. Once Chiang attacked, his army soon found itself deep in Communist-held territory, surrounded by Communist guerillas and regulars. In this way, Mao was able to fight battles of annihilation with his numerically inferior conventional army. Once Nationalist armies lost their numerical advantage, the Communists formed conventional armies and crushed the Nationalists in large, set-piece battles.
No guerilla army can survive without the support of the countryside. This was the true source of Mao’s victory. Mao was able to mobilize the peasants on a scale unseen in modern history. Although the average peasant was not among Mao’s soldiers, peasants played an important role in logistical operations, providing food for Mao’s warriors and transporting supplies (Schoppa, 294).
Through Marxist rhetoric, Mao was able to turn most of the countryside against Chiang Kai-shek, transforming Chiang’s city safe-havens into cities under siege. Given the crushing burden facing China’s poor, it is not difficult to imagine how a peasant could be won over by socialism. In the novel Rickshaw, Hsiang-Tzu was completely awestruck by Mr. Ts’ao, a Socialist who treated Hsiang-Tzu with respect (Lao She, 60-61). If a Socialist everyman like Mr. Ts’ao could inspire people like this, imagine what a charismatic speaker promising societal change could accomplish. Give superior numbers to a superior strategist and victory is assured.