In August 1927 the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in Jiangxi seemed moribund, yet by the end of 1930 the movement was larger and more active than ever before. How did this occur? Past studies have especially emphasized Mao Zedong's famous rural guerrilla strategy, but this was only part of the story. Equally significant was the little-studied success of members of the Jiangxi hill-country elite who were also in the CCP in using established schools and educational societies, time-honored traditions of local strongman behavior, and existing bandit–secret society gangs to build many localized base areas. Such techniques were congenial to CCP leaders and essential to the movement's survival in the early days when its prestige and material resources were at a very low ebb, and when radical reforms would almost certainly have failed. Nevertheless, this strategy also fostered parochial attitudes and organizational weaknesses that clashed with the later efforts of Mao and his allies to carry out mass mobilization and fundamental land reform. Only after a prolonged and violent crisis within the base areas did the “Maoist” policies vital for the revolution's long-term growth begin to overcome the policies of elite coalition building that had been necessary for the movement to obtain its initial foothold in the Jiangxi hill country.

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