Memorandum by the Second Secretary of Embassy in China (Ludden)63

Memorandum for Assistant Chief of Staff, G–2

Subject: Popular Support of Communists as Evidenced by People’s Militia Organization in Shansi-Chahar-Hopei Communist Base Area.

Summary and Conclusions

The most important and impressive outward manifestation of popular support of Communist regimes in north China is the People’s Militia organization. The organization of this body in the Shansi-Chahar-Hopei Communist Base Area is described briefly in this memorandum. Organization and strength charts are attached.64

People’s Militia strength in the area covered by this memorandum is 896,784. Of this total 676,824 are organized into operational units. The People’s Militia organization is the reservoir from which replacements for the regular Communist forces are drawn and is the base for future expansion of the Communist forces.

[Page 201]

Additional and more widespread investigations in Communist Base Areas thus far unvisited by American military personnel are advisable, but until such time as reliable evidence to the contrary is forthcoming, there is no valid reason to doubt but that popular support of the Communist armies and civil administrations is a reality which we must consider in future planning. Evidence of popular support of the Communists in north China is so widespread that it is impossible longer to believe that it is a stage-setting for the deception of foreign visitors.

The education, organization, and arming of peasant masses is proceeding rapidly. The simple Communist program of decent treatment, fundamental civil rights, sufficient food, and sufficient clothing for the peasant has brought about genuine unity between the Eighth Route Army and the people.

The peasant has been trained to protect that which is his. In the face of repeated Japanese offensives the Communists have taught the north China peasant the secret of survival.

Previous reports to the G–2 Section from the Observer Section at Yenan have pointed out the consistent Communist claim that Communist forces in north and central China were able successfully to establish themselves and to consolidate and expand their positions only because they enjoyed the support of the mass of the rural population.

As a result of my observations during four months of travel in the Shansi-Suiyuan and Shansi-Chahar-Hopei Communist Base Areas, I became convinced that the Communists are in position to substantiate their claim to popular support. The route followed by the field group of the Observer Section (which is the subject of a separate memorandum65) covered approximately 600 miles between Yenan and Miao Erh T’ai, headquarters of the Shansi-Chahar-Hopei Base Area. The return route to Yenan was approximately the same distance, but through different territory for about one half of the distance.

Additional and wider investigations by other field groups are advisable and should be carried out, but until such time as contrary evidence is forthcoming from American sources there is no valid reason to doubt but that popular support of Communist military forces and Communist civil administrations is a reality which we must face and consider in future planning.

The most impressive and important outward manifestation of this popular support is the People’s Militia organization. At the present [Page 202] time the Communist authorities state that their regular military strength in all of their controlled areas is 650,000 and total People’s Militia strength is 2,500,000. In the Shansi-Chahar-Hopei Base Area—the only area covered by this memorandum—regular military strength is stated to be 108,852 and People’s Militia strength 896,784.

The People’s Militia is essentially a voluntary mass peasant organization charged with two main duties: (1) the protection of life and property, and (2) the defense of Communist Base Areas. The organization also serves, however, as the reservoir from which the regular Communist forces draw replacements and is the base for future expansion of the regular Communist forces.

Historical Background

It is difficult to establish with any great exactness the birth date of the People’s Militia organization as it is constituted at present. It arose originally, however, from the confusion resulting from the retreat of Central Government and provincial armies before the Japanese advance in north China in late 1937 and early 1938.

It will be recalled that P’ing Hsing Kuan fell about September 28, 1937 and T’aiyuan about November 8, 1937. From September onward there was great confusion throughout Shansi Province as approximately 100,000 Central Government and Shansi provincial troops retreated through the Wu T’ai Shan area shedding equipment and plundering as they fled.

Units of the Communist Eighth Route [Army] had entered Shansi before the fall of T’aiyuan and as the Central Government and provincial armies withdrew they remained behind the Japanese advance to carry on guerrilla warfare.

The Shansi peasantry suffered greatly at the hands of the retreating armies. In the midst of the existing confusion Communist political workers commenced the organization of local peasant groups for the purpose of collecting abandoned military equipment for the dual purpose of self-protection against the retreating soldiery and to prevent its falling into the hands of the advancing Japanese. This work met with great success and large quantities of abandoned equipment, especially small arms and ammunition, light machine guns, and mortars were collected and secreted.

At the same time similar tactics were being carried out in central Hopei along and between the Peiping–Hankow and Tientsin–Pukow railway lines. Here, however, the work was under the direction of General Lu Cheng-ts’ao, a Central Government regimental commander, who refused to withdraw from the north in the general retreat and as the Japanese advanced southward he moved his forces northward toward Peiping to engage in guerrilla warfare behind the enemy. [Page 203] General Lu established contact with the Eighth Route Army in Shansi and received assistance from Communist political organizers. General Lu is now commander-in-chief of the Shansi-Suiyuan Communist Base Area.

The Communist organizers grouped youths between 16 and 24 years of age into Anti-Japanese Youth Corps and men between 24 and 35 years of age into so-called Model Detachments, the former serving as a training base for the latter. As organization developed the Model Detachments became the backbone of the present People’s Militia organization. The change over was gradual and followed closely the development of new base areas by the Communists. At the present time the People’s Militia is the most important mass organization in each Base Area and the process of development and expansion is a continuing one and considered by the Communist leaders to be one of primary importance.

[Here follows detailed report on organization, training, operations, and supplies.]


Visual evidence of popular support of the Communists in north China is so widespread and obvious that it is impossible longer to believe that it is a stage setting for the deception of foreign visitors. For the first time in modern Chinese history a purely Chinese administration extending over wide areas has positive popular support and popular participation is developing.

The major Communist claim is that they have no fear of an organized and enlightened population and there is ample evidence available to substantiate this claim. The work of organizing and educating the peasant masses is one of the most important activities of the Communists and in the process they have taken the ultimate step—in the case of the People’s Militia organization—of placing arms in the hands of hundred of thousands of north China peasants.

In one conversation with General Ch’eng Tze-hua, political commissar of the Shansi-Chahar-Hopei Base Area and at present acting commander-in-chief, I suggested that the widespread arming of civilians could possibly get out of control. General Ch’eng thereupon pointed out that the American Constitution provided “that the right of the people to own and bear arms shall not be abridged”.

The basic premise for all political indoctrination work with which I came in contact was that government should be for the benefit of the governed. Decent treatment, honest taxation, fundamental civil rights, a warm back, and a full belly constitute the simple formula whereby the Communist armies and governments are genuinely united with the people.

[Page 204]

Throughout all of the Communist areas I visited there was immediately apparent, even to the most casual observation, a vitality and strength and a desire to join with the enemy which is far more dim-cult to find in Kuomintang China. The top leaders are without exception hard, veteran fighters with a dynamic program to offer the people. There is little question but that at the present time they are the most realistic, well-knit, and tough-minded group in China.

The Communists have survived more than seven years of Japanese offensives and ten years of prior civil war. They have consistently maintained the right of self-preservation and perhaps their most important contribution in the north China area is that fact that they have taught the peasant the technique of survival.66

Raymond P. Ludden
  1. Copy transmitted to the Department by the Ambassador in China in his despatch No. 137, February 12; received February 26. Mr. Ludden was detailed to the staff of the Commanding General, China Theater.
  2. Organization chart not in files; strength chart not printed.
  3. Apparently report No. 17, March 17, by the Second Secretary of Embassy in China, p. 287.
  4. In a memorandum of April 5 Everett F. Drumright of the Division of Chinese Affairs commented: “As described by Mr. Ludden, the People’s Militia is an impressive example of the organizational genius of the Chinese Communists and of their ability to utilize the collective power of the masses in the furtherance of their program. The People’s Militia appears to be the main link between the Communist administration and Army and the masses, and it is probable that the success of the Communists in expanding their control over large areas of north and central China is due in a large measure to their utilization of the People’s Militia. In this connection, it may be noted that there is no similar organization in Kuomintang-controlled China where, it is generally acknowledged, less use has been made of the collective power of the masses than in Communist-controlled China. The Kuomintang would probably be well advised to adopt and put into practice some of the measures carried out by the Communists in organizing the masses.”