Four scores and two years ago, a 31-year-old American ventured into a "no-go" zone in a remote part of northwest China's Loess Plateau with many questions in mind.
Who were the Chinese Communists? How did "the Reds" dress, eat, play, love, work? What were the chances of the Red Army winning at all? What was their leader Mao Zedong like?
Journalist Edgar Snow entered, stayed, and re-emerged with little doubt that the almost isolated fighting force led by the Communist Party of China (CPC) would ultimately succeed.
He penned a book Red Star over China, giving a rare, detailed and at times brilliant account of the revolutionary movement the world knew so little about.
The book took the West by storm. In 1938, the Chinese version hit the market. Regarded as a classic, it has inspired China from Mao's time to now.
Eighty years later, the book is once again being widely read as people seek to understand the CPC. The very political party Snow introduced to the world is now behind the wheels of the world's second largest economy as it drives ever closer to the global center stage.
True, untold stories
The book provided not only for non-Chinese readers but also for the entire Chinese people an authentic account of the CPC and its long struggle to carry out the most profound revolution in China's history.
"The book's charm is its true account of reality," said Cao Wenxuan, a celebrated writer and a Peking University professor, at a symposium held this week to mark 80 years of the book's Chinese edition release.
It was a scoop in the 1930s and is still considered an excellent journalistic work today in the face of surging fake news and drummed-up "China threat" hypes.
Until the book's publication, Mao and his comrades had been known in the West as "Red bandits" fighting a losing guerrilla war. Reports about them often relied on hearsay or were pure fabrication as the Red zone was blockaded.
But Snow was undeterred. The trip to Bao'an, the makeshift CPC headquarter near present day urban Yan'an, opened his eyes. Snow was one of the first outsiders to gain an inside look at the Chinese Communists.
Snow wrote about Mao, Zhou Enlai and other revolutionary leaders, whom he lived with for four months in the hillside caves.
"I remember a chapter in which Mao talked about his childhood," said Men Liangjie, a journalism graduate student at Tsinghua University. "I felt like I was also sitting in that cave with Snow, listening to Mao."
Gordon H. Chang, a professor of history at Stanford University, said he had an "electrifying" reading experience of the book.
"No other Westerner had presented such insight into Chinese Communism before," Chang said. "Edgar Snow was a singular individual who came along at the right moment. He was an excellent writer and a keen observer of history."
"It was not just sympathetic but appeared to be grounded in real sources and observations. It felt truthful and I think many others who read it, even today, feel similarly," he said.
CPC secrets to success
The book has become a must-read for people keen to learn about the CPC's revolutionary past, even for the Chinese.
Its Chinese editions proliferated over time.
One of the latest editions sold 3 million copies in more than a year since its release. The Ministry of Education has also suggested the book be a compulsory read for middle school students.
On Douban, a popular online review site for literary works, about 10 Chinese editions of Red Star Over China can be found. They all score above 8 out of 10.
One of the most "liked" comments on Douban says the book provides an answer to "why could the CPC succeed then?"
Many still find the question relevant today.
Snow discovered that Communism genuinely stirred many young Chinese, eager and daring to pursue great dreams despite a difficult time.
Soldiers of the Red Army were described as "unbeatable" with "sheer dogged endurance" and the "ability to stand hardship without complaint." The epic Long March was a perfect example.
Snow wrote about how the Red Army, whose members were mostly poor peasants, trekked mountains, crossed rivers, survived on little food and dodged Kuomintang pursuits in the journey to reach Yan'an.
"That was a big impact to Western readers," said Wu Shulin, vice executive director of the Publishers Association of China. "The Red Army's resilience and ability to overcome hardships are admirable."
And the Communists won support from the masses who suffered in the Kuomintang regime.
The CPC introduced extremely popular policies in the Red zone: eliminating opium, child slavery, compulsory marriage, and promoting mass education.
Their honest, upright and down-to-earth behavior, compared to Kuomintang arrogance, arbitrariness and corruption, had a strong appeal.
The Red Army had a growing number of new recruits as it was billed "a poor man's army."
"Snow wrote about many soldiers enlisted for that simple reason," said Cao, the Peking University professor.
At the end of his book, Snow wrote that the Communist revolution would "eventually win."
Its triumph, according to Snow, will be "so mighty, so irresistible in its discharge of catabolic energy."
New Long March
Today's China is a world apart from Bao'an in the 1930s. Yet the CPC carries on its traditions. The Chinese leadership has called on fellow comrades to "remain true to our original aspiration," and to "never forget why you started, and you can accomplish your mission."
The mission has always been the same: seek happiness for the Chinese people and rejuvenation for the Chinese nation. But the Party has set a more concrete goal -- to build China into a great modern socialist country by the middle of the century.
On the road to the new goal, the CPC is leading a new Long March.
Until 2021, arduous efforts are particularly required to fight the battles against extreme poverty, financial risk and controlling pollution, the leaders said.
Meanwhile, a Long March to improve cadres' conduct has begun.
Over the past five years, large and long-running campaigns to rid the Party of corruption and undesirable conduct were launched, leading to broad improvement in the political ecosystem.
Scholars say this reflect efforts to return to the Party traditions that gave it popular support to win the great revolution.
"It's to Snow's credit that we see how the revolution grew from the start," Cao said. "It is in the simple code of conduct, the 'three rules of discipline and eight points for attention' that the CPC enforced from the very start that gives the Party its strength."
Snow died in Switzerland in 1972. As per his wishes, some of his ashes were buried at Peking University.
Inscribed on the tombstone are words in both Chinese and English, "Edgar Snow, American friend of the Chinese people."
(Xinhua News Agency April 27, 2018)