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A History of the Modern Chinese Army

A History of the Modern Chinese Army

Xiaobing Li
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 432
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  • Book Info
    A History of the Modern Chinese Army
    Book Description:

    Since the establishment of the Red Army in 1927, China's military has responded to profound changes in Chinese society, particularly its domestic politics, shifting economy, and evolving threat perceptions. Recently tensions between China and Taiwan and other east Asian nations have aroused great interest in the extraordinary transformation and new capabilities of the Chinese army. In A History of the Modern Chinese Army, Xiaobing Li, a former member of the People's Liberation Army (PLA), provides a comprehensive examination of the PLA from the Cold War to the beginning of the twenty-first century that highlights the military's central function in modern Chinese society. In the 1940s, the Chinese army was in its infancy, and many soldiers were rural conscripts and volunteers who had received little formal schooling. The Chinese military rapidly increased its mobility and weapon strength, and the Korean War and Cold War offered intense combat experience that not only allowed soldiers to hone their fighting techniques but also helped China to develop military tactics tailored to the surrounding countries whose armies posed the most immediate threats. Yet even in the 1970s, the completion of a middle school education (nine years) was considered above-average, and only 4 percent of the 224 top Chinese generals had any college credit hours. However, in 1995 the high command began to institute massive reforms to transform the PLA from a labor-intensive force into a technology-intensive army. Continually seeking more urban conscripts and emphasizing higher education, the PLA Reserve Officer Training and Selection program recruited students from across the nation. These reservists would become commissioned officers upon graduation, and they majored in atomic physics, computer science, and electrical engineering. Grounding the text in previously unreleased official Chinese government and military records as well as the personal testimonies of more than two hundred PLA soldiers, Li charts the development of China's armed forces against the backdrop of Chinese society, cultural traditions, political history, and recent technological advancements. A History of the Modern Chinese Army links China's military modernization to the country's growing international and economic power and provides a unique perspective on China's esttablishment and maintenance of one of the world's most advanced military forces.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-7224-8
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Note on Transliteration
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  7. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    A SULTRY JULY IN BEIJING, the capital of China, did not slow down the summer programs at Tsinghua University (Qinghua University, China’s MIT). The one-week symposium on arms control packed the facility with students, faculty members, and military experts.¹ Sun Lizhou, a graduate student from the College of International Relations, Peking University (Beijing University, China’s Harvard), was one of the participants.² Sun was in his mid-twenties, tall, skinny, and wearing eyeglasses. His broad knowledge and sharp opinion impressed on me a sense that, upon graduation, he would make a fine social scientist. I was surprised to learn through other students...

  8. 1 Peasants and Revolutions
    (pp. 13-44)

    CHINA IS ONE OF THE earliest civilizations in the world, with a recorded military history of five thousand years.¹ Because of China’s unique geographic setting and demographic characteristics, its military tradition has emphasized mass mobilization of peasants, or farmer-soldiers, since the ancient age.² From the first unification of China in 221 b.c. to 1949, when the PRC was founded, roughly 85 percent of the Chinese population were farmers.³ By 1969, farmers still composed 84.2 percent of China’s workforce.⁴ This chapter begins with an overview of the historical nature of peasants and examines why peasants served in the emperor’s army and...

  9. 2 The Formative Years
    (pp. 45-78)

    THE CHINESE COMMUNIST PARTY organized its independent armed force following the white terror of 1927, the worst period in party history. The military became absolutely necessary for the CCP’s survival. The party and the army established an interdependent relationship before WWII to create a center in rural areas for revolutionary authorities. The party mobilized peasants, trained officers, and received instructions and aid from the Soviet Union. The army protected the Communist base areas and eventually seized state power for the party by defeating the Nationalist Army on the mainland. Mao described this relationship on August 7, 1927: “Political power grows...

  10. 3 Transformation in Korea
    (pp. 79-112)

    THE FIRST GENERATION of Chinese Communist military leaders became the founders of the PRC after twenty-two years of military struggle. Having moved to center stage and gained control of the nation, they were characterized as Communist idealists and radical revolutionaries against an “old” world order, the post-WWII international system. Their alliance with the Soviet Union and North Korea pulled China into a war in Korea that changed the Chinese forces forever. China’s intervention in the Korean War (1950–53) was a by-product of the Cold War between two superpowers, the Soviet Union and the United States. The combat experience the...

  11. 4 Russianizing the PLA
    (pp. 113-146)

    THE KOREAN WAR transferred the focal point of the global Cold War from Europe to east Asia. After its decision to intervene in the Korean War, China quickly adjusted its position in international affairs and willingly moved to the center of the ideological and military confrontations between the two contending camps headed by the Soviet Union and the United States. The active role that China played in east Asia turned this main Cold War battlefield into a strange buffer between Moscow and Washington. With east Asia standing in the middle, it was less likely that the Soviet Union and the...

  12. 5 Building Missiles and the Bomb
    (pp. 147-176)

    THE POSSIBILITY OF AN AMERICAN nuclear attack on China during the Korean War and the first Taiwan Strait crisis posed new challenges to the Chinese military. Washington’s threat of using atomic weapons against Chinese troops in North Korea and northeast China was of immediate concern to Beijing in 1952–53. With no strategic weapons, China had to depend on nuclear protection from the Soviet Union, which had developed atomic weapons in the late 1940s.

    After Stalin, Soviet Cold War policy changed, calling for a relaxation of international tensions and peaceful coexistence between the Communist camp and the free world. During...

  13. 6 Crises and Politics
    (pp. 177-204)

    IN THE 1950S, AS CHINESE society became more radical during the anti-rightist and Great Leap Forward movements, the Chinese military experienced tremendous institutional changes. Defense Minister Peng Dehuai utilized Soviet technology, the officer reeducation and promotion system, and bureaucratic regulations to train a new “professional generation” of the PLA.¹ Obviously, a gap existed between the military reform programs and Mao’s continuous revolution, which included political movements against intellectuals and emphasizedzhengzhi juewu(political spirit). To Mao, the revolution that brought the CCP to power was the key to continued success. Mao imposed unprecedented, radical methods to mobilize the Chinese masses...

  14. 7 Border Conflicts and the Cultural Revolution
    (pp. 205-240)

    SINCE THE FOUNDING OF THE PRC in 1949, China has involved itself in two wars in Vietnam. During the French Indochina War (the First Indochina War), from 1949 to 1954, it assisted the People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN) against French forces.¹ China sought to secure its southwestern border by eliminating the Western power’s presence in Vietnam. The PLA’s military assistance to Vietnam maintained Beijing’s brooding influence in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia throughout the Cold War. The PLA’s second involvement occurred from 1965 to 1970, when China sent 320,000 troops to aid North Vietnam against American forces in the Vietnam War...

  15. 8 Survivor and Reformer
    (pp. 241-270)

    PRESIDENT RICHARD NIXON’S 1972 visit to China profoundly reshaped the Cold War world. First and foremost, it ended the confrontation between the United States and China that had lasted for almost a quarter century, thereby opening a new chapter in relations between the world’s most powerful nation and its most populous nation.¹ Within the context of this Sino-American rapprochement, Beijing’s relations with Japan also improved. In September 1972, only months after Nixon’s visit, China and Japan established formal diplomatic relations. In 1978, the two countries went further and signed a treaty of friendship and cooperation.

    Consequently, a new, crucial feature...

  16. 9 Technocrats and the New Generation
    (pp. 271-294)

    THE PLA EXPERIENCED a remarkable change in the last decades of the twentieth century. It transformed from a peasant army to a professional army under its new commander in chief, Jiang Zemin. After the Tiananmen Square incident in 1989, Jiang became the chairman of both the CCP and CMC. In the 1990s, Jiang, as part of the third generation of military leaders, launched another round of military reforms known as the Two Transformations. First, the PLA would be changed from an army prepared for “local wars under ordinary conditions” to an army prepared to fight and win “local wars under...

  17. Conclusion
    (pp. 295-300)

    CHINESE MILITARY REFORM is an outcome of social and economic changes that are not only related but interdependent. China’s foremost task in its drive toward military modernization should be the successful completion of market economy reforms. To build a modern army, it must achieve sustainable industrial economic growth. In the past thirty years, with an annual growth rate of 8.6 percent, the Chinese government was able to double its defense budget, purchasing new weaponry and importing advanced technology from Russia and the West to narrow the technology gap between the PLA and major Western armed forces. Taking an eclectic attitude...

  18. Notes
    (pp. 301-370)
  19. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 371-394)
  20. Index
    (pp. 395-416)