China: Modern Warfare Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Late nineteenth century China was ruled by the imperial government of the Qing (Ch’ing) Dynasty, which had its capital at Beijing (Peking).

Political Considerations

Late nineteenth century China was ruled by the imperial government of the Qing (Ch’ing) Qing DynastyDynasty, which had its capital at Beijing (Peking). Although the royal family and most senior officials were ManchusManchus, an ethnically and linguistically distinct Northeast Asian people who had overthrown the native Chinese Ming DynastyMing Dynasty in 1644, ethnic Chinese elites retained control over local affairs. China’s military apparatus atrophied, and clashes with expanding European powers led to stunning military defeats. Meanwhile, China’s economy failed to sustain industrial development, and widespread peasant rebellions compounded economic instability and further eroded the Manchus’ political authority.China;modernChina;modern

The imperial government authorized a military modernization program designed by scholar and military strategist Li HongzhangLi HongzhangLi Hongzhang (Li Hung-chang, 1823-1901). Li oversaw the construction of weapons factories and shipyards, but financial and political difficulties stunted his efforts. After Li’s forces were defeated by Japan during the First Sino-Japanese War Sino-Japanese War, First (1894-1895)[Sino Japanese War, First](1894-1895), Japan took control of the island of Taiwan;Japan andTaiwan, humiliating the Qing court and sparking an expansion of Li’s military modernization program. Li’s reforms elevated a new generation of Chinese military commanders, who soon threatened the weakened Manchus. The Boxer Rebellion Boxer Rebellion (1900)(1900), an antiforeign uprising by secret societies, further demonstrated Qing vulnerability, with the court initially hoping that they could use the uprising to achieve their objectives without having to commit their army, although they eventually did so with disastrous results. The court’s decision to form a national assembly in 1910 failed, and the imperial government collapsed in Chinese Revolution (1911-1912)1911.

Attempts to restore the Qing Dynasty continued until 1919. Meanwhile, competition had developed between isolationist military officers led by General Yuan ShikaiYuan ShikaiYuan Shikai (Yuan Shi-k’ai, 1859-1916), based in northeastern China, and the pro-Western Nationalist Party, or GuomindangGuomindang (Kuomintang), led by Sun Sun Yat-senSun Yat-senYat-sen (Pinyin, Sun Yixian, 1866-1925), based in southern China. Sun’s meager armed forces were crushed by Yuan’s allies in 1913, and the introduction of democratic elections was cut short. Yuan’s associates arranged for him to be named emperor, but his death in 1916 ended their cooperation. Instead, their armies clashed with each other during China’s Warlord Period (China)Warlord Period (1916-1928).

Sun Yat-sen sought democratic government in China, but he recognized that military unification must precede political modernization. Sun’s small force was defeated in 1922 by the warlords of central China. Nonetheless, Sun’s Nationalist Nationalist Party (China)Party opened the Huangpu (Chinese military academy)Huangpu (Whampoa) Academy to train officers loyal to Sun and the academy’s president, General Chiang Chiang Kai-shekChiang Kai-shekKai-shek (Pinyin, Jiang Jieshi, 1887-1975). Before Sun’s death in 1925, the Nationalist Party formed an alliance with the small Chinese Communist Communism;ChinaParty, which drew its support chiefly from China’s tiny urban working class. Communist leader Zhou EnlaiZhou EnlaiZhou Enlai (Chou En-lai, 1898-1976) was the chief political instructor at Huangpu, and soon both Nationalists and Communists were recruiting officer trainees there.

This period of alliance, known as the First United First United Front (China)Front, ended when Chiang’s forces attacked Communist networks in August, 1927. The Communists fought back but were scattered. A splinter group, led by Mao ZedongMao ZedongMao Zedong (Mao Tse-tung, 1893-1976) retreated into a mountainous hinterland and began recruiting peasants to party membership. Meanwhile, Chiang unified most warlord armies under his command. During the early 1930’s, he attacked Mao’s base areas, and the Communists’ peasant army was forced to retreat to more remote rural areas in China’s interior on a 6,000-mile trek known as the Long March (1934-1935)Long March.

Meanwhile, Japan’s encroachment into China’s northern provinces expanded in the mid-1930’s to include central China. In 1936 a new alliance, known as the Second United Front (China)Second United Front, was forged between the Nationalists and Communists, who pledged to cooperate against Japan;vs. China[China]Sino-Japanese War, Second (1937-1945)[Sino Japanese War, Second]Japan. Mao used the respite from Nationalist attacks to expand the Communist Party. As the 1940’s began, Japan advanced into southern China and most of Southeast Asia, while the Nationalist armies quietly awaited Allied victories over Japan in the Pacific. The Communists, meanwhile, achieved wide popularity by harassing Japanese troops and installations and by implementing land reforms and building Party networks behind Japanese lines.

After Japan surrendered in Chinese Civil War (1946-1949)1945, units of the Communist-led People’s Liberation People’s Liberation Army (China)Army (PLA) occupied the rural areas of most northeastern provinces, while Nationalist forces were airlifted to the major cities. Military clashes soon escalated into a full-scale civil war. With widespread popular support, Communist forces swept through northern and central China;CommunistChina. Hundreds of thousands of Nationalist troops fled or defected. Finally, in late 1949, the remaining Nationalist troops gathered on the island of Taiwan, where Chiang established a government-in-exile. The Communist Party under Mao founded its national government in Beijing in October, China;People’s Republic1949.

In 1950, acting as the Chinese People’s Chinese People’s VolunteersVolunteers, PLA troops entered Korea;and China[China]Korean War (1950-1953)Korea in aid of the Korean communists’ quest to unify the peninsula. Chinese Communist troops also reinforced the coast nearest Taiwan, pursued remnant Nationalist units along the border with Indochina and Burma, and moved to establish Communist Party authority in Tibet;and China[China]Tibet. In Korea, however, the PLA faced U.N. forces led by the United States until a ceasefire agreement was concluded in 1953. There was also a war with India from June until November 1962.

During the late 1950’s political tensions between Beijing and Moscow caused cancellations of Soviet aid programs. Small clashes between Chinese and Soviet border guards began in 1962 and continued until 1969, when main force units fought at the Ussuri River. Meanwhile, China inaugurated a nuclear Nuclear weapons and warfare;Chinaweapons program in the early 1960’s. By 1967, after testing both fission and hydrogen weapons, China had become a full-fledged nuclear power. China also provided military aid to the Communist regime in northern Vietnam;Chinese aidVietnam, then involved in a protracted war involving U.S. forces.

Despite upheavals during the Cultural Revolution Cultural Revolution (China, 1966-1976)(1966-1976), China’s military was safeguarded. However, the troops’ military effectiveness suffered when they were assigned to construction, agricultural, and other civilian tasks. In a short-lived operation against Vietnamese Communists in 1979, PLA units were defeated, but not before inflicting some damage on their opponents. Communist leader Deng Deng XiaopingDeng XiaopingXiaoping (Teng Hsiao-p’ing, 1904-1997) introduced free enterprise and relaxed political controls, unleashing protests in 1986 and 1987. Responding to a student-led free speech movement, the PLA suppressed protests in Beijing’s Tiananmen Tiananmen Square (1989)Square in 1989. The resulting deaths of students and civilians provoked international condemnation of the Communist government. During the 1990’s propaganda reinforced the PLA’s allegiance to the Communist Party, while its manufacturing and other economic enterprises were privatized.

Also during the 1990’s there was an overhaul of Chinese military tactics and weaponry. Both were modernized with two major objectives. The first was the maintenance of Communist Party control within China itself. After the events in Tiananmen Square in 1989, there were few major protests in most of China, but there were many in TibetTibet and among the UighursUighurs of northwest China. The Chinese government undertook to allow freedom of speech in Hong Kong after 1997, and they have done so. When, in 1996, it looked as though TaiwanTaiwan might declare independence rather than maintaining itself as the China, Republic of (Taiwan)Republic of China, the political leadership and military of the People’s Republic flexed their muscles by firing missiles over Taiwan. Later they changed their approach to be far more conciliatory.

However, the more important developments within the military were to face possible confrontations from outside. The controversy over the U.S. spy plane incident (the Hainan Island incident (2001)Hainan Island incident in April, 2001) demonstrated to the Chinese that there was still a worry about U.S. incursions. With the Chinese continuing to invest heavily in their air force, there was also uncertainty over events in North Korea;and China[China]North Korea and the possibility of the Chinese intervening to support the North Korean government should it face an external invasion.

Military Achievement

China’s defeat in 1895 bolstered the position of ManchusManchu reformers who endorsed military modernization. Their great accomplishment was the creation of the New Armies (China)“New Armies,” in which Chinese soldiers were uniformly organized under professional officers and armed with modern weapons. These brigades were trained in European tactics, organized into specialist battalions that included artillery and engineers, and armed with imported European weaponry.

In the 1920’s Warlords;Chinawarlord armies undermined domestic order and caused economic havoc. The unification of most warlords under the Nationalist Party of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shekChiang Kai-shekChiang Kai-shek reestablished Chinese political unity and laid the foundation for the reemergence of a united Chinese state.

From 1934 to 1935 the Communist Party leadership under Mao ZedongMao ZedongMao Zedong was able to preserve an experienced corps of military leaders by undertaking the “strategic retreat” known as the Long March (1934-1935)Long March. By withdrawing rather than confronting superior Nationalist troops, the Communists retained an autonomous and politically reliable military force. This People’s Liberation People’s Liberation Army (China)Army engaged both U.S. and U.N. forces during the Korean War Korean War (1950-1953)(1950-1953). The PLA achieved virtually complete surprise in moving some 400,000 troops into North Korea to stop the Allied advance toward the China-Korea border in October, 1950. Chinese manpower, aided by Soviet air and technical support, scored major victories against Allied forces, eventually culminating in cease-fire negotiations and a stable division of the Korean peninsula.

Despite international isolation and domestic upheavals in the late 1950’s and 1960’s, Communist Party officials, military leaders, and engineers developed China’s nuclear Nuclear weapons and warfare;Chinaweapons program. After the first successful test shot in 1964, China’s military establishment also undertook development of missile-based weapons delivery systems.

Chinese Civil War, 1926-1949

The PLA, which managed manufacturing, agricultural, and transportation systems during the 1970’s and 1980’s, shed its auxiliary enterprises during the 1990’s. Free market companies assumed some functions; others were eliminated completely. At the same time, through joint ventures with foreign companies, the PLA acquired advanced military technologies, especially in the aerospace sector.

In 2003, China managed to launch its first man into space, an event that heralded a major space program with undoubted military objectives. The Chinese have also managed to keep up a modernization of their air force and missile technology.

Weapons, Uniforms, and Armor

China’s imperial army was equipped chiefly with simple metal weaponry, particularly swords, shields, and spear-tipped poles. The Bows and arrows;Chinabow and arrow were standard equipment as late as 1910. Bannermen“Bannermen,” the Qing Dynasty’s regular troops, included some units selected for “modernization.” These troops were issued flintlock muskets, outdated by European standards. Each soldier carried his gunpowder ration in a vulnerable bamboo case.

In the early 1900’s the New Armies (China)“New Armies,” composed of native Chinese, planned for artillery units to be attached to each division; in reality, however, the use of artillery pieces and ordnance was rare. Infantry firearms varied in design and caliber and included weapons of Japanese, German, and French manufacture, as well as locally produced copies. Ammunition was frequently unavailable. Both artillery and muskets were manufactured using British designs at the Jiangnan ArsenalJiangnan (Chiangnan) Arsenal near Shanghai. The modernized Beiyang FleetBeiyang (Peiyang) Fleet was commanded by military reformer Li HongzhangLi HongzhangLi Hongzhang and included China’s earliest armored elements, metal-plated gunwales and armored steamships from the Fuzhou ArsenalFuzhou (Fuchou) Arsenal.

From 1911 China’s armies adopted European-style Uniforms;modern China[China]uniforms of cotton tunic coats with standing collars, trousers, and peaked caps. Winter outfits included quilted jackets and leather boots. Rank insignia were adopted and affixed to cuffs and caps, with colored shoulder straps and cap bands indicating branch of service. Labor units assisting the Allies during World War I wore tunic and trouser outfits without insignia, and cloth shoes.

During the Warlord Period (China)Warlord Period, the number of men under arms in China grew rapidly. Primarily landless laborers, warlord soldiers enlisted for three-year to five-year tours of duty. Weaponry symbolized status, and functioning weapons quickly passed on to new owners from dead or wounded soldiers. Machine guns and artillery were scarce, as were spare parts. In the northern provinces cavalry units were common, but southern unfamiliarity with horses stunted cavalry development there. Chiang Kai-shekChiang Kai-shekChiang Kai-shek contracted with U.S., Soviet, and British arms dealers to supply his Nationalist troops, who received huge quantities of weapons, ammunition, and supplies from the U.S. government during the Chinese Civil War (1946-1949)Chinese Civil War (1926-1949).

After World War II (1939-1945), Communist forces seized Japanese weapons and supplies, including winter uniforms of leather boots, lined caps, and quilted jackets. During the Civil War, Nationalist troops also lost large stockpiles of U.S. military equipment, including heavy artillery, machine guns, and explosives, to the Communists, who later used it against U.S. troops in Korea. At the same time Chinese troops were sent to Korea with inadequate clothing, including lightweight summer uniforms, shoes made of rubber and canvas, and few hats or gloves.

The PLA in the early 1950’s had few trucks, aircraft, or ships and lacked modern logistical systems. The Soviet Union provided some vehicles and ships and supervised development of specialized systems such as quartermaster, field communications, and antiaircraft batteries. Soviet advisers also oversaw the introduction of rank insignia on PLA uniforms, a step that Chinese leaders had opposed as elitist.

After Soviet aid was withdrawn in 1959 and 1960, Chinese research and development efforts accelerated. The PLA Navy produced antiship missiles, underwater ordnance, submarine weapons systems, and electronic countermeasures technology. A first generation of Navies;ChineseChinese destroyers, submarines, deep-water survey vessels, and frigates was introduced during the 1960’s. Antisubmarine destroyers became a production priority in the 1970’s, as did mine sweepers and acoustic guidance systems for submarine missiles. During the 1980’s development of nuclear-powered Submarines;Chinasubmarines became a premier national goal. In 1985 China’s leaders endorsed a plan to prepare for “local war under high-tech conditions,” and ordered the military integration of computer technology. In 1999 a ten-year plan was adopted for investments in highly advanced weaponry, including submarine-launched ballistic missiles and missile defense systems.

After China’s Nuclear weapons and warfare;Chinanuclear weapons capability was demonstrated in 1964, the development of more advanced delivery systems became a priority. In 1965 research began on intercontinental ballistic Intercontinental ballistic missiles;ChinaMissiles;Chinesemissiles capable of delivering nuclear warheads to the continental United States, a goal achieved in the mid-1980’s. In 1957 PLA soldiers began to be outfitted with increasingly sophisticated radiation protection equipment, including face masks, disposable clothing, and special rubber boots and gloves. This would increase in later decades, especially after the war with Vietnam in 1979. The lack of success in that conflict saw an overhaul of the supply systems for soldiers.

The launching, in 2003, of the first China;space programChinese TaikonautsTaikonaut (astronaut) into space was greeted with great pride by the Chinese and represented a major move for the Chinese military into space technology on top of an extensive series of satellites.

Military Organization

During the late Qing period, the imperial ManchusManchu and native Chinese bureaucracies each maintained distinct military organizations. Manchu forces known as Bannermen“bannermen” were responsible for national defense, whereas Chinese armies and militia managed civil administration, revenue collection, and local security. Economic dislocations cut the number of bannermen supported by the imperial government from 250,000 in 1840 to about 170,000 in 1900. Bannermen were compulsorily enrolled from Manchu clans and organized into a series of “banners,” sociomilitary groups based on kinship among the clans. Manchu soldiers Horses and horse riding;ManchusCavalry;Manchuswere traditionally skilled horsemen, but cavalry units had disappeared by 1895, and in many imperial garrisons bannermen were primarily bureaucrats.

After China’s defeat by Japan in 1895, officer training Military education;Chinaacademies were opened with Japanese instructors, most of them influenced by the German principles of military conscription, centralized command, and standardized troop organization. In 1904 an imperial commission approved plans for a new national army of native Chinese, composed of thirty-six divisions manned at half strength during peacetime. European systems of officer ranks and reserves were introduced, with supplies and logistics managed at the divisional level. The divisions raised were poorly armed, and junior officers developed personal loyalties to their commanders rather than to the government. Yuan ShikaiYuan ShikaiYuan Shikai emerged as a leader from among these commanders, and between 1908 and 1911 conservative Manchu officials tried unsuccessfully to remove troops from his control. After the collapse of the Qing Dynasty, Yuan utilized his personal networks to consolidate his power.

During the Warlord Period (China)Warlord Period following Yuan’s death in 1916, his allies raised larger armies with less stringent organizational schedules. Personal loyalties meant that officers of like rank were not interchangeable, and the lack of weapons and training inhibited the development of specialized units such as artillery and engineers. In 1937 Nationalist general Chiang Kai-shekChiang Kai-shekChiang Kai-shek reorganized the Nationalist Army to promote his political allies. A system of regional war theaters was devised under which Chiang’s trusted lieutenants were concentrated in northern and central China near Communist base areas. Less reliable warlord armies lately merged with Nationalist forces were deployed against the Japanese in the coastal provinces.

The internal characteristics of the Communist People’s Liberation People’s Liberation Army (China)Army (PLA) reflected its rural origins. Many of its early officers had no formal command training and relied heavily upon personal connections to consolidate their authority. Regional field armies, each with a particular mix of peasants and professionals, emerged during the 1930’s. The PLA also developed large labor corps recruited from the peasantry for transportation and construction projects. Their recruitment relied upon Propaganda;Chinapropaganda and coercion rather than forced conscription. Soldiers and laborers were induced to “volunteer” to help their villages meet manpower targets. Terms of service were unlimited, and no leave was permitted.

During the 1930’s the Communism;Chinacommunist military organization gained a commissariat, a system of Communist Party operatives whose structure paralleled that of the army. The commissars’ function was to assure the allegiance of the military forces to the Party. Political surveillance was conducted from the squad level up using the “three by three” method, in which each soldier was observed by two others whose reports influenced both his and their advancement. The Commissariat (China)commissariat was governed by the General Political Department of the Communist Party, and the PLA was controlled by the Central Military Commission under the Party’s Central Committee.

Mao Zedong in the 1930’s, speaking before the Kangdah Cave University, calls for resistance against the Japanese.

(Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

By 1944 Communist troops numbered 500,000 soldiers and 2.1 million militia, distributed among ten base areas in northern and central China. During the Civil Chinese Civil War (1946-1949)War the PLA expanded both by recruiting peasants and by absorbing Nationalist defectors. In mid-1946 there were 1.3 million PLA regulars, in 1947 there were 2 million, in 1948 there were 2.8 million, and in early 1949 there were 4 million. Because PLA commanders anticipated huge losses during the Korean War, most of the main force units deployed were politically suspect former Nationalists. Ultimately fifty-five divisions, almost one-half the PLA’s effective strength, were committed. Each division had three infantry regiments, an artillery battalion, and multiple auxiliary units. Transport, signal, and supply corps were attached to each regiment, and total division strength was around 10,000 men.

The Korean War (1950-1953)Korean experience and Soviet advisers influenced the modernization of the PLA, equipping it for conventional rather than guerrilla conflict. In the mid-1950’s the PLA’s “field army” designation was abandoned, and troops were instead organized into thirteen military districts. In 1955 a massive demobilization discharged 4.5 million men, and Drafts;Chinaconscription was instituted to maintain PLA strength at 3 million; demobilized veterans manned militia units. In 1948 PLA forces in coastal areas developed specialized marine units, and a separate naval command was created in 1950. By the mid-1960’s the PLA Navies;ChineseNavy comprised three fleets with administrative and operational bases at Qingdao (Tsingtao), Shanghai, and Guangzhou (Canton). The PLA’s Air forces;Chinaair wing was organized in the early 1950’s with Soviet aircraft and training. In the 1960’s China began manufacturing military aircraft based on Eastern European and Soviet designs, and PLA air defense units assumed responsibility for radar, early warning, and antiaircraft installations. By the mid-1980’s the PLA Air Force was the third largest in the world, comprising sixty-one hundred total aircraft including fighters, bombers, helicopters, transports, and reconnaissance airplanes.

A Nuclear weapons and warfare;Chinaspecial PLA unit, the Second Artillery (China)Second Artillery, was created in 1959 to exercise control of nuclear weapons, but its structure remains secret. A special weapons production and testing force was also established. Selected air squadrons trained for airborne nuclear weapons deployment, and the military oversaw development of a ballistic missile-based warhead delivery system in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Specially trained units were made responsible for the security of fissionable materials and nuclear devices.

In the 1980’s and 1990’s these and other units trained in high-technology fields, including air defense, submarine warfare, and intelligence were enlarged. The proliferation of specialist arms of the PLA demonstrated the Chinese military’s doctrinal shift from popular participation in a “people’s war” to the articulation of main force operational plans appropriate to a technically advanced battlefield environment.

During the 1990’s, the Chinese were involved in continuing to develop their missile program and their nuclear arsenal. In 1996 missiles were fired over TaiwanTaiwan as a warning as the people there voted and it looked as though they might seek independence ending the Republic of China. The Chinese government has built up its navy, which was involved in disputes over the Spratly Islands and some other islands in the South China Sea. With the increasing wealth of China, many Chinese military officers began to travel overseas far more than ever before, and this led to far greater engagement between the Chinese military and other countries than ever before.

Doctrine, Strategy, and Tactics

In the late 1800’s Qing military administrators relied upon long-standing convictions about China’s invulnerability to attack, based on both its geography and traditional assumptions about the superiority of Chinese civilization. Deployment of the Manchu bannermen followed a garrison strategy in which permanent encampments were placed near key cities and transportation routes. This strategy left troops isolated from local economic and political activity. Stagnant social climates resulted, as the bannermen’s family compounds rather than their military units became the focus of garrison activity.

Although Chinese troops had virtually no role in World War I (1914-1918), warlord officers were influenced by European battlefield experiences. With modern weapons in short supply, warlord Warlord armies;Chinaarmies regularly used close-order infantry tactics. The general scarcity of heavy weaponry benefited any force capable of fielding even a single piece of artillery. Fortresses and cities protected for generations by mud brick walls were suddenly vulnerable to damaging artillery attacks.

Communist theoretician Mao ZedongMao ZedongMao Zedong began developing his base area strategy in the late 1920’s. He combined policies such as land reform, popular with China’s huge population of poor peasants, with political propaganda and recruitment to military organizations. These forces, using primarily small-unit Guerrilla warfare;Chinaguerrilla tactics, could protect the economic and political activities inside the zone, while political operatives expanded the area under Communist control. According to Mao, eventually the politicized rural areas would engulf urban areas and the Communist Party would seize power on a national scale. Mao also proposed the general doctrine of People’s war doctrine (China)“people’s war,” in which all classes and segments of Chinese society would unite to preserve China’s national integrity in the face of external aggression. When Nationalist forces overwhelmed the Communists in the early 1930’s, Mao espoused the tactic of Strategic retreat tactic“strategic retreat,” surrendering territory and conserving his forces rather than defending specific territories. When Japanese expansion and Nationalist attacks imperiled the Communist organization, Mao endorsed the United front tactic“united front” approach, cooperating with the Nationalists against Japan.

Meanwhile, Nationalist troops in the coastal provinces conducted “fighting withdrawal” Fighting withdrawal operationsoperations in the face of Japanese offensives, denying the Japanese important assets by destroying rail lines, rolling stock, and telegraph lines. In 1938 Chiang Chiang Kai-shekChiang Kai-shekKai-shek’s “scorched-earth” Scorched-earth strategy[Scorched earth strategy]tactics extended to destruction of earthen retaining walls on the Huang, or Yellow, River, flooding huge tracts and causing millions of deaths. After 1945 Nationalist troops concentrated in cities and guarded rail lines. In 1947 the PLA adopted a battle-intensive strategy aimed at destroying Nationalist troops in Manchuria rather than capturing and holding territory. Using frontal assault tactics and attacking rail lines, the PLA under General Lin BiaoLin BiaoLin Biao (Lin Piao, 1907-1971) crushed Nationalist garrisons and captured weapons and supplies. Tens of thousands of demoralized Nationalist soldiers defected, while PLA encircling operations scored victories throughout northern and central China.

Mao’s doctrine of warfare posited that China’s huge population provided it with special military advantages, including a unique ability to sustain huge manpower losses. This doctrine informed the decisions of Chinese commanders in Korea, who compensated for inferior weapons with “human wave” Human wave tactics (China)tactics, committing large forces to successive assaults on a target despite high casualty rates. Mao’s doctrine also applied to nuclear strategy. He scoffed at American nuclear superiority, declaring that only a “few million” Chinese could be eliminated in a Nuclear weapons and warfare;Mao’s attitude towardnuclear attack, while hundreds of millions would remain capable of defending the country. Under Mao, PLA commanders emphasized development of a “second strike” capability that would enable China to deliver warheads to targets even after being attacked with nuclear weapons.

After Mao’s death these doctrines were replaced by a new emphasis on military modernization. In the event of external attack Chinese commanders would deploy professional troops with sophisticated equipment and use positional warfare tactics, rather than rely on guerrilla tactics and mass resistance by the Chinese people.

Contemporary Sources

Mao’s development of a rural-based, politico-military strategy was the most significant and influential strategic doctrine originating in twentieth century China. Its first detailed explication appeared in 1927 in “Report on an Investigation of the Peasant Movement in Hunan,” in which Mao ZedongMao ZedongMao defined a Communist-led revolution originating among rural agricultural peasants rather than urban industrial workers, as Soviet orthodoxy dictated. In “The Struggle in the Chinkiang Mountains” (1928) Mao described the breadth of the peasantry’s support for the Communist military apparatus and emphasized the importance of concentrating forces on specific targets. In “Problems of Strategy in China’s Revolutionary War” (1936) Mao argued that despite its shortcomings, the Communist-led military could prevail over larger and better-equipped forces by utilizing guerrilla and mobile main force operations. He accepted the need for a protracted struggle and for a “strategic defense” that would conserve military strength and exploit tactical opportunities. Mao’s “Problems of Strategy in Guerrilla War Against Japan” (1938) outlined procedures for recruiting peasants and explained his famous revolutionary formula on rural areas engulfing the cities. Finally Mao explained the combination of main force military units with a mobilized peasantry to achieve a revolutionary victory in “The Present Situation and Our Tasks” (1947).

During the 1960’s and 1970’s, the Foreign Languages Press in Beijing published reminiscences of many generals, officers, and ordinary soldiers, but these rarely contained much more than anecdotes about famous incidents or battles. More detailed biographical and autobiographical works have been published in Chinese, although few have been translated into English, and of these generally only extracts have been published.China;modern

Books and Articles
  • Beckett, Ian, ed. Communist Military Machine. London: Bison, 1985.
  • Benton, Gregor. Mountain Fires: The Red Army’s Three-Year War in South China, 1934-1938. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992.
  • Bodin, Lynn. The Boxer Rebellion. New York: Osprey, 1979.
  • Chen, Jian. China’s Road to the Korean War: The Making of Sino-American Confrontation. New York: Columbia University Press, 1994.
  • Cheung, Tai Ming. Fortifying China: The Struggle to Build a Modern Defense Economy. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2009.
  • Corfield, Justin J. The Australian Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Boxer Uprising, 1899-1901. McCrae, Vic.: Slouch Hat Books, 2001.
  • Crossley, Pamela K. Orphan Warriors: Three Manchu Generations and the End of the Qing World. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1990.
  • Dorman, James E., Jr., and Nigel de Lee. The Chinese War Machine. London: Salamander, 1979.
  • Dreyer, Edward L. China at War, 1901-1949. London: Longman, 1995.
  • Fathers, Michael, and Andrew Higgins. Tiananmen: The Rape of Peking. London: Independent, 1989.
  • Harrington, Peter. Peking, 1900: The Boxer Rebellion. New York: Osprey, 2001.
  • Joffe, Ellis. The Chinese Army After Mao. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1987.
  • Jowett, Philip. The Chinese Army, 1937-49: World War II and Civil War. New York: Osprey, 2005.
  • _______. Chinese Civil War Armies, 1911-49. New York: Osprey, 1997.
  • Kane, Thomas M. Ancient China on Postmodern War: Enduring Ideas from the Chinese Strategic Tradition. New York: Routledge, 2007.
  • Lampton, David M. The Three Faces of Chinese Power: Might, Money, and Minds. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008.
  • Lewis, John Wilson, and Xue Litai. China Builds the Bomb. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1988.
  • Li Xiaobing. A History of the Modern Chinese Army. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2007.
  • Lilley, James R., and David Shambaugh, eds. China’s Military Faces the Future. Washington, D.C.: American Enterprise Institute/M. E. Sharpe, 1999.
  • Maxwell, Neville. India China War. New York: Pantheon Books, 1971.
  • Roe, Patrick C. The Dragon Strikes: China and the Korean War, June-December, 1950. Novato, Calif.: Presidio Press, 2000.
  • U.S. Department of Defense. Office of the Secretary. The Military Power of the People’s Republic of China: Annual Report to Congress, 2009. Washington, D.C.: Author, 2009.
  • Wasserstein, Bernard. Secret War in Shanghai. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1998.
Films and Other Media
  • Assembly. Huayi Brothers, 2007.
  • China Rising: The Epic History of Twentieth Century China. Documentary. Granite Productions for Yorkshire Television, 1992.
  • The Sand Pebbles. Feature film. Argyle/Solar, 1966.
  • The World at War. Documentary. Thames Television, 1973.

China: Ancient

China: Medieval

China: The Qing Empire

The Cold War: The United States, NATO, and the Right

The Cold War: The Soviet Union, the Warsaw Pact, and the Left

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The Cold War: The Nonaligned States

Colonial Wars of Independence

Warfare in Vietnam

Warfare in Afghanistan: The Soviet-Afghan Conflict

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