The People’s Liberation Army

  • Tony Saich
Part of the China in Focus series book series


The People’s Liberation Army, unlike armies in the West, is more than a professional standing army and has a wider field of operation than that of a bureaucratic pressure group competing for scarce resources. The role of the army in the Chinese political system owes its origins to the pre-liberation struggle described in chapter 1. Apart from causing institutional and personnel overlap, the liberation struggle has affected the functions of the military since liberation. The conditions during the Long March and in Yanan, and the need to rely on the population to wage guerrilla warfare, meant that the PLA became a multi-functional body carrying out education and production tasks. This legacy of the past, and the success of the military, led Mao Zedong to have a highly favourable view not just of the military per se but also as a participant in the political system. When Mao sought to purify the ranks of the Party and state during the Cultural Revolution he turned to the army for help, because he felt that under Lin Biao’s leadership it embodied the ‘true spirit’ of the revolution. Since liberation certain sections of the leadership have tried to downgrade this ‘traditional’ role of the PLA, and have tried to ‘professionalise’ it by concentrating on its purely military functions.


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Selected further reading

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  6. S. B. Griffiths, The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1967).Google Scholar
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  10. Y. M. Kau (ed.), The Lin Piao Affair: Power Politics and Military Coup (White Plains, N.Y.: International Arts and Sciences Press, 1975).Google Scholar
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  12. R. L. Powell, The Party, the Government and the Gun’ in Asian Survey, vol. X, no. 6, pp. 441–71.Google Scholar
  13. J. D. Simmonds, ‘Peng Te-huai: A chronological Re-examination’ in China Quarterly, no. 37, pp. 120–38.Google Scholar
  14. D. Tretiak, ‘China’s Vietnam War and its Consequences’ in China Quarterly, no. 80, pp. 740–67.Google Scholar
  15. W. Whitson, The Chinese High Command: A History of Communist Military Politics, 1927–1971 (London: Macmillan, 1973).CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Tony Saich 1981

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  • Tony Saich

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