Military rank is one of the signatures of a standardised army. Before the founding of the PRC, the CPC Central Committee and the Central Military Commission had proposed to implement the military ranks. The proposal, however, failed to be carried out due to wars and many other factors. After the founding of the PRC, the implementation of military ranks was once again put on the agenda with the modernisation and standardisation of the CPLA. In November 1952, the General Directorate Department made a preliminary plan for implementing military ranks in its report to the Central Military Commission and Chairman Mao Zedong (1893–1976, Chinese communist revolutionary, poet, political theorist and founder of the PRC). After several years of demonstration and preparation, the Central Military Commission issued the Instructions on the Assessment of Military Ranks in January 1955. On February 8, the Sixth Session of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress adopted and promulgated the Regulations on the Service of the PLA Officers (the Regulations). The Regulations stipulated that the PLA began to carry out the military ranks system from September 1955.
The ranks of PLA officers were divided into Marshal of the PRC; Senior General, General, Lieutenant General, Major General; Senior Colonel, Colonel, Lieutenant Colonel, Major; Senior Captain, Captain, First Lieutenant, Second Lieutenant and Junior Lieutenant. The ranks of enlisted personnel were divided into Staff Sergeant, Sergeant, Corporal; Private First Class and Private.
On September 27, 1955, the Title and Medal Conferring Ceremony was held in Zhongnanhai, Beijing. Peng Zhen, vicechairman and secretary general of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, read the PRC President's order to confer the title of Marshal of the PRC to Zhu De, Peng Dehuai, Lin Biao, Liu Bocheng, He Long, Chen Yi, Luo Ronghuan, Xu Xiangqian, Nie Rongzhen and Ye Jianying; and the order to award medals to those who contributed to the Chinese Revolutionary War, the War of Liberation and the peaceful liberation of Tibet. Mao Zedong personally awarded titles of medals. At 2 p.m. on the same day, the Title Conferring Ceremony was held in the State Council, and Premier Zhou Enlai (1898–1976) awarded the titles to officers in Beijing. At the first ceremony, a total of 10 Marshals, 10 Senior General, 57 General, 175 Lieutenant General, 800 Major General, more than 32,000 Field Grade Officers, 498,000 Junior Officers and 112,000 Warrant Officers were awarded.
Medals include the August 1st Medal for the Agrarian Revolutionary War (August 1, 1927–July 6, 1937), the Independence and Freedom Medal for the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression (July 7, 1937–September 2, 1945), and the Liberation Medal for the War of Liberation (September 3, 1945–June 30, 1950).
Aside from the military ranks, the PLA also implemented a salary system and compulsory military service system, and issued the Regulations for the CPLA on Political Work. These initiatives play an important role in promoting the modernisation and standardisation of the PLA, giving it a new look, strengthening the sense of organisational discipline, enhancing the sense of responsibility and honour of officers and enlisted personnel, mobilising their enthusiasm and creativity, and perfecting the military and politics.
The military ranks system was cancelled in 1965. At the beginning of 1982, the Standing Committee of the Central Military Commission made a decision to reinforce the military ranks system and began preparations for a new military ranks system. On December 30, 1987, the Central Military Commission decided to implement a new military ranks system from the National Day (October 1) in 1988. On July 1, 1988, the Second Meeting of the Standing Committee of the Seventh NPC approved the Regulations on the Military Ranks of Officers of the CPLA, marking the birth of the new military ranks system.
The new military ranks system for offices is divided into three categories and 11 classes—(1) General Officers: Senior General, General, Lieutenant General, Major General; (2) Field Grade Officers: Colonel Commandant, Colonel, Lieutenant Colonel, Major; (3) Unit Grade Officers: Captain, First Lieutenant, and Second Lieutenant. The new military ranks system for enlisted personnel is divided into three categories and seven classes—(1) Petty Officers: Chief Sergeant, Specialist Sergeant; (2) Non-commissioned Officers: Sergeant, Corporal, Lance Corporal; (3) Privates: Private First Class, and Private.
According to the posts of military, political and logistic officers, the post grades of officers are divided into: Chairman of the Central Military Commission, Vice Chairman, Members of the Central Military Commission, Principal of Military Region, Deputy of Military Region, Army Commander, Vice Army Commander, Division Commander, Vice Division Commander (Brigade Commander), Regimental Commander ( Vice Brigade Commander), Vice Regimental Commander, Battalion Commander, Vice Battalion Commander, Company Commander, Vice Company Commander, and Platoon Leader.
Professional and technical officers, according to professional and technical level, are divided into senior, intermediate, primary.
On September 14, 1988, the Central Military Commission held the General Military Ranks Conferring Ceremony in Beijing. Since October 1, 1988, the CPLA has formally implemented the new military ranks system, and conferred a total of 1,452 General Officers, 180,000 field Grade Officers, and 405,000 Unit Grade Officers.
Implementation of the military ranks system marks again how the CPLA has made greater progress in terms of its modernisation and standardisation.