Army of farm­ers grows into a for­mi­da­ble mod­ern force

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - NEWS - By ZHAO LEI in Zhurihe, In­ner Mon­go­lia zhaolei@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Al­most 90 years ago, the pre­de­ces­sor of the Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army — the Chi­nese Work­ers’ and Peas­ants’ Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Army — was founded by the 7-year-old Com­mu­nist Party of China. The new army’s cre­ation fol­lowed a mil­i­tary up­ris­ing in Nan­chang, Jiangxi prov­ince, led by the CPC.

At that time, the na­tion was an in­de­pen­dent repub­lic by name but con­tin­ued to suf­fer the op­pres­sive rule of war­lords and the pain in­flicted by for­eign im­pe­ri­al­ists.

The first mem­bers of the force were mostly farm­ers who could no longer en­dure op­pres­sion, to­gether with sol­diers from the war­lords’ armies. They were in­spired by the Party to save the coun­try and lib­er­ate the peo­ple.

Soon af­ter the army was formed, its name was changed to the Chi­nese Work­ers’ and Peas­ants’ Red Army. The word “army” alone was in the name, rather than “armed forces”, prob­a­bly be­cause the CPC only had ground troops at the time.

In the first years of the Red Army, its com­man­ders and sol­diers had shabby uni­forms and used crude weapons — broadswords, sick­les and spears. Only a few had firearms. Yet the poorly equipped army sur­vived many ex­ter­mi­na­tion at­tempts by en­e­mies who were of­ten 10 times or even 100 times stronger.

The Red Army grew as poor peo­ple from across the coun­try pinned their hopes for the fu­ture on the force and flocked to join it, play­ing an im­por­tant role in the na­tion’s vic­tory in the 14-year War of Re­sis­tance Against Ja­panese Ag­gres­sion (1931-45).

In 1947, at the cli­max of the War of Lib­er­a­tion (1946-49), the Red Army re­named it­self the Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army, the name by which it has been known ever since.

With the found­ing of the Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of China in 1949, the PLA set up its own Navy and Air Force.

In the early 1950s, the PLA freed the en­tire Chi­nese main­land and then be­gan to re­duce the num­ber of troops. The Chi­nese mil­i­tary car­ried out four re­duc­tions be­fore 1960, shrink­ing from 6.3 mil­lion at its largest to about 2.4 mil­lion.

Over the decades that fol­lowed, the PLA has spared no ef­fort to mod­ern­ize and strengthen its ca­pa­bil­i­ties as a fight­ing force. It grad­u­ally de­vel­oped its own tanks, air­craft and ships to re­place weapons bought from other coun­tries.

Re­mark­able progress was achieved in the mid-1960s, when the PLA be­came the fifth mil­i­tary in the world to pos­sess and de­ploy nu­clear weapons, though the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment an­nounced that it would never use such weapons in a first strike.

De­spite many ef­forts in the 1970s and ’80s, how­ever, the PLA re­mained tech­no­log­i­cally and op­er­a­tionally be­hind its coun­ter­parts in many other coun­tries — mainly be­cause it was more im­por­tant for the coun­try to spend money on eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment and the im­prove­ment of peo­ple’s liveli­hoods.

The sit­u­a­tion be­gan to shift in the 1990s, when China’s top lead­ers re­al­ized that a suc­ces­sion of sweep­ing rev­o­lu­tions had been tak­ing place in mil­i­taries around the globe, and if the PLA re­mained un­changed it would be­come in­ca­pable of safe­guard­ing China and pro­tect­ing its in­ter­ests.

Mod­ern weapons and equip­ment and new mis­sions were given to the PLA dur­ing the pres­i­den­cies of Jiang Zemin and Hu Jin­tao in the past two decades.

In ad­di­tion to its do­mes­tic mis­sions, the Chi­nese mil­i­tary has con­trib­uted to in­ter­na­tional peace­keep­ing, mar­itime es­corts and hu­man­i­tar­ian and re­lief oper­a­tions.

Since Xi Jin­ping be­came com­man­der-in-chief of the PLA in 2012, the Chi­nese mil­i­tary has em­braced a new chap­ter in its his­tory. Its head­quar­ters, re­gional com­mand sys­tems and in­di­vid­ual branches have been over­hauled to cre­ate a more mod­ern, stream­lined force.

Pres­i­dent Xi has also re­peat­edly urged the PLA to boost its joint op­er­a­tional ca­pa­bil­i­ties and com­bat readi­ness.

Now, the PLA has an air­craft car­rier, a stealth fighter jet and pow­er­ful mis­siles. Its sol­diers are well trained, spir­ited and ded­i­cated. It con­tin­ues to move for­ward to­ward its goal of be­ing a world-class mil­i­tary.

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