Army of farmers grows into a formidable modern force
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.