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July 2, 2009
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v2.1 Reference

A History of the Modern Chinese Army

Since the establishment of the Red Army in 1927, China's military has responded to profound changes in Chinese society, particularly its domestic politics, shifting economy, and evolving threat perceptions. Recently tensions between China and Taiwan and other east Asian nations have aroused great interest in the extraordinary transformation and new capabilities of the Chinese army. In A History of the Modern Chinese Army, Xiaobing Li, a former member of the People's Liberation Army (PLA), provides a comprehensive examination of the PLA from the Cold War to the beginning of the twenty-first century that highlights the military's central function in modern Chinese society. In the 1940s, the Chinese army was in its infancy, and many soldiers were rural conscripts and volunteers who had received little formal schooling. The Chinese military rapidly increased its mobility and weapon strength, and the Korean War and Cold War offered intense combat experience that not only allowed soldiers to hone their fighting techniques but also helped China to develop military tactics tailored to the surrounding countries whose armies posed the most immediate threats. Yet even in the 1970s, the completion of a middle school education (nine years) was considered above-average, and only 4 percent of the 224 top Chinese generals had any college credit hours. However, in 1995 the high command began to institute massive reforms to transform the PLA from a labor-intensive force into a technology-intensive army. Continually seeking more urban conscripts and emphasizing higher education, the PLA Reserve Officer Training and Selection program recruited students from across the nation. These reservists would become commissioned officers upon graduation, and they majored in atomic physics, computer science, and electrical engineering. Grounding the text in previously unreleased official Chinese government and military records as well as the personal testimonies of more than two hundred PLA soldiers, Li charts the development of China's armed forces against the backdrop of Chinese society, cultural traditions, political history, and recent technological advancements. A History of the Modern Chinese Army links China's military modernization to the country's growing international and economic power and provides a unique perspective on China's esttablishment and maintenance of one of the world's most advanced military forces.

About the Author

Xiaobing Li, professor of history and director of the Western Pacific Institute at the University of Central Oklahoma, is coauthor of Voices from the Korean War: Personal Stories of American, Korean, and Chinese Soldiers. He served in the People's Liberation Army in China.


"Xiaobing Li has added a most useful study to the growing literature on the People's Liberation Army of China. In more than a decade of research and careful mining of sources, Li has written a comprehensive chronological study but also a thematically intriguing one. He situates the PLA in Chinese society and shows the various sociopolitical influences that have impacted the military as an institution. This is a novel approach. Li's study deserves wide readership in the China studies community and among China security specialists." —avid Shambaugh, editor of Power Shift: China and Asia's New Dynamics"

"A superb job in producing the first comprehensive history in English on the development of the Chinese military. The study is supported by extensive research on Chinese sources made available in the past two decades. It explains the implications of China's military modernization in the twenty-first century. It is highly revealing and highly recommended." —Chen Jian, author of Mao's China and the Cold War"

"A superb volume that will be a welcome addition to the growing body of literature on the Chinese armed forces. This study is at once an operational history and a political history, as well as an institutional history of a military about which much too little is understood. The interviews and the human dimensions of the narrative put the 'people' back into the People's Liberation Army." —David M. Finkelstein, coeditor of Chinese Warfighting: The PLA Experience since"

"A splendid account of the origin and development of one of China's most important institutions, told through the histories of its rank and file soldiers, its ambitious young officer corps and the party that ultimately controls it. Professor Li situates the army firmly inside Chinese society and culture, analyzing the ways in which it both responded to and shaped the changing world around it. Lis study is prodigiously researched, clearly and persuasively argued, and indispensable to anyone who desires to understand China today." —Marilyn B. Young, author of The Vietnam Wars, 1945-1990"

"This excellent and well-written survey of the PLA and its role in contemporary China belongs in every college library." —C. J. Weeks, Southern Polytechnic State University"

"Li Xiabing's new history marks a major achievement in the study of the Chinese Communist armed forces, collectively known as the People's Liberation Army, or the PLA, primarily for the simple reason that there has been a glaring shortage of anything readable in the Western languages on the inner logic and historical evolution of the PLA. A PLA soldier himself, Li has unique advantages in producing such an impressive tome. First of all, he has gathered a large and unparalleled pool of primary and secondary sources, Chinese or otherwise, for writing this book. The result is a well-researched, richly documented book that adds authenticity to many of its claims. Secondly, Li's prior service in the PLA has clearly given him an intimate perspective on the social life and cultural transformation of the PLA, which makes the book unique in that it is the first attempt in a Western language to reveal the history of the PLA as "a soldier's story." —Yu Maochun, United States Naval Academy"

"China has come a long way since the days of the Cold War when they posed an unlikely threat. You won't find a better primer on this new global force." —HBC"

"Named one of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles in its January 2008 issue."—Choice"

"This book will be of benefit to all those interested in PLA institutional history, PLA operational history, PLA transformation through the years, and the political history of the People's Republic. It provides much information, some of it unique, about many significant events and developments. I recommend it to those interested in China, its military, and its relations with the rest of the world." Gary J. Blige, Journal of Military History"

"A History of the Modern Chinese Army is a crucial first step for English-langauge history of the PLA. Viewed in light of China's steadily ascending military spending, paired with the growing shadow cast on the world stage, this is a compelling and informative read for scholars of Asian history and the general public alike." Jonathan D. Thomas, The American Graduate"

"A. . . clear portrayal of the reasons behind, the limitations on, and the effects of Chinese military reforms under the People's Republic." —Pacific Affrairs"

"Professor Xiaobing Li has done us a great service with this contribution. Among the conclusions that we can draw from this book are that China's military remains behind in its evolution in spite of many years of efforts at modernization, and that its dependence on foreign expertise, particularly Russian, continues." —On Track"

"Professor Li belongs to an indispensable and distinct group of scholars that has emerged in the post-Mao period.Their contribution to our understanding of the PLA, a force that will require our increasing attention, cannot be ignored." —On track"

"Li does an credible job of walking the fine line of the elaborate charade of the creation of an "independent" modern developmental state."—The China Journal"

"The book is very well researched and is a valuable addition to the growing literature on the PLA that will appeal to both specialists and general readers."—The China Quarterly"

"Although there are many fine books on specific aspects of the People's Liberation Army (PLA), there is a real need for a more general work surveying the Chinese military. Li Xiaobang, professor history at the University of Central Oklahoma and himself a PLA veteran, has produced such a volume." —J.T. Dreyer, Department of Political Science, University of Miami"

"This well-written, broad overview of Chinese modern military history provides an interesting and useful approach to understanding the domestic and geopolitical forces that have shaped China's military forces." —China Review International"—

9780813192406 : a-history-of-the-modern-chinese-army-li
Paperback / softback
432 Pages
$27.95 USD

Other Titles by Xiaobing Li

Building Ho's Army

Xiaobing Li
Sep 2019 - University Press of Kentucky
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Power versus Law in Modern China

Qiang Fang, Xiaobing Li
Nov 2017 - University Press of Kentucky
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Modern Chinese Legal Reform

edited by Xiaobing Li, Qiang Fang
Feb 2013 - University Press of Kentucky
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