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People's Liberation Army II

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After the founding of the PRC, the PLA started to play a role in China's foreign policy by actively engaging in a number of conflicts. The Army fought the American troops in Korea in 1950-1953 and against India in 1963 (unresolved until the present day), it clashed with former ally the Soviet Union along the shared Northeastern border in 1969, battled with South-Vietnamese troops in the South China Sea in 1974, marched against Vietnam in 1979, and came into conflict with a number of countries over the Spratly Islands since the mid-1980s. The PLA supported North-Vietnam during the Vietnam War, and deployed advisers and troops against American forces in Southeast Asia.

Charge the enemy till the last breath, 1970

Charge the enemy till the last breath, 1970

Over the past six decades, the PLA has worked towards bringing Taiwan back into the fold. During the Taiwan Strait crisis of 1954-1955, and again in 1958, the Army bombarded the offshore islands of Quemoy (Jinmen) and Matzu (Mazu). In the 1980s, live ammunition was traded in for shells filled with propaganda materials, which the Taiwanese reciprocated in kind. In 1995-1996, the PLA was involved in naval and missile exercises off the coast of Taiwan in an attempt to influence the presidential elections then taking place in Taiwan. The peaceful resolution of the Taiwan issue has been high on the agenda of the successive generations of military and civilian PRC-leaders, including Hua Guofeng.

We must certainly complete the great task of unifying the mother country, 1978

We must certainly complete the great task of unifying the mother country, 1978

Despite these activities, the PLA has always devoted its best energies to internal affairs. In the military sense, it pacified the country in the early 1950s, defeating Nationalist remnant troops and local militias. The Army occupied Hainan Island, participated in political campaigns to wipe out the landlord class and suppress counter-revolutionaries, and occupied Tibet. During the Great Leap Forward, the Army was used to prevent peasants from fleeing rural areas stricken by famine, and in the early 1960s, the military took over many government and State-functions.

Young sentries, 1976

Young sentries, 1976

Just after leaving the line of fire, still entering the battle field, 1974

Just after leaving the line of fire, still entering the battle field, 1974

Aside from its military and political functions, the PLA has been used as an economic resource as well. During the revolutionary war, wherever soldiers went, they participated in food production to supplement reserves in the area and lighten the burden on the local population. After the founding of the PRC, the PLA's domestic economic role was enlarged. The huge number of demobilized soldiers, while retaining their military organization, was employed in civilian production, both in agriculture and in industry. The military moreover was involved in setting up state farms and massive land reclamation projects, in particular in the Northeast.

Hold high the red banner of Mao Zedong Thought, let the Army truly be a great school of Mao Zedong Thought

Hold high the red banner of Mao Zedong Thought, let the Army truly be a great school of Mao Zedong Thought, 1967

In the era of modernization, the role and position of the PLA in Chinese society has changed enormously. An Army career is no longer considered as one of the few available opportunities for social mobility: people rather try their luck as independent entrepreneurs. This has created problems for PLA-recruitment policies. On the other hand, the professionalization of the PLA-organization over the past three decades, now stressing arms over men, has made the Army rather reluctant to take in unskilled recruits from the countryside, preferring (urban) university graduates instead. Due to a reduction of the ranks (some 1.5-2 million in the last 15 years), a number of traditional PLA-functions has shifted to other organizations, in particular the People's Armed Police. This latter organization has become the first line of defense against civil unrest. In that role, it has faced a lot of action in the ever more frequent conflicts with disgruntled peasants --protesting expulsion from their farmland to make way for industrial and/or urban development--, workers --opposing their dismissal-- and pensioners --clamoring against the paucity of their pensions. The PAP, backed when necessary by the PLA, has taken on much of the grass-roots work; over the years, it has become involved in combatting the regular floods that wreak increasing havoc in the countryside. PAP units were also deployed to ensure security for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and other cities.

Support the army and give preferential treatment to families of revolutionary army men and martyrs, 1983

Support the army and give preferential treatment to families of revolutionary army men and martyrs, 1983

Sacred mission--defending peace for the Motherland, 1983

Sacred mission--defending peace for the Motherland, 1983

Sources:

Martin Andrew, "Terrorism, Riots, and the Olympics: New Missions and Challenges for China's Special Forces", China Brief external link vol. 5, issue 19 (13 September 2005)

Flemming Christiansen & Shirin Rai, Chinese Politics and Society - An Introduction (London etc.: Prentice Hall, 1996)

Li Danhui, "China-U.S. Détente and China's Aid to Vietnam to Resist U.S. Intervention - The Vietnam Factor in China's Foreign Policy Readjustment", Social Sciences in China, vol 24, no. 2 (Summer 2003), pp. 165-176

Andrew J. Nathan & Robert S. Ross, The Great Wall and the Empty Fortress - China's Search for Security (New York etc.: W.W. Norton & Company 1997)

Qu Xing, "Chinese and Vietnamese Views on the Indo-China War: Strategic Unity and Tactical Differences", Social Sciences in China, vol. 24, no. 2 (Summer 2003), pp. 127-135

Richard C. Thornton, Odd Man Out - Truman, Stalin, Mao, and the Origins of the Korean War (Washington, DC: Brassey's, 2000)

Zhang Baijia, "Cross the Yalu River - How China Handled a Crisis and Decided to Enter the Korean War", Social Sciences in China, vol. 24, no. 2 (Summer 2003), pp. 109-117

Xiaoming Zhang, "China's 1979 War with Vietnam: A Reassessment", The China Quarterly, No. 184 (December 2005), pp. 851-874

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