People's Liberation Army
The predecessor of the People's Liberation Army (PLA, 解放军, Jiefangjun), the Red Army, came into being with the Nanchang Uprising on 1 August 1927. On the basis of Mao Zedong's theory of 'people's war', this revolutionary army was to have both a political and social role. These roles consisted of doing propaganda among the masses, organizing the masses, arming the masses, helping them to establish revolutionary political power and setting up Party organizations. While doing this, the Party at all times was to maintain control over the army.
The fact that most Chinese political leaders (Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, Zhu De, Ye Jianying, Lin Biao, and many others) had military carreers while at the same time serving in the civilian power structure reflects this dual role of the PLA. The participation of the political elite in military affairs also meant that there was little emphasis on formal training of officers. In the PLA, being 'red' was always considered better than being 'expert'. The political character of the PLA also contributed to the formation of a mystique of the army as a disciplined, politically conscious force that was closely engaged with the task of rebuilding the nation.
Traditionally, the military had a very low social status in China, aside from a folklore built around romantic soldiers and military heroes of virtue. "Good iron is not made into nails, a good man does not become a soldier", as the popular saying goes. This image changed dramatically during the revolutionary war period; joining the PLA became an aspiration for many young people who felt repressed, in particular for those of worker or peasant background, and women.
Aside from patriotic motives, joining the PLA almost automatically led to acceptance by the Party, and this in turn opened various career prospects. The army enabled young people to acquire skills that were useful in civilian life; demobilized soldiers were honored in their villages and, very importantly, had built up good relations that gave them easier access to the local bureaucracy. Many became cadres themselves, thereby providing status for their families. Others played a major role in national politics, in particular after 1969, when the PLA was called in to restore order after the Cultural Revolution had resulted in total chaos.
As a fighting force, the PLA has often been able to accomplish astonishing military feats in the face of adversity. Despite often inadquate armaments, the Army succeeded in defeating superior Nationalist forces during the civil war of 1946-1949, paving the way for the founding of the PRC. Although undereducated and underbudgeted, the PLA applied guerrilla tactics, emphasizing flexibility and a close integration with the people. Constant ideological training prepared the soldiers for hardship and sacrifice for the revolutionary cause.