March 10, 2016 | Commentary on China Military Modernization, China

The People's Liberation Army on Wargaming

China has a long history of engaging in wargaming and exercises as part of military planning. The Chinese biography of Sun-Tzu (545-470 BC) recounts the tale of Sun-Tzu employing the emperor’s consorts as troops to demonstrate military activities and maneuvers. In the Warring States period (475-221 BC), the philosopher Mozi is said to have dissuaded the state of Chu from attacking the state of Song by playing wargames against Song’s warlord Lu Ban, demonstrating that any attack Lu might mount would face already prepared countermeasures.

During the rule of Mao Zedong, however, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) was discouraged from pursuing greater military professionalism. Mao worried that a professional military might resist Party control, constituting a separate power base. Moreover, Mao feared a professional military might reach conclusions that contradicted or diverged from Party ideology. Consequently, PLA professional military education (PME) suffered under much of the Mao era (1949-1976). During the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) in particular, many PME institutions were shut down and military education in general was badly disrupted. During this period, it is not clear how much wargaming was conducted, nor who was responsible for their staging, if they were conducted at all.

 - Dean Cheng is the senior research fellow for Chinese political and security affairs at The Heritage Foundation.

 - This piece originally appeared in War on the Rocks can be viewed in full at

About the Author

Dean Cheng Senior Research Fellow, Asian Studies Center
Asian Studies Center

Originally appeared in War on the Rocks