The Heritage Foundation

News Releases on Asia

September 26, 2003

September 26, 2003 | News Releases on Asia

Heritage VP Co-edits Book on China'a Military

WASHINGTON, SEPT. 25, 2003-Last year, the world's largest army celebrated its 75th anniversary.

The People's Liberation Army, the armed forces of the People's Republic of China, has spent much of that time in turmoil and warfare. What have its leaders learned about war and military might? That's the subject of a new book co-edited by Dr. Larry Wortzel, vice president for foreign policy and defense studies at The Heritage Foundation.

Wortzel and co-editors Andrew Scobell, professor of national security affairs at the Strategic Studies Institute, and Thomas Donnelly, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, gathered in September 2002 to assess what lessons China's soldiers had drawn from their combat history.

All the research in the book, which flowed from those discussions to a compilation of research papers from China experts, comes from primary documents, written in Chinese by the military leaders involved in those experiences.

"This book is not about what people think the Chinese have learned," said Wortzel. "It's some of the top experts in the world reading the documents in Chinese and analyzing what the Chinese themselves say they've learned."

The Chinese learned the value of surprise, of taking advantage of their huge population and army to mass hundreds of thousands of soldiers against an enemy, of maneuvering for position and of strategic employment of terrain, said Wortzel. Their main weakness: logistics, "partly because of the amount of people they have to supply and partly because of their defense industry."

The book includes 12 chapters divided into four sections-an overview, a section on the various services (army, navy, air force), a section on the campaigns the army has fought and a final section on domestic deployments and civil-military relations.

Scobell, who specializes in analyzing the Chinese military campaigns, said he has heard the PLA described as a "come as you are army," and he agrees. "They believe the weak can prevail over the strong," he said. "And they've almost always been the weaker force. They've been effective at making the most at what they have.

"For instance, we rely on high-tech weaponry. If our backup generator goes out, we have a problem. The Chinese tend to just soldier on. Thus, when they look back, they think they've had nothing but success. They don't seem able to acknowledge failure. The problem with this is it may make them more likely to use force in the future."

"The Lessons of History: The Chinese People's Liberation Army at 75." Editors: Laurie Burkitt, Andrew Scobell, Larry Wortzel. Strategic Studies Institute Press. To read the book online, visit To obtain a copy, see the SSI Web site

About the Author

Related Issues: Asia