Show/hide main menu

2014 events

The Evolution of PLA's Warfighting in Maoist China, 1950-1982

Mao and armyResearch Seminar
Li Jie, Doctoral Candidate, King's College London.

4-6pm, Wednesday 22 October 2014
Room S-1.04, Strand Building, Strand Campus, King's College London

All welcome - no need to book.


This paper examines and explains the development of PLA’s (People’s Liberation Army) warfighting from 1950 to 1982, a period during which Mao Zedong’s military thinking had a dominant influence within the PLA. Since the late 1920s when the Soviets first introduced the new “operational” level of warfare, major Western military powers had gradually adopted a “modern” way of warfighting. Absolute destruction of enemy’s troops through concentrated annihilation had been replaced by disruption of enemy’s defending system through fragmenting, simultaneous, and echeloned strikes across the whole theatre. This remarkable change is not observed in the Chinese case in the period selected, despite that Peng Dehuai (1953-58) led a modernization program of weapons and later Lin Biao (1959-1971) covertly professionalized the forces closely associated to him. After Lin’s death, Ye Jianying (1972-1978) quickly organised a reform to bring the PLA back to a mass army. I use balance of power theory and bureaucratic politics model to analyze why a breakthrough did not occur in the PLA’s warfighting. A preliminary finding is that it was Mao’s dominance within the PLA and his preference for a mass army, which led to this absence. In addition, Mao’s preference for a mass army mainly concerned about political stability in the domestic  strategic situation only played a subsidiary role in Mao’s thinking on military modernization. This finding is contrary to the conventional wisdom, which argues that strategic situation, deduced from balance of power, is a more powerful tool than bureaucratic politics model for the study of doctrine, especially when threats become sufficiently grave (Posen, 1984). Future comparative studies could include this Chinese case to re-test the credibility of the two theories.

About the speaker

Li Jie holds a MA (with Honours) degree in Psychology from the University of St Andrews, and a Master’s degree in China in Comparative Perspective from the London School of Economic and Political Science. He also studied American Politics in “Power and Politics” summer seminars in Georgetown University, D.C., held by Oxbridge Learning Academy, and achieved a distinction. He is now a third-year PhD candidate in Chinese Security Studies at Lau China Institute, King’s College London. His research interests focus on the evolution of the conduct of modern warfare, especially the evolution of Chinese way of warfighting since the establishment of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). His PhD research examines and explains the continuity and change in the PLA’s understanding and practice of warfighting in 1950-1982, during which Mao’s People’s War theory had a dominant influence. 

Sitemap Site help Terms and conditions Privacy policy Accessibility Modern slavery statement Contact us

© 2017 King's College London | Strand | London WC2R 2LS | England | United Kingdom | Tel +44 (0)20 7836 5454