[Documents menu] Documents menu

PLA now boasts more graduates in its ranks

By Mary Kwang, The Straits Times, 12 December 2000

Once staffed with hundreds of thousands of peasants, China's military now has 26,000 members with doctorates and master's degrees

BEIJING - The Chinese military, the People's Liberation Army, claims a major success in modernising a once-largely illiterate peasants' army to a fighting force which boasts thousands of eggheads in its ranks.

The PLA mouthpiece, the Liberation Army Daily, in an article yesterday, said that there were now 26,000 graduates with doctorates and master's degrees in its ranks of more than three million.

Several of them are regimental or division commanders. In the highly-sensitive Second Artillery Force, which is in charge of the PLA's strategic and conventional missiles and related high-technology combat craft, more than 90 per cent of the combat units had qualified engineers in command.

The PLA wants even more officers with college degrees.

The army has also started to look for recruits from tertiary institutions other than military colleges.

It has also sent its scholars to more than 20 countries to receive education overseas.

The PLA has signed training agreements with 26 top universities in the country.

The upgrading of the calibre of the PLA is seen as crucial as China strives to catch up with the United States in military technology.

The slogan of the PLA today is 'fight to win', which could be a reality if the Chinese military could overcome its backwardness and achieve its modernisation goals.

To have a smarter army, China has changed the way in which men are promoted to officers.

In the past, military cadres were promoted to new posts merely from among the ranks.

In the last two decades, however, all those who are to be made officers have to undergo training at military academies.

The PLA has also launched a three-year programme to teach its officers subjects such as economics, management and law apart from military affairs and history.

In fact, the rise in the educational qualifications of officers in the PLA parallels the country's own economic development experience.

The article traced the development of the PLA over the years.

Between 1927, when the PLA was founded, and 1949, when it defeated the forces of the Kuomintang, its troops consisted of a large number of illiterate, or semi-literate, peasants.

In the late 1960s, 7 per cent of military cadres had a high-school or higher degree. In the late 1980s, a decade after China launched economic reforms, the situation changed dramatically with 42 per cent of PLA cadres boasting tertiary qualifications.

At present, this proportion is 71 per cent.

Separately, the PLA has pared its strength by half a million soldiers over the past three years to achieve a lean and efficient force.