The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of the People’s Republic of China is one of the largest armies in the world. Established in 1949, it has been the ruling force of China since its inception and consists of both active and reserve forces estimated to be up to 2,000,000 strong. Within the PLA are an elite class of officers known as Generals. But, how many generals are in the Chinese Army?
Though the Chinese Army does not openly discuss their personnel, the official figure of active generals is said to be 8. This limited number is due to the Chinese military’s strict assessment procedures before awarding a general rank. With such a small number of generals controlling the nearly two million soldiers, it is no surprise that generals in the PLA are held in high respect.
The highest authority granted by the PLA is that of a marshal. This rank is even rarer than the standard general and is awarded only to those who have accomplished great deeds for their country. As of 2020, there are only four Chinese marshals. Headed by General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and President of the PRC, Xi Jinping, the other living Chinese marshals are Wu Quanyou, Li Zuocheng, and Zhang Youxia.
With a military consisting of an active force of two million soldiers and down to the 2000 generals, the military responsibility is distributed amongst the various Ministers, such as the Minister of Air Force, Minister of Land Force, and the Minister of Logistics Support. Within these three branches, there are 4−5 major general grades. The Chinese tactical level generals are within the Division Grade, or Ding Shou as they are known. While the lowest rank of general is the Ding Yi, or Division Commander, the highest rank of general is the Ding Bai, or Division Chief Commander.
The selection policy of the Chinese military when it comes to appointing generals is based solely on the merit of their service and capabilities. Rigorous assessments take place, considering factors such as leadership, overall contribution, and reliability of the individual. Whilst older generations of generals may be held in high regard, a person’s rank is not linked to their years of service, enabling younger minds to join their ranks.
Alternatives of Promotion
The Chinese Army also provides alternative paths to general rank, such as through political appointments. This approach is however looked down upon by the populous and is used purely as a political move from the Chinese government. The intent is to bolster their influence within the executive board of the PLA.
Such political promotions are most often awarded to those associated with high-ranking government officials, rather than to those who genuinely demonstrate the best service to the Chinese Army. This is an extremely controversial move and since taking office in 2013, President Xi Jinping has actively sought to reduce the number of politically appointed generals, and instead focus on awarding the position to those who deserve it, based on merit.
Generally speaking, the age range for attaining the rank of general in the Chinese Army is 45 – 50 years of age. However, there has been a significant introduction of younger generals – some in their 30s – in the last decade. This change of approach is believed to have been initiated due to advancements in the technological field and the push to modernize the Chinese military.
To accommodate this transition, China has established various military academies that focus on the higher education of its soldiers. Such academies include the PLA National Defence University and the PLA Army Command College, which offer training for prospective generals on an ongoing basis.
Generals Participation in International Operations
Whilst rarely visible to the public, the Chinese general class is highly involved in international efforts. From South China Sea patrols to international peacekeeping operations, the PLA generals are frequently found. As one of the first countries to join peacekeeping operations in the United Nations, Chinese forces have participated in nearly all of their international efforts.
It is further believed that the Chinese Army will soon be expanding the scope of their presence by initiating peacekeeping operations of their own. A report by The Washington Post states that the government of China is planning to create three quick reaction forces to be held in reserve for internationally recognized peacekeeping missions. This makes it clear that the Chinese government has identified the importance of the active general class to participate in such efforts.
Expert Opinions & Analysis
Experts believe that the advancement of the younger general class within the Chinese Army is creating a more productive and sustainable army. With the creation of new military academies, the younger generations have access to higher education and are thus able to understand the nuances of modern combat and global relations. This type of knowledge is necessary when it comes to effective peacekeeping operations and international contributions.
Furthermore, the experts point out that decisions such as military rankings should be based not on politics but rather on the capabilities of individuals. Despite this, many political appointments to the general class still take place in China and other countries. Therefore it is important to ensure more transparency in the promotion of officials into the general class both in China and abroad.
Overall Impact on Chinese Army
The Chinese Army is one of the largest and most powerful military forces in the world. But with only 8 active generals at the highest level of command and very limited marshal ranks, the true power of the Chinese military lies beyond the traditional understanding of military personnel. The influence of the Chinese Army officials extends far behind the battlefield, into global politics and international operations.
The Chinese Army’s criteria for promotion into such positions is incredibly stringent, ensuring only the best are given the honor of the general rank. Their political appointments too have resulted in a modernized and well-equipped army that has its eyes set on the international scene. With the implementation of their peacekeeping forces, their power is only projected to rise in the near future.
Perceptions & Approach to Generals in Chinese Society
The Chinese public attaches a great deal of respect towards the generals in its Army. They are often seen as the embodiment of courage and respectability amongst the Chinese populous, acting as a symbol of victory, justice and faith. It is also said that a general’s opinion holds much weight within the PLA, meaningful contributions and tactical solutions to difficult problems often generating collective attention.
It is not just the highest civilian authority either, quite often generals of a lower rank are asked to contribute their opinions on certain matters. This inclusive approach to strategy is not limited to just the Chinese Army either, other global countries are looking to China to see how their processes have enabled them to have such a powerful military in the 21st century.
Overall Impact of Generals on Global Politics
The presence of the Chinese generals on the global stage is a powerful one. Their influence can often be felt in many areas, from global politics to international trade. The presence of such an influential and strategic force in the hands of just 8 generals serves an important reminder of how powerful the Chinese military truly is.
From the US and Russia to European nations, the Chinese soldiers and their generals are often found on the front lines of the battlefield. Whilst their participation in this form of international effort showcases the sheer power of the Chinese military, it also acts as a window of opportunity for a more peaceful future, one in which the PLA generals have a direct hand in constructing.