How Many In The Chinese Army

From the glamourous, extravagant military parades in Beijing to the persistent debate over arms control, the Chinese army has inspired varied opinions across the world. Estimations of the size of the Chinese army have existed for many years, but recently, reports have suggested even larger numbers, with some claiming that the Chinese military could now be over two and a half million strong. Therefore, it is essential to assess how large the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) truly, to gain a better understanding of the Chinese military.
Chinese official sources claim the PLA today has a total of 2.035 Million personnel, which, they say, is the smallest standing army in the world and which is only maintained at this size out of economic necessity. However, some other experts suggest that the actual number of PLA personnel may be twice as large as these figures. This figure is supported by the former U.S. Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, who stated in March 2018 that he believed that the total number of PLA personnel was “closer to three million”. The basis for his estimation comes from statistics regarding the number of applications for military service, which exceeded 3 million in 2018.
This raises further questions about the structure of the Chinese army and its composition. Many countries around the world consider the Chinese “volunteer” army to be much larger than the official figures suggest. These claims are based on the understanding that the Chinese Army is made up of both “active” and “reserve” personnel. Active service personnel are full-time professional soldiers, whilst reservists are those formally registered to be able to serve in time of national emergency. The most reliable estimates suggest that the Chinese army has roughly 2 million active service personnel, but around 500,000 or more reserve personnel.
Another factor to consider is the fact that the Chinese army is recruiting from a much larger pool of potential servicemen than that of other major military powers. This is due to the population size as well as a reportedly lower recruitment age in the Chinese army. By loosening the age restrictions for military service, the Chinese army was able to attract more recruits, many of whom are very young, ranging from 18 to 19 years old. This factor has enabled China to increase its forces on the ground to a great extent.
Furthermore, the Chinese army has recently made a number of changes to its organizational structure, which could be contributing to increasing the overall size of its forces. One of the most significant changes was the merging of seven military regions into five theater commands in February 2016. This reorganisation was described as a “major move toward streamlining the command structure and creating a more agile, efficient and accountable force” by Lt. Gen. David Deptula of the U.S. Air Force. Since then, the Chinese military has adopted a number of organizational changes that have enabled them to increase their forces in numbers, as well as in quality.
Ultimately, reliable estimates suggest that the total size of the People’s Liberation Army is around 2.5 million personnel, with roughly 2 million active service and 500,000 reserve personnel. These numbers have been further augmented by the recruitment of young people and the organizational changes in the Chinese military. Furthermore, it is clear that China is seeking to increase its military strength even further in the years to come, with reports from 2019 indicating that the Chinese army will expand by over 30,000 personnel. As such, it is clear that the Chinese army is increasingly becoming a global superpower.


The history of the Chinese army dates back to the 1912 revolution, which saw the overthrowing of the Qing Dynasty and the establishment of the Republic of China. The establishment of the new government led to the organisation of the first military forces, with Sun Yat-Sen, leader of the revolution, appointing Tang Sheng-chi as the Generalissimo and Commander-in-Chief of the Chinese National Revolutionary Army. This new armed forces helped the Republic of China in its fight for independence against the warlords that had taken control of much of the country.
In 1927, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) was created under the Communist Party’s rule, and it entered into a long and brutal civil war with the nationalist forces. The civil war eventually resulted in a victory for the PLA, and from then onwards, it was the main arm of the Chinese armed forces. Since then, the PLA has undergone several changes, most notably the adoption of new equipment, the introduction of modern tactics, and restructuring of its organizational structure.


The Chinese army is currently experiencing an unprecedented period of modernization and expansion. This has been reflected in its forces on the ground, which are now better equipped and more numerous than ever before. This modernization is largely due to the increasing economic power of the Chinese state, which is now one of the world’s largest economies.
The increased wealth has enabled the Chinese military to purchase new weapons, including aircraft carriers, stealth fighters and hypersonic missiles. In addition, the PLA has also been able to invest heavily in technological advances and training regimes to ensure its forces are prepared for the 21st century battlefield. All of this has enabled the Chinese army to increase its strength even further and cement their status as a top military power.


The morale of any military force is of paramount importance, and the Chinese army is no exception. The Chinese state has gone to great lengths to ensure that the PLA is able to perform to its highest capabilities. This is seen through the establishment of well-funded training programmes, a popular leader-centric system of command, and an atmosphere of loyalty and camaraderie that exists in the Chinese military.
Furthermore, there has also been a strong focus on increasing the pay and benefits of soldiers, in order to ensure their commitment and boost morale. This is demonstrated through efforts to ensure that soldiers receive world-class food, clothing and housing, as well as other forms of financial assistance. Such efforts have been credited with helping to ensure that soldiers are satisfied and eager to serve their country.

Arms Control

The size of the Chinese army and its capabilities has been a major factor in the debate over global arms control. On the one hand, the Chinese government has argued that the size of their military is well within the limits set out by United Nations Security Council Resolution 1887, which regulates the amount of conventional arms China is allowed to possess. On the other hand, many experts have argued that the actual size of the Chinese military may be two or three times as much as suggested by China’s official figures.
Regardless, it is clear that the size and capabilities of the People’s Liberation Army will play a major role in determining the future of global arms control. In the years to come, it is likely that the debate will become even more heated, and the size of the Chinese army will remain a key point of contention.


In conclusion, the People’s Liberation Army is an ever-growing and increasingly powerful force. Current estimations suggest that the People’s Liberation Army has a total 2.5 million personnel, with around 2 million active service and 500,000 reserve personnel. In addition, the Chinese army has undergone significant improvements in recent years, including the introduction of new equipment and organizational restructuring, as well as initiatives to improve morale and foster loyalty amongst soldiers. All of this suggests that the Chinese army has established itself as a major power and is likely to become even more influential in the years to come.

Letha Wimmer is a military expert with more than a decade of direct experience in the U.S. Army and National Guard. She specializes in researching and writing about the world's armies and their capabilities, equipment, capabilities, strategies, organizations, and operations. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Aviation from Middle Tennessee State University as well as an Aerial Firefighting Certificate and numerous other advanced aviation certifications. She also enjoys traveling to distant lands to gain firsthand knowledge about their military forces and has written extensively for various websites on the subject.

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