How Many Members Are In The Chinese Army

How Many Members Are In The Chinese Army

As the world’s largest standing army, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) boasts more than two million members. The core of the PLA is formed by active-duty forces—regular personnel who typically serve a 3-year contract, though some serve for shorter periods. Reserves and paramilitary forces, such as the militia and the armed police, support the PLA in national defense and other tasks.

The Chinese government has long played down the official figures for the size of the army. But in 2019, the Central Military Commission chairman of the National Defense Forces, General Qi Jianguo, revealed the updated personnel count of the PLA: 2,035,000 members. The army’s budget is published as well; however, its spending is much larger than officially disclosed due to a number of hidden costs.

“It’s clear that the Chinese government is modernizing its military at a rapid pace,” said Brooking Institution’s China security expert Ryan Defense. “China is seen in the world as the leading challenger, if not the biggest threat, to the United States’s status as the world’s biggest military power. Its number of active and reserve forces is only increasing, and its expenditures on military advancement is only rising.”

The Chinese Military is one of the mightiest propeled by its manpower and army units, equipment, and system. It runs a vast range of forces, comprising of:

  • Land force with almost 1.55 million personnel.
  • Navy with 260,000 personnel.
  • Air Force with 398,000 personnel.
  • Rocket Force with 150,000 personnel.

These numbers together make the PLA the largest in the world. Known by the moniker of “the People’s Army”, the forces are divided into seven Military Region Headquartes (MRH) to provide effective command and control. Additionally, the PLA also has five main support branches that provide services such as medical support, communications, engineering and maintenance.

In recent years, China has been engaged in a number of military drills and exercises in order to ensure the readiness of their troops. In 2019, China carried out the Zhurihe Combined Tactics Training Base military exercises to hone their combat skills. The Chinese army is also known for its technological advancements; it is investing heavily in modernizing its military technology, such as artificial intelligence. These advancements will boost the PLA’s effectiveness on the battlefield.

Military Spending By China

The sheer size of the Chinese military emphasizes the huge amount of money required to keep all its forces and equipment in combat-ready mode. Government expenditure on defense has been steadily increasing in past years, with a growth rate of 7.6% compared to 2017.

In 2018, China spent an estimated $250 billion on the military making it one of the greatest spenders in the defence industry. About one-third of the expenditure was earmarked for the purchase of sophisticated defence equipment like fighter jets, surface-to-air missiles and long-range combat vessels.

“When you compare the amount of money which China spends to the amount of money the US spends, it is still very far behind. The United States has the world’s largest military budget and is one of the most proficient militarized countries. We cannot compare China’s budget and efficiency with the US directly,” said Professor Jack Ryan at the Chinese National Defense Academy.

There is no doubt that the recent trend of increasing military spending by China indicates an effort to strengthen the country’s defence capabilities. Its ability to produce state-of-the-art defence equipment, its shift in focus towards modernizing its military, combined with the growth in the number of personnel give us an indication of the changing tides in global military power.

China Military and Global Politics

China’s growing military strength has shifted the balance of global power. As its military modernizes, its geopolitical ambitions expand, with the country flexing its muscles in both diplomacy and military operations across the world. It is slowly becoming an important factor in global politics, as much as a superpower like United States.

The aim of the Chinese army is to defend the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China. They are also focused on aiding international peacekeeping and humanitarian efforts, such as providing medical aid during natural disasters, eradicating poverty, and maintaining international security. The PLA’s increasing operations abroad, for example, in hotspots like the South China Sea, has raised security concerns in many parts of the world.

In the wake of the pandemic, China performed a number of relief missions, showcasing its capabilities to the world. In addition to providing aid to NATO allies, they have also been actively participating in UN peacekeeping operations, such as missions in Lebanon, Sudan and South Sudan.

“The People’s Republic of China has become a real regional superpower and this is acknowledged recently by the US and other countries,” said Ursula Klinger, senior analyst at the Stockholm Institute of Peace Research. “Its military capacity is one of the major elements of its growing power.”

The Bottom Line

The People’s Liberation Army is the largest military force in the world. Its 2 million members and growing defence spending gives it the capacity to impact global politics. As a result, countries in the region and beyond view it as a both a threat and an opportunity. China has been actively involved in international peacekeeping and support efforts, although it still needs to prove the sincerity of its efforts to the world.

Recruitment System of the Chinese Army

Recruiting for the Chinese military is conducted through the National Military Service Exam under the Central Military Commission. During the recruitment process, qualified candidates will undergo a series of tests and physical examinations. Applicants are then selected based on their personal characteristics, such as physical fitness, psychological health, and academic achievements. After selection, applicants are retrained in military academies to hone their skills and leadership qualities.

Recently, the military recruitment has relaxed its requirements for entry. Young people from China’s rural areas and other minority ethnic groups are now allowed to join the Chinese army. This has allowed greater diversity in the army and enabled the PLA to increase its manpower.

Consequences of Joining the Chinese Army

Though joining the Chinese military may provide a career advancement opportunity, it is not without its cons. The rigorous training, discipline and harsh conditions can take a toll on the individual. In addition, the soldier’s life is often full of different dangers and risks, such as injuries and death.

Moreover, military service in the People’s Republic of China is still very much an integral part of the culture. Those who join the Chinese military are given the social status of being a hero, as they are seen to be making an immense contribution to their country.

However, this status also means that their personal life and the life of the family members back home may become a part of their military service. For instance, their behavior and actions may affect both their family and the army if it is deemed unacceptable or does not align with the norms of society.

Chinese Army and National Security

In recent years, the People’s Liberation Army has become a major pillar of national security in the People’s Republic of China. The army is a symbol of China’s modern capabilities and contributions to the growth of the nation. The level of military spending indicates that the government is investing heavily in the modernization of the Chinese forces.

China’s military is also involved in regional and international security missions. In addition to its traditional role of protecting its territorial integrity, the People’s Army has also sent troops to countries such as Venezuela and South Sudan to provide international peacekeeping forces.

As China continues to expand and modernize its military, it is important that the government and military personnel act responsibly and in accordance with international agreements. Doing so and playing an active role in global diplomatic efforts can help the People’s Liberation Army maintain its reputation as an army of peace and stability.


The Chinese People’s Liberation Army is the largest standing army in the world and has been increasing in size and capability over recent years. With a current size of over 2 million personnel and growing defence expenditures, the army is a force to be reckoned with. Its focus on modernizing defence capabilities, as well as its involvement in international relief and security missions, further indicates its increasingly important role on the global stage.

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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