Why Was The Chinese Army Weak

Since the beginning of antiquity, the vast Chinese empire has been renowned for its sophisticated yet powerful war machine. Its territory and population have enabled China to have the biggest standing army in the world for centuries, yet its army has always been relatively weak on the battlefield. This has been the case since the devastating defeats inflicted by the British during the Opium War of 1839–1842 and the humiliation of the Eight Nation Alliance in 1900. So why was the Chinese army weak?

According to military historian Sun Tzu, Chinese military strategy was based on the concept of “winning without fighting.” He believed that if one can use tactics and strategies to win without a battle, they will be the victor without wasting resources. This philosophy was adopted by the Chinese during the times of war. As a result, Chinese officers would often tend to evade battle or try to negotiate a compromise. Ultimately, this strategy could be seen as a way to avoid war and remain with the status quo.

In addition, Chinese generals were very reluctant to use modern weapons and tactics to match those of other countries. Weapons development was largely focused on swords and lances, and new technology was rarely adopted. For example, when the Japanese attempted to introduce firearms to the Chinese military during the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95, the Chinese had a difficult time adapting to them because they were unfamiliar with the technology. As a result, the Chinese army was always outmatched by better-trained and better-armed forces.

Furthermore, the Chinese army was poorly organized. Despite having a large standing army, it was not properly managed or trained. Furthermore, soldiers were not adequately equipped and there was a shortage of essential supplies. This led to great losses in key battles and long-term defeats.

Moreover, the Chinese generals had no formal military education and were often unfamiliar with military strategy and tactics. This was in contrast to their western counterparts who received formal military training and regularly attended military academies. As a result, Chinese generals were outmatched on the battlefield.

Finally, the Chinese were also stricken by internal turmoil and factionalism. During times of war, the ruling class was often more concerned with maintaining political power than with supporting the military. Without the support of the ruling classes, the military was often underfunded and weak.

Weakening of the Chinese Economy

The weakening of the Chinese economy also played a major role in the decline of the Chinese army. After wars with several Western powers and other East Asian nations, the Chinese had to pay a high cost to repair the country. This included reparations and indemnities China had to pay in order to keep peace. As a result, much of the nation’s resources were drained and the military suffered greatly.

The economic crisis in China had a significant impact on the military’s morale as well. Low salaries, uncertain future and lack of resources affected the soldiers’ motivation and will to fight. As a result, their morale deteriorated and made them less willing to fight in conflicts.

Furthermore, the Chinese military was plagued by nepotism and corruption. Military officers often gave positions to their relatives and friends in order to gain financial and political advantages. This led to incompetent officers in command positions and led to a weakened army.

Additionally, the Chinese army was overstretched and lacked a unified command system. This was due to the vastness of the Chinese empire and the fact that different generals often had control of different territories. This led to different generals pursuing different strategies which caused the Chinese army to become fragmented and less effective.

Finally, the military was also affected by political changes within the country. As political factions changed, they often brought with them drastic changes in strategy which weakened the army’s ability to fight. This further caused the Chinese army to become weak on the battlefield.

Undervalued Role of the Military

In addition to the economic and political factors, the Chinese army was also weakened by the fact that its role was often taken for granted. Throughout much of China’s history, there was an ambivalence towards the military which led to a lack of resources and proper training. This was in stark contrast to other nations like Japan and the United States who placed a strong emphasis on the importance of a strong military. As a result, their armies were much more equipped and better trained on the battlefield.

The Chinese also had a tendency to treat their soldiers poorly. Low salaries, inadequate housing and little to no medical benefits often caused Chinese soldiers to desert or to be less than enthusiastic about their duty. This lack of motivation and morale forced the Chinese army to fight in a much weaker state than those of other nations.

Finally, the Chinese were often taken aback by the rise of new technologies and their application on the battlefield. As other nations developed new defense technologies and tactics, the Chinese often lagged behind. This further caused its military to become outmatched on the battlefield.

Modern Times

With the rise of modern-day China, there have been massive efforts to strengthen the Chinese army. This includes a focus on technology, training, and modern tactics. The Chinese have also recently taken steps to professionalize the military by introducing salary increases and better benefits for the soldiers. All this has resulted in a modern and formidable military that is capable of defending the country’s interests.

Moreover, the Chinese have also been investing heavily in modern defense technology such as aircraft, ships, and high-tech weapons. This has made the Chinese military a much more formidable force in the region.

Furthermore, the Chinese have also embraced the concept of “winning without fighting.” This is evident in their development of economic, political, and diplomatic strategies that are designed to prevent war rather than engage in it. Chinese generals are now willing to accept compromise over conflict which has allowed them to manage their resources more efficiently.

Finally, the Chinese have also expanded their military academies and training centers in order to bring their army up to speed with other nations. This includes educating Chinese officers in modern tactics and strategies as well as introducing new technologies such as robotics and artificial intelligence.

Internal Struggles

Despite these efforts, the Chinese army is still plagued by internal struggles. This includes rampant corruption and nepotism within the ranks which can cause officers to be appointed based on personal connection rather than merit. This further weakens the overall capabilities of the army.

Moreover, the Chinese still have difficulty adapting to new technologies. Many new weapons systems are often developed without proper training or testing which can lead to ineffective utilization on the battlefield. As a result, the Chinese often lack the cutting-edge technology they need to compete with other nations.

Furthermore, the Chinese are still overstretched due to the size of the country. This has led to a lack of unified command and coordination which can cause the army to be ineffective in battle. Additionally, the Chinese army has also been weakened by the lack of a strong national identity which can make it difficult for soldiers to feel like they truly belong in the ranks.

Finally, the Chinese must also compete with a large and powerful military such as those in the United States and Japan. These nations have more advanced technologies and access to the most advanced weapons. As a result, the Chinese must struggle to keep up which is an ongoing challenge.


The Chinese army has been weak on the battlefield for centuries. This is due to a range of factors such as a lack of modern technology, inadequate training and resources, internal turmoil and factionalism, and a lack of unified command structure. The Chinese have been making efforts to modernize their military and have taken steps to professionalize their ranks but they still have considerable ground to cover.

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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