Professionalization of the Senior Chinese Officer Corps

Trends and Implications

by James C. Mulvenon


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The expansion of military-to-military relations between the United States and China has constituted one of the most important developments in Sino-U.S. relations. As these exchanges develop, high-ranking U.S. military personnel and civilian policymakers will encounter an ever-broader cross section of Chinese military personnel. U.S. officials will need to understand the changing composition and character of the highest levels of the Chinese officer corps. This report examines long-term trends in Chinese military institutional development and assesses their impacts upon the future evolution of the People's Liberation Army (PLA). Western scholars have long argued that the PLA officer corps has become more professional since 1978, but many of these studies have lacked hard data from which to analyze demographic changes. This report evaluates the scope and relative success of three professionalizing trends (education, functional specialization, and retirement norms) among PLA officers. The report concludes that the PLA has undergone a profound generational shift from the revolutionary generation to a new post-Liberation cohort.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One


  • Chapter Two

    Demographic Changes

  • Chapter Three

    Cohort Analysis

  • Chapter Four


  • Chapter Five

    Postscript: the Fifteenth Party Congress and the Pla

  • Bibliography

This research was sponsored by the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy. It was carried out under the auspices of the International Security and Defense Policy Center within RAND's National Defense Research Institute (NDRI), a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, and the defense agencies. Supplemental funding was provided by the RAND Center for Asia-Pacific Policy.

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