No other Chinese words were made so well known to the world in a single day as the words "Tiananmen Square." No other country's symbol of pride was so well known to the world in association with the word "massacre." Indeed, the Tiananmen military action not only shocked the people outside of China but also surprised many Chinese, including a good number of high-ranking government and military officers. The armed confrontation between the People's Liberation Army (PLA) and the unarmed civilians over political issues raised a serious concern about the army's future role in the country's political life. This chapter, by reviewing the history of the Chinese civil-military relationship and the means and processes through which the PLA interacts with civilian life, tries to identify the major factors leading to the PLA's political role and their continuing effect on its future.
The PLA is an army of more than three million men and women, consisting of a navy, air force, artillery, field armies, local garrisons, and military regions and equipped with massive conventional as well as nuclear weapons. Over the years, the PLA has consistently played an active role in the country's political life. To understand why, its history best tells the story.
Before 1911, China suffered chronic war and poverty. In its four-thousand- year civilization, every change of dynasty (about two to three hundred years a cycle) was accompanied by massive wars, deaths, and destruction. Every period of glory and prosperity was also associated with war and conquest.1 To many Chinese, military power is the synonym of political power. Whoever has military power is bound to have political power. Unfortunately, China's modern history has reinforced this traditional wisdom.
Toward the end of the nineteenth century, Sun Yatsen, a Hawaiian-born,