Between 'Paper' and 'Real Tigers': Mao's View of Nuclear Weapons
SHU GUANG ZHANG
NUCLEAR weapons have shaped China's military and foreign policy over the last four decades. When the Chinese Communists took power in 1949, their armed forces -- the People's Liberation Army -- consisted of a large number of light infantry troops. But by 1955, Beijing was developing its own nuclear arsenal, and the People's Republic has since become a major nuclear power.
A recent study by John Lewis and Xue Litai documents how Beijing went about building the bomb. 1 This essay focuses on two more specific issues: how Mao Zedong, the Chinese Communist Party's (hereafter, CCP) Chairman, perceived the military and strategic value of nuclear weapons; and how that perception changed China's national defence policy. It will also consider lessons China's 'nuclear revolution' reveals.
Mao at first did not seem to believe that nuclear weapons had changed basic military and political realities. Reflecting Chinese traditional thinking, he insisted that technology was not a decisive factor in warfare.
In his Art of War, the ancient Chinese strategist Sun Tzu wrote of five strategic assets crucial to victory or defeat, including: '(1) The Moral Law; (2) Heaven; (3) Earth; (4) The Commander, and (5) Method and discipline'. To him, proper morale, the best timing, the most favourable positioning, domestic harmony, and the fighters' virtues of wisdom, sincerity, benevolence, courage, and strictness were the main components of military thinking. Sun Tzu further wrote that 'the elements of the art of war are first, the measurement of space; second, the estimation of quantities; third, strategic calculation; fourth, strength comparison; and fifth, chances of victory'. This traditional strategic thought taught, in short, that one should not overestimate the power of weaponry. 2 As a firm believer in Sun Tzu, Mao had long asserted that victory or defeat in war was not determined by military weapons