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  • China's Use of Military Force: Beyond the Great Wall and the Long March
  • Harvey Nelsen (bio)
Andrew Scobell . China's Use of Military Force: Beyond the Great Wall and the Long March. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003. xiv, 300 pp. Hardcover $65.00, ISBN 0-521-81979-2. Paperback $23.00, ISBN 0-521-52585-3.

Under what circumstances is the communist leadership in Beijing prepared to use military force, either beyond its borders or internally? Andrew Scobell answers this question through the combination of an analytical framework and a historical survey. The framework begins with the "cult of defense." This has its roots in China's victimization during some 150 years of its recent history. It leads the Chinese to believe that they are always acting defensively, even when the military actions are offensive. The cult of defense has the potential of causing grave misunderstandings between China and its regional and global rivals. Americans should have little trouble understanding the concept since the United States believes that it uses its military power for justice, democracy, and international stability. However, most foreign nations feel that America is dangerous, unilateralist, and aggressive. China is not yet so perceived, but Scobell feels that the cult of defense has the long-term potential of alienating its regional neighbors.

The second factor in the analytical framework is civil-military relations. Scobell demonstrates that a fundamental shift has taken place over the last fifteen or so years. When the paramount leader in China had extensive military experience, the People's Liberation Army (PLA) was under his command and control. This applied to both Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. Subsequent top civilian leaders have had no military experience. The PLA, as a result, has become more of a corporate structure and better able to exercise political influence on behalf of its interests and values.

The third level of analysis is strategy. This has evolved from "people's war" (which required the invasion of China to be effective) to "limited wars under [End Page 171] high-technology conditions." Early strategies saw the PLA operating within China. Current strategy calls for force projection and meeting foreign threats offshore. People's war was defensive. Now Chinese military planners emphasize the advantage of striking first.

The five case studies in this book were selected to demonstrate how various portions of Scobell's theory have functioned in the past. The first case was the intervention in Korea in 1950. The centrality and prestige of Mao Zedong overwhelmed any foot-dragging on the part of cautious military leaders. Case number two was the PLA intervention in the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (GPCR) beginning in 1967. This is the weakest chapter in the book. Scobell attributes the intervention to a desire by the PLA leadership to avoid a descent into chaos. In fact, Mao had to push a reluctant PLA into the arena. A purge of the Central Military Commission was required to get the PLA to respond to Mao's demand. The public security apparatus in the provinces was cracking down on radical Red Guard organizations and the Cultural Revolution was in danger of grinding to a halt. It was either force the PLA into the fire or give up on the GPCR (which certainly would have seen the political finis of Mao). A major purpose of the intervention was to have the PLA take over all public-security functions and shut down the local security bureaus, which it did.

After the Wuhan Incident of July 1967, the PLA became a central focus of GPCR attacks. Scobell misses the important order of August, which forced the PLA to "arm the revolutionary left." The PLA found itself creating a counter-armed force. Those revolutionaries who were not favored in the receipt of arms simply raided the arsenals. Mao pulled back from the brink of civil war within a month, canceling the political attacks on the military leadership and allowing the PLA to establish governing "revolutionary committees" throughout China. The last chapter in the GPCR came when Jiang Qing (Madam Mao) and the GPCR central leadership group created the "urban militia." This was a counter-armed force specifically intended to...


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