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  • Understanding China's Military Strategy:The Challenge to Researchers
  • Zheng Wang (bio)

Red Star over the Pacific: China's Rise and the Challenge to U.S. Maritime Strategy is a timely work that offers an important perspective on how the United States can evaluate and adapt its strategies in the face of China's rapidly growing sea power. Toshi Yoshihara and James R. Holmes provide a careful analysis of China's military capabilities and strategies. Whereas most books on Chinese military development focus primarily on analysis of capabilities, this [End Page 157] book probes more deeply to explore China's strategies, motives, and military doctrines. The central question of the recent debate about China is not so much how to measure the country's strength but how to gauge its strategy—how China chooses to use its power. The authors' efforts to address this issue are praiseworthy.

Given the lack of transparency, availability, and accessibility of strategic discourse inside Beijing, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to find accurate and dependable sources on naval strategic thinking. The authors have worked hard to collect open-source literature for their research. While I fully understand the challenges they faced and appreciate their efforts, I believe it is my responsibility to critically assess the Chinese-language literature used in this book.

Although the book's arguments are carefully crafted overall, much of the supporting evidence—for example, China's embrace of Mahanian theory—comes from popular Chinese magazines. Though magazines such as Modern Ships (Xiandai Jianchuan), Modern Weaponry (Xiandai Bingqi), Naval and Merchant Ships (Jianchuan Zhishi), Ordnance Knowledge (Bingqi Zhishi), and Shipborne Weapon (Jianzai Wuqi) may appear to be serious academic or professional journals, in fact, they are for-profit publications marketed to aficionados of a certain specialized genre. The articles are often written by people with little access to inside information, and in order to help sell the magazines, they often cater to the tastes of certain groups of people. In China, there is a large number of military aficionados. Many Chinese believe that the "national humiliation" that China suffered under imperial foreign powers from 1840 to 1945 was basically due to inferior weaponry. As a result, many fans enthusiastically follow the development of new weapons and see them as a means to overcome past humiliations and demonstrate Chinese power. The reading interests of this quite substantial group of people have supported the existence of these magazines.

Unique to China are some popular magazines that, although affiliated with official organizations or even People's Liberation Army (PLA) institutions, do not serve as official newsletters or research journals of the organization. Therefore, they cannot be compared with, for example, the U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, as the authors claim. Such magazines are simply not a dependable source of information on Chinese military doctrine or strategy. It is also important to point out that there is a fundamental difference between the influence of external publications on military strategy and policymaking in the United States and the corresponding situation in China. Due to the barriers between the military and civilian arenas in China, and the lack of [End Page 158] transparency of the Chinese military in general, though popular magazines may influence public opinion, there is little basis for believing that they reflect or influence military strategy and policymaking.

For a long time, official documents were major sources of information for China watchers, and these observers developed the ability to interpret Communist Party literature as a basic skill. In recent years, however, attention to these highly important official texts has been decreasing as scholars have started to rely on popular writings. The reason, of course, is that China's rapidly growing civil society is now full of this kind of material, which did not exist in the past. In recent decades, Chinese society has evolved inexorably from a simple to a complex system, with many different views being expressed. More importantly, the market economy and political relaxation have coalesced to create a popular culture market that may be interpreted as comparable to that in Western countries. Consequently, many China scholars, in the absence of governmental transparency, have turned their attention to these new texts...


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pp. 157-160
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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