The 2017 annual conference of the Chinese Military History Society was held on March 30 in Jacksonville, Florida, in conjunction with the annual meeting of the Society for Military History. The program included eleven papers:
Edward McCord (George Washington University), “Warlord Financing in Republican China”
This paper examines the economy of warlordism that emerged following the collapse of China’s last imperial dynasty in the early 20th century. These warlords, by definition, exercised autonomous political power by virtue of their personal control of military force. Nonetheless the survival of warlord power also depended on obtaining sufficient financial resources needed to maintain and expand these military forces in the face of inter-warlord competition. One important key to warlord financial power, then, was the assumption of official positions that facilitated the seizure of surviving state resources (taxation and administrative systems) at the local and provincial level. The paper will suggest that the resulting economic structure of warlord power in early 20th century China is best conceived not in terms of “territorial bases,” as often described in the literature, but in the linkage of “nodes” of political and commercial power where the greatest access to financial resources occurred. Considerable variations among warlord regimes could exist, however, depending on individual warlord priorities and preferences, which besides military expansion could also include personal enrichment (predatory warlordism), the enhancement of political or social status, or even philanthropy.
Kwong Chi Man (Hong Kong Baptist University), “Douhet and His Critics in China: Competing Airpower Theories in Republican China, 1928-1938”
This paper looks at an often-overlooked aspect of the development of the Chinese military aviation during the Nanjing Period (1928-1937), namely the foreign influences on the operational doctrine of the Chinese air force. During the Nanjing Period, the Nationalist Government established an air force that consisted of machines from multiple countries that adopted different and often conflicting operational doctrines. When trying to find a suitable operational doctrine for this air force, the Chinese intellectual officers became heavily influenced by the airpower theory of the Italian general Giulio Douhet, who emphasised strategic bombing and heavy bombers. The preference for strategic bombing and decisive action dictated the operational planning of the Chinese Air Force before the Second Sino-Japanese War. On the other hand, under the influence of the American advisors, the procurement policy of the Chinese Air Force focused on interceptors and tactical bombers before 1937. As the result, when war started in 1937, the Chinese Air Force suffered from a mismatch of operational doctrine and equipment that prevented it from becoming a force that could affect the course of the war.
Sherman Lai (Royal Military College of Canada), “Deterrence Without Transparency: Re-Thinking Chiang Kai-shek’s Strategy against Japan”
The doctrine of mutual assured destruction (MAD) was the strategy used to prevent a catastrophic nuclear exchange between the United States and the former Soviet Union during the Cold War and has been the cornerstone of international security ever since. Chiang Kai-shek, the leader of the Chinese Nationalist government, adopted a similar approach in declaring a strategy of total and protracted war on Japan in the 1930s, in an effort to prevent Japan’s encroachment. Chiang’s decision to use this strategy was based on his correct identification of some of the fatal weaknesses in both China and Japan in relation to each other. However, contrary to the assumptions on which MAD is based, which include transparency of capacity and intentions to minimize miscalculation, Chiang Kai-shek hid his preparations for a total war from Japan. As a result, Japan underestimated China’s determination and its war potential and so continued
to try to preserve its illegal gains in China. The situation became explosive when Chiang, having greatly improved his domestic position, tried to restore China’s full sovereignty in Northern China at Japan’s expense through brinkmanship, using the skirmish between Chinese and Japanese troops at the Marco Polo Bridge in July 1937. When Japan overreacted, Chiang found himself faced with the decision either to let Japan dominate Northern China or to raise the stakes by attacking the Japanese in Shanghai, an action that would lead to total war. Chiang chose the latter and thus sealed the fates of Republican China and Imperial Japan.
Clemens Büttner (Goethe University Frankfurt), “Bureaucratic Idealism and Wartime Realities in Nationalist China: Military Service, Military Requisitions, and General Mobilization during the Second Sino-Japanese War”
In the 1930s, the National Government drafted a series of legal texts that were to grant its military access to the personnel and material resources deemed necessary for its tasks. Yet, while maximum combat effectiveness was clearly one goal of such legislation, it was always also guided by a desire to minimize the accompanying adverse effects on China’s population and economy, by aiming at an impartial, bureaucratically assured distribution of the burdens of military drafts, material demands, etc. To that effect, the preparation of laws like the “Military Service Law” (Bingyifa 兵役法, 1933/1936) and the “Military Requisition Law” (Junshi Zhengyongfa 軍事徵用法, 1937) was always accompanied by great interest in likewise foreign legislation, usually that of Japan and Germany: Their respective military laws were faithfully translated into Chinese, and meticulously analyzed and evaluated, serving as starting points of and inspirations to China’s own legislation. However, as this paper argues on basis of such Chinese and foreign legal texts (and their Chinese analyses), wartime realities shattered the belief in a bureaucratically founded feasibility of a truly fair and communal war effort. As became epitomized by the 1942 promulgation of the “National General Mobilization Law” (Guojia Zong Dongyuanfa 國家總動員法) – a law that hardly showed consideration for social hardships and whose eponymous Japanese counterpart (Kokka Sōdōinhō 国家総動員法, 1938) had been condemned in China just a few years ago – national survival was all that mattered.
Vered Shurany (Hebrew University of Jerusalem), “Between the Yuan and the Ilkhanate: Exchanging Military Personnel and Its Impact”
In the mid-thirteenth century, the Mongol Empire was divided into four successor states centered in China, Iran, Central Asia and the Volga region. Qubilai Khan (r. 1260-1294) established the Yuan dynasty (1271-1368) while his brother Hülegü (r. 1260-1265), founded the Ilkhanate (1260-1335). Qubilai was recognized as the Great Khan in Ilkhanid Iran and the close connections between the two states created myriad opportunities for exchanging knowledge, technology and personnel, not least in the military domain. My paper will examine the military connections between the Yuan and the Ilkhanate through a prosopographic lens, by analyzing the biographies of three commanders who moved between China and Iran: Bolad Chingsang (d. 1313), known mostly as a cultural broker, who also participated in campaigns in both China and Iran, and the siege engineers ‘Alā’ al-Dīn (d. 1312) and Isma’īl (d. 1274). The latter two were sent from the Ilkhanate at Qubilai Khan’s request. The trebuchets they built in China enabled Qubilai to conquer the Southern Song dynasty (1127-1279).
In order to gain new insights, I will use digital-humanities-supported prosopographical tools, mainly the Jerusalem-based ERC database “Mobility, Empire and Cross Cultural Contacts in Mongol Eurasia”, led by Professor Biran, to locate various sources in Chinese, Persian and Arabic and map the commanders’ movements and interactions. Against this background, I will discuss the importance of these generals for military exchanges and specific campaigns in Mongol Eurasia in the context of Yuan-Ilkhanid cooperation.
Harold Tanner (University of North Texas), “PLA Counter-Insurgency Operations in Tibet: A Preliminary Look at Sources and Problems”
From 1955 through 1972 Chinese forces in the region of “greater Tibet” (Tibetan-majority areas of Sichuan, Gansu, Yunnan and Qinghai provinces plus the Tibet Autonomous Region) fought an ongoing insurgency, partly funded and supported by the American Central Intelligence Agency but primarily rooted in local communities and relying on local manpower and resources. Tibetan exiles and Americans clearly sympathetic to the exile narrative, including men involved in the CIA operation, have described the Tibetan insurgency in a number of books and articles. These accounts focus on the strengths and weaknesses of the insurgents and their American sponsors, but have little to say about the Chinese side of events. The purpose of this paper is to take a critical look at Chinese sources including provincial gazetteers, military histories and memoirs in order to gain a preliminary understanding of a few simple questions: 1) How do these sources describe the insurgency, including the American involvement? 2) How do these sources portray the PLA’s counter-insurgency operations? 3) What methods did the PLA use in order to defeat the insurgency? 4) What were the long-term effects of the insurgency and of the PLA’s successful counter-insurgency operations in “greater Tibet?” 5) What does the Tibetan case teach us about insurgency and counter-insurgency in general?
Eric Setzekorn (U.S. Army Center of Military History), “Taiwan’s Veterans Affairs under the KMT: Honoring Service or Entrenching Authoritarianism?”
Beginning in the mid-1950s, the Republic of China (ROC) and the United States began a comprehensive veterans affairs program to transition soldiers from active duty military service to civilian life. Initiated in 1954 as the Vocational Assistance Program for Retired Servicemen (VACRS, 國軍退除役官兵就業輔 導委員會), the program was sponsored and largely paid for by American military and economic aid. While the program fulfilled American goals of reduced the number of medically unfit and aged soldiers, thereby improving the performance of the ROC military, the program became closely aligned with KMT Party goals when Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) assumed the leadership of VACRS from 1954 through 1966. Historical analysis of veterans affairs in Taiwan highlights the spread of global practices regarding military administrat on and the creation of institutions to support military veterans’ medical and economic needs. At the same time, the development of VACRS illustrates the challenges of providing veterans care in authoritarian or one-party states, where political desires for control might over-ride concern for military veterans.
Wang Tao (Iowa State University), “Coercive Diplomacy: The Taiwan Strait Crisis and China’s Policy toward the U.S.”
China initiated a military confrontation with the U.S. in the Taiwan Strait immediately after it made great efforts to resume peace in Indochina through the Geneva Agreements in July 1954. And it abruptly ended the crisis with a declaration that it was willing to negotiate with the U.S. to reduce tensions at the Bandung Conference in April 1955. How can we reconcile China’s assertive actions with its conciliations? What were the objectives of China’s military actions in the Taiwan Strait?
The existing works isolate the Taiwan Strait Crisis from the Geneva and Bandung Conferences. They thus fail to interpret the seeming contradiction between China’s aggression and conciliations. While most authors agree that China created the crisis to prevent the U.S. from allying with Taiwan, they are not able to answer the question of how the military confrontation served that purpose. Based on newly declassified documents from Chinese Foreign Ministry Archives, as well as sources from the Soviet Union and Taiwan, my paper argues that in order to prevent the U.S. from concluding a Mutual Defense Treaty with Taiwan, Chinese leaders deliberately created the crisis to mobilize the U.K. and neutral Asian states to pressure the U.S. to give up the treaty, in addition to warning the U.S. of the risk of allying with Taiwan and capturing some offshore islands. The crisis actually continued China’s strategy of reducing tensions in Asia and its tactics of isolating the
U.S. for its concessions.
Wenrui Zhong (University of North Texas), “The Battle of Paracel Islands in South China Sea in 1974: An Analysis of China’s Strategy and Tactics”
The territorial disputes in the South China Sea have intensified in recent years, as evidenced by the extensive land reclamation efforts by the People's Republic of China (PRC) since 2014. The formation of Chinese grand strategy in these massive waters, however, can be traced to Mao’s rule in the Cultural Revolution in the early 1970s, when the rapprochement of China and the US was underway, and Beijing began to worry its North Vietnamese ally might
turn to the Soviet Union for security protection and economic aid. The battle of the Paracel Islands in 1974 was part of Beijing’s strategy to expand and consolidate its existence and influence in Southeast Asia. Although it lasted for only a few days, the battle had profound impacts on geopolitics, on Chinese military expansion, and on US-China relations.
Hong Zhang (University of Central Florida), “Yuan Shikai and the Historical Significance of His Troop Training at Xiaozhan, Tianjin, 1895-1900”
In 1895 when China lost the Sino-Japanese War, Li Hongzhang, who had played a pivotal role in China’s self-strengthening movement, was “denounced and vilified” at home. Stunned by China’s humiliating defeat, a number of high-ranking Qing officials saw the need for the establishment of a truly modernized army. The shattering defeat in the naval wars with France (1884) and with Japan (1895) dashed the possibility for the revival of a new naval force due to a lack of state revenue, thus the rekindled interest was on the establishment of a Western-style modern army. The temporary political downfall of Li Hongzhang opened the door for Yuan Shikai, whose military experience and knowledge made him the most qualified man for the job. The result was the creation of the Xinjian (New) Army. Xiaozhan, located thirty-five kilometers southeast of Tianjin, was selected as the site for Yuan’s military headquarters and the training of his new recruits. The event became known as Xiaozhan Troop Training or Xiaozhan Lianbing. The success of Yuan’s endeavors earned him a powerful army (later known as the Beiyang Army), the loyalty of a number of capable generals, and paved the way for Yuan’s eventual rise to not only military but also political power. Meanwhile, Xiaozhan Lianbing marked a significant turning point in modern China’s military history. As the event has generated much scholarly and local interest lately, the Tianjin Municipal government has rebuilt the site for public exhibition. Based on newly available sources, the paper explores the details of Yuan’s troop training and examines how it led to Yuan’s ascendance to power.
Xiaobing Li (University of Central Oklahoma), “How to Train the Dragon: Soviet Advisory Assistance to the Chinese Air and Naval Forces in the 1950s”
The Soviet Union helped China build its air force and navy by providing technology and advisory assistance in the early 1950s. The PLA had learned almost everything from the Russian advisors. By the end of 1955, the Chinese navy totaled 188,000 men with 519 warships and 341 support vessels. The PLA had 5,000 fighters and bombers, making China’s air force the third largest in the world.
The examination of Russian advisory assistance to the Chinese air and naval forces through the 1950s provides a better understanding of Chinese military doctrine, culture, and cooperative behavior. Having explored the Chinese sources, the study begins with an overview of the Chinese naval and air establishment, which continued the Chinese military tradition, but also assimilated new Soviet technology and operational tactics. The Chinese military evolved through the interaction with, and observation of Russian advisors in the 1950s. The PLA, building on its own historical legacy, creatively drew on the lessons of experience to learn new approaches to their core mission: defending China’s coastal line and offshore islands, keeping sea routes open for transportation and communication with neighboring countries like Vietnam, as well as preparing a cross-strait campaign against Taiwan.
The conclusion indicates that the PLA as an “army of learning” had obtained successful military experience and advanced military technology from the Russian advisory assistance in the 1950s. The advisory experience shows how interactive the parameters of Chinese developments were during the formative decade, and how flexible Chinese values were in the context of military modernization.