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Tomorrow, Aug. 1, is the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA). Despite its great age, the PLA is getting younger and stronger because, like its creator, the Communist Party of China (CPC), it gets inexhaustible strength and vigor from the people.
As one of the world’s most powerful military forces, the PLA safeguards China and its people like an impregnable “great wall” and the Chinese people enjoy an unprecedented sense of security and peace of mind because of it.
But security was nonexistent in the China of old, which was at the mercy of foreign powers throughout a long period of history until the emergence of the CPC and PLA.
China was invaded and carved up by Western powers during the late Qing Dynasty and early Republic of China. As a result, China lost Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macao to the imperialists as their colonies, making it the nation’s painful stigma forever.
The ferocious Japanese army invaded and occupied large parts of China for over eight years, inflicting tremendous damage to life and property in China, with 35 million people killed and injured.
Many attributed China’s humiliating history to China’s poorly armed and trained armed forces of that time. But sufficient evidence has shown that the fundamental cause of the constant defeats was not the military’s inferior weaponry or training so much as the corruption and weakness of the then governments.
During the Self-Strengthening Movement (1861-1895), the Qing government invested heavily in the construction of military arsenals and shipbuilding dockyards as well as importing naval vessels to strengthen the Chinese navy. But all the efforts fell flat owing to the lack of a strong central leadership and popular support.
The million-strong Kuo-mingtang army was also so fragile that it was completely routed the moment the Japanese invaders launched their aggressive war on China. Despite their disadvantages in terms of armament, the chief cause of the KMT’s defeat was also its unpopularity with the people. Many of its soldiers were conscribed by force and treated poorly. Top commanders cared little about the miseries of grass-roots soldiers. How could such an army win battles?
On the contrary, the CPC’s people’s army was made up of poor peasants and other toiling masses. The officers and soldiers were all equal in status and treatment, so they fought bravely like one person.
In his famous book “Red Star Over China,” Edgar Snow, an American journalist, presented to the world for the first time vivid descriptions of the Red Army’s epic Long March, which eventually led to the founding of the New China, as well as the tough yet vibrant lives of Red Army and the people in Yan’an, the central revolutionary base. The readers were all impressed by the high spirits and stringent discipline of the army and its close relationship with the people.
In its early stages, the PLA was dubbed as troops armed with “millet plus rifles,” which serves to show how poorly it was equipped. But it was this seemingly insignificant army that beat its much stronger and better-equipped enemies.
Its ace in the hole was the strong leadership of the CPC, the firm goal of building a new country, the strict discipline and the inseparable relationship with the people.
Unlike previous military forces that often exploited and even bullied the masses, PLA officers and soldiers never took any property from the masses, not even a needle and thread. On the early morning of May 25, 1949, Shanghai citizens, after anxiously spending the previous night in fear of the arriving PLA troops, were amazed at the sight before them: tens of thousands of PLA soldiers were sleeping in the streets — as they did not want to disturb any residents.
The PLA, as a people-loving army, naturally won the support of the majority of the people, which was reflected in the millions of peasants and citizens supporting the PLA in their fight against the Japanese invaders and Chiang Kai-shek’s troops by voluntarily supplying the PLA with grain and other resources.
Nor does PLA disappoint the people. It has never failed to appear wherever it was needed, whether it be a counter-aggression war, disaster relief operation or the construction of major projects.
It’s a blessing for China to have the PLA as its guardian angel.
(The author is an English tutor and freelance writer.)