PLA History - 1980s
Efforts began in the 1980s to streamline the PLA and organize it into a modern fighting force. The first step in reducing the 4.5-million-member PLA in the early 1980s was to relieve the PLA of some of its nonmilitary duties. The Railway Engineering Corps and the Capital Construction Engineering Corps were civilianized, and in 1983 the PLA internal security and border patrol units were transferred to the People's Armed Police Force.
The General Staff Headquarters, the General Political Department and the General Logistics Department of the PLA jointly promulgated on Dec. 11, 1980 a provision on the elevation of officers through academic training, which had been ratified at the PLA 's 11th Military Academy Conference. According to the provision, the PLA would eliminate its old modus operandi of selecting officers straightly from excellent privates and practise a new system of promoting officers from cadets with military academy training backgrounds, that's to say, commanding, political, logistic and technical officers at all levels could only be elevated from graduates of military academies instead of excellent privates. On Feb. 13, 1981, the General Staff Headquarters and the General Political Department of the PLA issued the notice on oath-taking for newly recruited servicemen. The Servicemen's Pledge of the Chinese People's Liberation Army was issued for enforcement in the PLA on the same day.
In February 1980 Deng Xiaoping resigned his PLA position in favor of professional military commander Yang Dezhi. Deng improved his party Central Military Commission position at the 6th plenary meeting of the 11th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China held in Beijing on June 27, 1981, where he was elected as the chairman of the Central Military Commission. With enormous prestige in both the military and the civilian sectors, Deng vigorously promoted military modernization, the further disengagement of the military from politics, and the shift in national priorities to economic development at the expense of defense.
Upon the approval of the CPC Central Committee, the Central Military Commission made a decision on 01 September 1981 that the headquarters of the artillery, armored force and engineer corps under the Central Military Commission be transformed to the Artillery Department, the Department of Armored Force and the Department of Engineer Corps under the General Staff headquarters, the headquarters of the railway engineering corps merged into the Ministry of Railway and the capital construction engineer corps dissolved. The Central Military Commission issued on Sept. 16 the military system reform and reorganization plan.
The State Council and the Central Military Commission issued jointly on 15 March 182 a notice, which said that the Chinese People's Liberation Army would since 1983 recruit from non-military institutions of higher learning graduates of the year who would be promoted to be military and political officers after receiving a short period of training. This policy adopted by the PLA to keep pace with the times was designed to improve gradually the quality of officers and accelerate the pace of making the officers of the PLA young in age, profound in knowledge and specialized in military technologies. According to the 1984 Military Service Law, the militia, which was being combined with a newly developed reserve system, and the People's Armed Police Force also formed part of the Chinese armed forces.
Senior General Su Yu passed away in Beijing on Feb. 5, 1984. Su Yu, born in Huitong County of Hunan Province in 1907, ever assumed the office of chief of general staff of the PLA, vice minister of national defense of the People's Republic of China, deputy president and first political commissar of the PLA Academy of Military Sciences.
In 1985 China reorganized its 11 military regions into 7 and began a 2-year program to reduce the force by 1 million. Eight military regions were merged into four--Chengdu, Jinan, Lanzhou, and Nanjing--and three key regions--Beijing, Guangzhou, and Shenyang--remained intact. The PLA accomplished its 1-million-troop cut by streamlining the headquarters staffs of the three general departments, the military regions, and the military districts; reducing the size of the Air Force and the Navy; retiring older, undereducated, or incompetent officers; and transferring county- and city-level people's armed forces departments, which controlled the militia, to local civil authorities.
The PLA also reorganized its field armies (main-force armies) into group armies to increase its capability to wage combined-arms warfare. Breaking with the previously triangular organization of military units, the group armies combined formerly independent arms or services into a comprehensive combat unit. Group armies consisted of infantry and mechanized infantry divisions, tank divisions or brigades, and a number of artillery, antichemical, air defense, engineer, signal, reconnaissance, electronic countermeasure, and logistics troops. In the late 1980s, some group armies also had helicopter, air support, or naval units.
US Chairman of Joint Staffs General John Vessey paid an official visit to China on Jan. 12, 1985. All the servicemen of the PLA began to wear new-type military uniforms on May 1, 1985. The PLA General Staff Headquarters, the General Political Department and the General Logistics Department issued jointly a notice on Aug. 10, 1986 about adding the reserve force into the organizational system of the PLA and conferring designations and the PLA banner to divisions and regiments of the reserve force.
Marshal Liu Bocheng passed away in Beijing on Oct. 7, 1986. Liu Bocheng, born in Kaixian County of Sichuan Province in 1892, ever assumed the office of member of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee, vice chairman of the Central Military Commission and vice chairman of the National People's Congress Standing Committee.
Marshal Ye Jianying passed away in Beijing on Oct. 22, 1986. Ye Jianying, born in Meixian County in Guangdong Province, ever assumed the office of vice chairman of the Central Military Commission, chairman of the National People's Congress Standing Committee and vice chairman of the CPC Central Committee. Upon the approval of the Central Military Commission, the PLA Daily began to open its issue both abroad and at home.
Senior General Huang Kecheng passed away on Dec. 28, 1986. Huang Kecheng, born in Yongxing County in Hunan Province in 1902, ever assumed the office of member of the Secretariat of the CPC Central Committee, secretary-general of the Central Military Committee concurrently chief of general staff of the PLA and vice defense minister.
In the year 1986, the Army Aviation, the newest arm of the PLA, was formally established. In 1986 reserve forces were included officially in the organizational system.
By 1987 PLA strength was about 3 million. Ground forces numbered about 2.1 million--the world's largest standing army; the Navy about 350,000--including those assigned to Naval Aviation, Coastal Defense Forces, and Marine Corps; the Air Force about 390,000; and the Strategic Missile Force about 100,000. The PLA was supported by an estimated 4.3 million basic (armed and trained) militia and 6 million ordinary (poorly armed and trained) militia.
The PLA Hero and Model Representatives Conference was held in Beijing from July 27 to 31, 1987. The conference was another gathering of outstanding servicemen since the National Combat Hero Representatives Meeting of the PLA held in 1950. A space flight control building, which was the most advanced in 1980s in the world, passed the acceptance check of the National Defense Technological and Industrial Commission in the Xi'an Satellite Tracking and Control Center on Dec. 7, 1987.
The PLA's first army aviation contingent under the group army organization came into existence in north China on 08 January 1988. In early March, 1988, the Land-water-air three-dimensional transportation network of the PLA was set up. With the operation of the network, the military transportation of the PLA began to break through the traditional land-water transport pattern and switch into a new comprehensive transport pattern featured with a rapid, highly efficient and mobile and cost-effective three- dimensional transportation network. The Central Military Commission made a decision on July 25 to ratify the March of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) as the Song of the Chinese People's Liberation Army.
On November 6, 1988, Senior General Tan Zheng passed away. Born in Xiangxiang County of Hunan Province in 1906, Tan Zheng ever assumed the office of member of the Secretariat of the CPC Central Committee, counselor of the Central Military Commission, deputy defense minister, member of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, etc.
On March 29, 1989, Senior General Xiao Jinguang passed away in Beijing. Xiao Jinguang, born in Changsha, capital of Hunan Province in 1903, ever took the office of commander of the PLA Navy, deputy defense minister and vice chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, etc.
Deng Xiaoping, the architect of China's modern reform and development, resigned from his last job as the chairman of the Central Military Commission in late 1989.
From Dec. 11 to 17, 1989, the Political Work Conference of the PLA was held in Beijing. At the conference, a document on the enhancement and improvement of the political work in the PLA under the new situations was amended. The document required the PLA to further reinforce and improve its political work to ensure the absolute leadership of the Communist Party of China to the PLA.
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