PLA Uniforms and Insignia
After victory was achieved in 1949, the decision was made to disarm the masses and concentrate weapons in the hands of a standing army which lived in barracks separate from the masses. At the same time there began an intensive program of modernization, both technical and administrative, of the PLA which put increased emphasis on knowledge of military science, on sophisticated weaponry and on professionalism.
With conscription, the PLA gradually became a more organised force as enlisted conscripts were placed under the command of a permanent group of officers who were responsible for their training. In addition, PLA leaders "instituted a system of ranks, regular channels of entry into the officer corps and professional criteria for advancement"; they introduced a differentiated pay scale according to an officer's rank and conferred military titles and honours on army leaders. All these steps showed progress towards the formation of a modern hierarchical army.
All of these developments led, in the early 1950s, to significant moves away from the democratic-egalitarian traditions of the PLA. These trends culminated in the State Council order of February 1955 setting up a system of ranks within the PLA and eliminating the supply-system for military personnel. This was followed in October by the conferring of the title of Marshal on the ten top leaders of the PLA, the wearing of shoulder badges and insignia showing rank, and the creation and award of several types of military decorations. A Renmin Ribao editorial of Sept. 28, 1955 gave arguments for the new rank system:
"Why must the PLA adopt the system of military ranks at present? This is because with the application of the Military Service Law (conscription), the modern equipment of the armed forces requires that the training and activities of the servicemen should follow strict systems and regulations. The ranking and interrelation of the officers should be clearly defined, and the organization and discipline of the armed forces should be consolidated...all officers must wear shoulder badges and insignias of their ranks so that there will be clear distinction between officers and other ranks, between the various branches of the armed forces....Only in this way would the units of the armed forces be able to carry out successfully their task of defending the country in a changing situation and under the new conditions of complex equipment, speed of movement and joint action of the different branches.
"After the adoption of the military ranks, there will be clear distinction between the officer and the men...Will this affect the close unity of the officers and the men and of the officers of the upper and lower ranks? The answer is no...there is no clash of class interests between the officers and men...their interests being the same. The officer and the men would struggle together to defend the country, protect the interest of the people, and safeguard the cause of Socialism. There fore the holding of military ranks...implies that the officers are entrusted with an even greater responsibility and should be even more concerned with the men and take better care of them...The military ranking system will also ensure the equality of officers as required by national defense. The modern revolutionary fighting forces require of the officers not only their loyalty to the country and the people but also accomplishment in the knowledge of military science as well as proficiency in modern military techniques....The conferment of titles is determined on the basis of responsibility, political qualities, abilities, terms of service and contribution to the revolution... (Trans. in SCMP, no. 1147, pp. 3-5)
After succeeding P'eng Te-huai as minister of defense at the Lushan Plenum in 1959, Lin Piao devoted particular attention to reviving political work in the military apparatus. Lin intensified the army's program of political education, basing it in large part on a new compilation of quotations from Mao Tse-tung, a collection that would serve as the model for the little red book later used by the Red Guards. At the same time, Lin also sought to restore some of the military traditions of the revolutionary period. In the 1960s, the organizational and tactical principles of guerrilla warfare as practiced in the 1930s and 1940s had been set aside in favor of those characteristic of more regularized armed forces. A formal system of ranks and insignia had been instituted. The militia had been deemphasized, with P'eng Te-huai proposing that it be supplanted by a more formal system of military reserves.
The rise of "professionalism" led to serious political difficulties and Chinese leaders decided to restore the kind of revolutionary-egalitarian army they had had earlier. In May 1965 ranks were abolished within the PLA to "further promote the revolutionization of our army." They argued that as a result of modernisation, Mao's age-old military doctrine of comradely relations and informality between the ranks was now replaced by modern Soviet doctrine which emphasised relations based on hierarchy, discipline and status.
The 1979 Sino-Vietnamese border war, although only sixteen days long, revealed specific shortcomings in military capabilities. An unclear chain of command and the lack of military ranks created confusion and adversely affected PLA combat effectiveness.
The 1984 Military Service Law stipulated that military ranks would be reintroduced to the PLA. Military leaders justified the restoration of ranks as improving organization, discipline, and morale and facilitating coordinated operations among different arms and services, thus serving to modernize and regularize the military. The PLA's experience in the 1979 Sino-Vietnamese border war, in which the absence of ranks led to confusion on the battlefield, was another factor leading to the restoration of ranks. However, the rank system was not immediately implemented because "preparatory work" still needed to be done. Implementation was delayed by disputes in higher echelons in the PLA over who would receive what rank and by the long process of reducing the size of the military. In mid-1987 the PLA still had not restored its system of ranks. The ranks for officers reportedly were to be based on the 1955 rank system, which included one supreme marshal and ten marshals at the very top. Ground force and Air Force ranks were to be senior general, general, lieutenant general, major general, senior colonel, colonel, lieutenant colonel, major, senior captain, captain, first lieutenant, and second lieutenant. Naval officer ranks were to be senior admiral, admiral, vice admiral, rear admiral, senior captain, captain, commander, lieutenant commander, senior lieutenant, junior lieutenant, and ensign.
Although the restoration of ranks was delayed, in 1985 PLA personnel were issued new uniforms and service insignia. Officers at and above regimental level wore woolen and blended woolen uniforms; officers at battalion level and below and soldiers wore cotton uniforms. All personnel wore visored military caps, new collar insignia, and shoulder boards. The cap emblem was round with a design of five stars and the ideographs bayi (August 1st, the anniversary of the 1927 Nanchang Uprising) surrounded by wheat ears and cog wheels. Uniform colors were olive green for the ground forces; dark blue in winter, and a white jacket and dark blue trousers in summer for the Navy; and an olive green jacket and dark blue trousers for the Air Force. Officer jackets had epaulets and golden buttons with the five-star and August 1st design. Collar badges were red for the ground forces, black for the Navy, and blue for the Air Force. Personnel of the intraservice Strategic Missile Force wore distinctive patches but otherwise retained the uniform of their parent service. The new uniforms replaced the baggy, green fatigue uniforms that had made it hard to distinguish between officers and soldiers. The change in uniforms served the needs of military modernization by raising morale, strengthening discipline, and facilitating command and organization.
The People's Liberation Army began to develop its new generation of service uniforms at the beginning of 1993. The new uniforms were presented to the Central Military Commission for approval in 1995. The CMC held a meeting on April 10, 1995 to examine the new uniforms. By the approval of Chairman Jiang Zemin, who examined the new uniforms personally, the new generation of uniforms were first tried on by the PLA Garrison stationed in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region on May 1, 1997 and were introduced to the three services in the spring of 2000. The new generation of uniforms includes nine items, namely, military dress uniform, spring/autumn military service uniform, summer military service uniform, sweaters, battle dress uniform, physical training dress , caps and decorations, shoes/boots, and bullet-proof vest.
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