Research on Military Demographics

Michael D. Swaine


Major Questions for Research 

What bases exist for group identification among the senior, middle, and lower-ranking echelons of the Chinese military?  The concept of field army-based associations is no longer of much relevance.  What, if any, types of new associations have replaced those ties---e.g., associations based on Group Army service?  Military Region service?  Geographical affiliations?  or Associations with key military bureaucracies such as the navy, air force, the general departments, the second artillery, and the defense industry complex? 

What are the relative priorities attached to the various possible purposes of such group identification---e.g., personal promotion, organizational advancement, policy influence, etc.?    

On a broader level, can one identify the existence of cross-cutting generations of Chinese military officers, each with distinct experiences, attitudes, values, and interests regarding, for example, the overall role of the Chinese military in society, the nature of the civil-military relationship, the content and priorities of Chinese foreign policy, or the basic purpose of Chinese military modernization?  What is the basis of such generational differences, if they indeed exist?  

How does the Chinese military relate to Chinese society, in terms of age and income distribution, education and training levels, the rural-urban divide, geographical distribution (including inland versus coastal regions), and contacts with the outside world?  Can one say that the Chinese military is an accurate reflection of Chinese society as a whole?  If not, in what ways does it differ most significantly from society?  What are the major trend lines? 

How do the senior and middle ranks of the Chinese officer corps relate to their civilian counterparts in the party and government, in terms of age, income distribution, education and training levels, formative experiences, and contacts with the outside world?  In what specific ways does the military leadership differ from civilian party and government leaders in these areas?    

What financial burden do the demobilization and retirement of Chinese officers and soldiers place on the Chinese military or local Chinese governments, both at present and over the next 10-15 years? 

What do educational and training trends in the Chinese military say about the capacity of military personnel to operate and maintain increasingly sophisticated weaponry? 

What will the Chinese military probably look like in 10-15 years in terms of age distribution, level of training and education at different ranks, generational and geographical divisions, the presence or absence of representatives of key military organs at senior levels, etc.?      

Key Sources 

Accurate data on the background, composition and values of Chinese military personnel remain exceedingly difficult to obtain.  In particular, it is extremely difficult to determine the extent to which generational differences---as opposed to other factors such as organizational affiliations---influence or determine the core beliefs of China’s officer corps on crucial issues of political control and policy direction. 

Any reliable assessment of these issues requires far more detailed biographical data on the officer corps than are currently available.  This suggests the need for a systematic, thorough, and relatively sophisticated personnel database. 

Other sources are less systematic:  national, regional, provincial and local civilian and military newspapers and journals, official biographical publications (e.g., Who’s Who in China: Current Leaders), biographies of leaders, official statistical publications on Chinese society and demographics, interviews, etc.