Air, land, or sea; They're all in the Army.
Being the country with the largest population in the world, it's not surprising that China has more men and women under arms than any other, with over four million
military personnel, including reservists and the para-military People's Armed Police. Technically, military service with the People's Liberation Army is obligatory for all male and female Chinese citizens, but in practice the supply of volunteers is such that conscription has never been enforced. All eighteen-year-olds have to register themselves with the government authorities, in a manner somewhat similar to the Selective Service System of the United States.
All armed forces of the People's Republic of China are part of the People's Liberation Army (PLA), leading to its air and naval forces being referred to in English as the People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) and People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), respectively. The PLA is in the process of shifting its emphasis from massed ground forces to increasing the strength of its naval and air power, as China's focus now shifts from defending its land frontiers to projecting its interests in the rest of the world.
China has reasonably capable air forces, but only in its local region. Most of its technology is Soviet in origin, with the country ordering the Su-30, though probably not getting them anymore, given the story with Su-27.note
The naval branch is medium sized and transitioning from a primarily coastal defence force to one with regional capability. More modern nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers (the first one is the Liaoning
, a retrofitted former Soviet aircraft carrier) are much-discussed potential additions. The PLA also has missiles to destroy aircraft carriers.
Currently, China has been making huge pushes to modernize their armed forces to be able to compete with the United States. In addition to trying to build their own blue water navy, China has developed its own homegrown stealth jet. The PLAAF now have a prototype for a fifth-generation (according to Chinese sources) stealth fighter. It is nicknamed by Chinese bloggers and military forumgoers "黑丝Black Silk" and "Mio
". The first nickname is because it's black and a fourth generation fighter, which sounds like silk in Chinese, and "Mio" is born from a random comment on how much this plane's shape looks like Mio's hairstyle. It's now know as the J-20.
Despite the trope name, the Chinese do not employ attack helicopters and gunships in the same manner as the US or Russia, and most Chinese military helicopters are utility helicopters fulfilling support roles. This is expected to change following the introduction of the WZ-10, which is nicknamed 城管, or "Urban Management Chopper" for a joke that the chopper might be deployed by law enforcement offices to use them on street vendors.
The standard rifle is the QBZ-95-1, QBZ-95 (bullpups) and QBZ-03 (an improved Type 81 design) rifle. Older rifles such as the Type 81 or Type 56 (AK-47) are used for training purposes or in secondary forces. The PLA is also testing an OICW weapon system based on the QBZ-03 and features of the French FELIN system. Recently, the QBZ-95 has started to be phased out in favor of the QBZ-95-1, starting with the Hong Kong garrison. Improvements include a proprietary forward ejection system and a more ergonomic safety selector switch.
For a while, from 1965 to 1988, the PLA did not have any military ranks [the early Soviet Army, the Albanian Army during the later Hoxha era, and the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia also did not have ranks, as a way to equalize the officers and the soldiers] and were forced to wear the iconic Mao Suit but with a red rectangle in their collars, specific to the PLA. This was done by Mao Zedong to take the PLA back to its guerrilla roots, and to curb what he thinks as elitism in the armed forces. Thus the highest military commanders to ordinary soldiers didn't have ranks. This had not proven well during the Sino-Vietnamese border war, where the PLA's chain of command were disrupted. The military ranks were revived in 1988, and so the new PLA uniforms and badges of rank were first widely seen in Western media, most infamously in the Tiananmen Square protests.
China's military in fiction
- The People's Republic possesses and deploys nuclear weapons. Their number and capabilities are state secrets, and publicly-available estimates are pretty much guesswork. See The Dragons Teeth for more details. China promised not to use nuclear weapons in preemptive attacks and only will deploy one after being attacked by one, so many Chinese are pissed about it.
- When they appear it's usually to do with Taiwan. They invade the place in Dale Brown's Fatal Terrain (after tricking the US into destroying a civilian ferry) and then proceed to nuke Guam.
- The People's Liberation Army featured in Command & Conquer: Generals. The PRC government issued a ban on said game, considering the portrayal to be insulting. Given that no one buys original software in China, this doesn't really make much of a difference either way.
- Also ironic when you consider the PLA were ultimately the good guys in that game.
- Apparently the CCP objected to the first 3 missions which involved a nuclear attack on the capital in one and you blowing up the HK convention center and the Three Gorges Dam in 2 and 3. That and the fact that the game has the Chinese get the stuffing kicked out of them by terrorists who are uncomfortably close to what it fears. You get the picture?
- Not that the US in the same game doesn't get its ass handed to it more than once. The mission where you have to use only air units to cover a huge convoy of badly damage US vehicles attempting to retreat springs to mind.
- Incidentally, one of the most prominent and overpowered Chinese units in the expansion was indeed an armed transport helicopter, the Helix.
- Someone forgot to mention the PLA had driven the terrorists out of... Central Europe.
- In the Sequel Command and Conquer 2013, they are the leader of the Asia-Pacific Alliance or the APA.
- They were supposed to appear in the Red Dawn 2012 remake, but they were replaced with North Koreans With Nodongs, as North Korea isn't the country with the second-biggest film audience after the US.
- Red Alert 2, a previous Command & Conquer game, featured the opposing armies of the Allies and the Soviets. The Chinese weren't happy about the fact that they weren't included, so macho fans made tons of game modifications, which added the PLA as a Purposefully Overpowered faction that simply invalidated the use of any other.
- Also absent in Red Alert 3, though the Red Alert 3 Paradox mod is scheduled to add THREE Chinese factions (1 full faction called the Atomic Kingdom of China, 2 small ones, the PLA and the Nationalist Army) just as batshit insane as the other factions, drawing inspiration from Atom Punk, Star Trek and Sucker Punch.
- Rather implausibly described invading Russia in Tom Clancy's The Bear And The Dragon, where they were massacred by Russians with American high-tech support.
- A slightly higher-tech PLA was one of the playable factions in Battlefield 2, including use of UAV's and advanced command-and-control systems. The Armored Fury expansion pack has them launching an invasion of the United States via Alaska.
- And Battlefield 2142 featured the PAC, the Pan-Asian Coalition, an alliance between Chinese and Russian military, outfitted with cutting edge technology, including hovertanks, energy weapons on their battlewalkers and VTOL craft fully enclosed in armor with rear projection cockpits, all of that opposed to the more conventional EU forces.
- They are the antagonists in the (quite appropriately named) open-world FPS Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising and its sequel Red River.
- In Fallout backstory, The End of the World as We Know It was caused by an U.S.-China war which escalated into a nuclear war after the invasion of Alaska, which can be seen in Fallout 3 Expansion Pack Operation Anchorage.
- China is one of the recurring factions in the Mercenaries series, and plenty of their hardware and troops are featured in the games.
- Chinese soldiers serve as Mooks during the Chinese Embassy levels in the original Splinter Cell. Less of a straight example, since they are led by a rogue nationalist general in league with the Georgian government.
- Communist China is a playable faction in Hearts of Iron.
- Chen Guoming and Karen Lo are ex-PLA Ground Force officers who are working with Daxinghai in Jormungand, a pro-China company meant to counter any HCLI-influence in Africa.
- The PLA is a playable faction in Graviteam Tactics: Zhalanashkol, which covers the fighting along the Kazakh SSR-Xinjiang border in August 1969.