01 July 2015

No Easy Task: The Right Way to Study China’s Military

Further useful guidance from Peter Mattis how best to study the PLA. This practical, methodologically-focused approach is long overdue, and will aid the field immensely!

Peter Mattis, “No Easy Task: The Right Way to Study China’s Military,” The National Interest, 29 June 2015.

…Finding good guidance on sourcing is difficult, and the ubiquitous citations to retired PLA officers or those with academic posts fill more English-language reports than more authoritative voices from senior commanders and operational innovators. Only a handful of studies, like Andrew Erickson’s comprehensive analysis of the DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile and Paul Godwin and Alice Miller’s analysis of Chinese signaling, explicitly explain how they think Chinese sources should be evaluated. Moreover, the Chinese publication landscape is filled with deliberately distortive voices that serve political purposes, such as motivating the population or broadcasting messages for deterrence, rather than to inform domestic or foreign audiences. To find this information, however, one would almost have to know already what he or she was looking for.

My recent effort, Analyzing the Chinese Military, attempts to pull together the various strands of the PLA-related analysis in terms of production, publications, and people. The goal is explaining how newcomers can overcome some of the challenges to developing expertise on the PLA, its evolution, and the implications. Providing a catalog of what has been done and how analysts probably should approach the subject hopefully answers some of the questions of aspiring analysts before they are asked—including how to start building a Chinese-language collection. …