02 June 2016

The Courage to Fight and Win: The PLA Cultivates Xuexing for the Wars of the Future

Ryan D. Martinson, “The Courage to Fight and Win: The PLA Cultivates Xuexing for the Wars of the Future,” Jamestown Foundation China Brief 16.9, 1 June 2016.

With all its new weapons systems and platforms, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has become a powerful military by any standard that can be quantified. But how will PLA officers and enlisted, however well-armed, perform when faced in combat by a capable adversary? China’s civilian and military leaders are not optimistic.

Since early 2013, the PLA has conducted a political campaign to cultivate xuexing (血性)—courage, or valor—in its soldier, sailors, and airmen. Prompted by instructions from Xi Jinping, this campaign has sought to ensure that the services exhibit the aggressiveness needed to defeat a powerful adversary. It was initiated due to a perceived lack of warrior spirit in the military. The PLA seeks to rectify inadequacies by changing service culture through political work and training. Understanding this effort sheds light on how Chinese leaders gauge the balance of power between China and potential foes.


The PLA’s focus on fostering xuexing can be traced to the 2013 Instructions for Political Work in Military Training, issued just three months after Xi Jinping became Chairman of the Central Military Commission. The official summary of the Instructions stated that in 2013 the Chinese military would “vigorously cultivate a combat spirit of, first, not fearing hardship and, second, not fearing death (一不怕苦,二不怕死).” Military training would be conducted in “harsh and complex conditions,” to cultivate xuexing (PRC Central Government, February 7, 2013). Subsequent Instructions, issued in 2014 and 2015, reiterated the need to develop xuexing in the Chinese military (PRC Ministry of Defense, February 10, 2014; PRC Central Government, February 2, 2015).

Authoritative sources directly connect this objective with remarks made by Xi Jinping. On at least one occasion, Xi warned, “In peacetime, we cannot let the military become soft (娇气). A mighty army must be mighty, and soldiers must have xuexing.” At the Gutian Work Conference in November 2014, Xi emphasized the important role of political work in instilling the warrior spirit, calling on the military to cultivate a “new generation of revolutionary soldiers,” which, among other things, must possess xuexing (Renminwang, December 21, 2015). …


Ryan D. Martinson, “Shepherds of the South Seas,” Survival 58.3 (2016): 187-212.

Ryan D. Martinson, “The 13th Five-Year Plan: A New Chapter in China’s Maritime Transformation,” Jamestown China Brief, 12 January 2016. 

Ryan D. Martinson, “Deciphering China’s Armed Intrusion Near the Senkaku Islands,” The Diplomat, 11 January 2016.  

Ryan D. Martinson, “China’s Great Balancing Act Unfolds: Enforcing Maritime Rights vs. Stability,” The National Interest, 11 September 2015.

Ryan D. Martinson, “From Words to Actions: The Creation of the China Coast Guard,” a paper for the China as a “Maritime Power” Conference, CNA Corporation, Arlington, VA, 28-29 July 2015.

Ryan D. Martinson, “East Asian Security in the Age of the Chinese Mega-Cutter,” Center for International Maritime Security, 3 July 2015. 

 Ryan D. Martinson, “China’s Second Navy,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 141.4 (April 2015). 

Ryan D. Martinson, “Jinglue Haiyang: The Naval Implications of Xi Jinping’s New Strategic Concept,” Jamestown China Brief  (9 January 2015).

Ryan D. Martinson, “Chinese Maritime Activism: Strategy Or Vagary?” The Diplomat, 18 December 2014. 

Ryan D. Martinson, “The Militarization of China’s Coast Guard,” The Diplomat, 21 November 2014. 

Ryan Martinson, “Here Comes China’s Great White Fleet,” The National Interest, 1 October 2014.

Ryan Martinson, “Power to the Provinces: The Devolution of China’s Maritime Rights Protection,” Jamestown China Brief 14.17 (10 September 2014).