01 March 2021

Survey of English-Language Books on the PLA

This foundational survey of modern PLA studies reveals the state of the field just before the two decades’ meteoric growth to its present profusion. It specifically covers five dozen of the most significant works published over the past three decades, together with other sources emerging from China’s government and in then-still-new media such as the Internet. This history remains significant; it reflects the context in which the PLA itself has modernized. Such formative background becomes ever-less familiar as veteran military Sinologists move towards “retirement,” while junior scholars and analysts—typically schooled in more recent works—enter and rise in the professional ranks. Absorbing this edifying context is never outdated—worth reviewing now!

Kenneth W. Allen, “Survey of English-Language Books on the PLA,” December 2003; China Analysis from Original Sources 以第一手资料研究中国, 1 March 2021.

Over the past 15 years, there has been a proliferation of information available in English about China’s military—the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). The information is available from news agencies, newspapers, magazines, periodicals, scholarly journals, monographs, books, and the Internet.

For someone who wants to purchase an English-language book on the PLA, a search of Amazon.com using “China” and “PLA” shows about 10,000 books with some type of information on the subject. A quick glance at these entries, however, shows that only a few of the books actually provide information devoted to China’s military. In fact, probably less than 100 English-language books about the PLA have been published.

Even for someone familiar with the subject matter, the task of narrowing the available information on the PLA can be somewhat overwhelming. Therefore, this article provides some background information on a representative sample of about 60 books published in English about the PLA over a 30-year period, including the types of books, authors, content, and sources of research information. Although some excellent analytical pieces are available in scholarly journals, covering them is beyond the scope of this article. Furthermore, several good sources of information are available in other languages, but they may not be readily available to authors of English-language books on the PLA. … … …

Ken Allen (USAF Major – ret.) retired in November 2019 as the Research Director for the U.S. Air Force’s China Aerospace Studies Institute (CASI). He assumed the position in May 2017. For the past 25 years, his primary focus has been on China’s military organizational structure, personnel, education, training, and foreign relations with particular emphasis on the PLA Air Force. He previously worked for the U.S.-Taiwan Business Council, the Henry L. Stimson Center, Litton TASC, the Center for Naval Analysis (CNA), Defense Group Inc. (DGI), and the Long Term Strategy Group (LTSG). During 21 years in the U.S. Air Force (1971–92), he served as an enlisted Chinese and Russian linguist and intelligence officer with tours in Taiwan (Shulinkou Air Station and special project at the U.S. Embassy Defense Attaché Office), Berlin, Japan (5th Air Force), PACAF Headquarters, China, and Washington, DC (Instructor in the Defense Intelligence Agency’s Joint Military Attaché School). From 1987–89, he served as the Assistant Air Attaché in the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, where he received the individual Exceptional Collector of the Year Award for 1988 and the Unit Exceptional Collector of the Year Award for 1989 (Tiananmen). He was inducted into DIA’s Defense Attaché Hall of Fame in 1997. He has B.A. degrees from the University of California at Davis and the University of Maryland and an M.A. degree from Boston University. He has written multiple books, monographs, chapters, journal articles, and online articles on the PLA.