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Xi Jinping Carries Out First General Rank Promotions in PLA

Bijoy Das was Research Associate at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile.
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  • September 25, 2013

    On July 31, 2013, on the eve of PLA Day ( 1st Aug), the Central Military Commission (CMC) of the Communist Party of China (CPC) conferred the rank of four star generals to six of its PLA officers, thereby completing the quota of promotions of full rank generals still in service.1 The investiture ceremony was presided over by Xi Jinping who, according to custom, concurrently holds the posts of CMC Chairman, CPC General Secretary and President of China. Of the six new generals, four are from the political work streams while two are military commanders. Interestingly, all of them are born in the 1950s. The six new generals are as follows:


    NAME (Age)


    Present & Past



    CAI Yingting (59)

    Commander, Nanjing MAC; Deputy Chief of PLA Staff

    rose through the ranks; experienced in staff positions; handled the 1996 Third Taiwan Strait Crisis; have dealt with the US on August 2012 escalations on Diaoyutai Is. and South China Sea; have published articles on military theory


    XU Fenlin (60)

    Commander, Guangzhou MAC

    Lanzhou MAC, 47th Group Army; have handled both political and field appointments; author of “Sunzi’s Art of War and Military Preparation in Information Era”


    WU Changde (61)

    Deputy Chief of the General Political Department

    31st Group Army and Chengdu MAC; prominent author on PLA’s political ideology


    WANG Hongyao (61)

    Political Commissar of the General Armament Department (GAD)

    54th Group Army, Shenyang MAC, 1996 flood relief operations, June 2012 Tiangong-1 space station programme, 1985 China-Vietnam border conflicts; outstanding political worker and speaker


    SUN Sijing (61)

    Political Commissar of the Academy of Military Sciences

    11 years in the General Logistics Department (GLD)


    LIU Fulian (60)

    Political Commissar of the Beijing MAC

    27th Group Army, Beijing Garrison Command; has published 30 odd articles on political ideology

    Through another notification in early August 2013, the PLA promoted 18 Major Generals to the rank of Lieutenant General.2 A record number of them were doctorates and people with academic backgrounds. They also represented six of the seven Military Area Commands (MAC) and all the four services. Other details of this phase of promotions are as follows:

    • Three from the PLA General HQs: one from the GLD, 2 from the GAD.
    • Six from various MACs; includes Chengdu MAC Chief of Staff Zhou Xiaozhou, Lanzhou MAC Director of Political Department Fan Changmi.
    • Biggest beneficiary PLAAF (30%) includes Lanzhou MAC Deputy Political Commissar (PC) and the Lanzhou MAC PLAAF PC Liu Jian.
    • Both the promotees from PLA Navy are from the political work stream.
    • The Second Artillery Force was represented by its Chief of Staff Gao Jin.
    • The National Defence Technology University (NDTU) President Yang Xuejun (50 yrs) represents the young and PLA academia.
    • The four officers born in the 1960s are:


    NAME (Age)


    Present & Past



    YANG Hui (50)

    Nanjing MAC Chief of Staff

    foreign returned international relations expert; a post graduate from the elite Chinese Academy of Social Sciences; intelligence analyst & chief of GSHQ Intelligence Department; CIISS counter-terrorism research head; well published author


    YANG Xuejun (50)

    NDTU President

    Chinese Academy of Sciences faculty; Ph. D in computer science; an expert from China’s two supercomputer programmes


    Ma Zhenjun (51)

    PLAAF Chief of Staff

    have headed the elite PLAAF 2nd Div of Guangzhou MAC


    LIU Guozhi (52)

    Deputy Chief, GAD

    Chinese Academy of Sciences faculty; high profile nuclear expert & former chief of two nuclear establishments; holds a Ph. D in engineering from the elite Qinghua University

    This was the first major phase of PLA general rank promotions after Xi Jinping assumed power. Among the full generals, promotions of the two military commanders Cai Yingting and Xu Fenlin were pending because they were the last of the seven new commanders of MACs whose change of guard was initiated in October 2012.

    Some key trends can be noted from these promotions. Broadly, the PLA pyramid is increasingly becoming younger, professional and scientifically and technologically inclined. This is a trend which is in progress, in varying degrees, since the late 1980’s but one which hasn’t yet fulfilled the mission. Currently preference has been given to officers with proven technical expertise and hands on experience in advanced scientific programmes like nuclear weaponry, supercomputers and space station as well as vital areas like intelligence and air force. Officers with research and publications to credit and able to articulate views on technological and ideological matters have also been preferred.

    According to data from Global Times, the PLA now has 31 full generals in service, a large number by any standards, indicating thereby that the PLA top brass retirement policy is still a work in progress. Nine of these 31 are in the age group of 64-73 years; the remaining 22 are in the age group of 50-63.

    Preferring professionalism to service seniority would surely boost the morale of high calibre young commanders and raise specialisation within the PLA top brass. Older superseded officers would have to be suitably retired to avoid heartburns and factional power struggles in the Party-PLA power caucus. It appears that to guard against such eventualities, officers with “political” (read administrative/intelligence/ideological) backgrounds have been given a large portion of the cake. Of the 24 new Generals and Lt Generals 11 are from political work streams. In essence it indicates that the Party is co-opting a section of the PLA echelon to ensure that the “Party holds the gun”.

    This was also essential to check corruption, which has reached astonishing proportions as the case of the disgraced Lt Gen Gu Junshan shows. This influential former deputy chief of the General Logistics Department during his eight year tenure in the GLD reportedly got five promotions (from Lt Col to Lt Gen), something unthinkable in modern day military. He then went on to amass huge wealth and unparalleled affection through this ill-gotten authority. Clearly such a thing cannot happen in isolation unless something is seriously wrong in the higher management of the PLA. An image of a military with such deep irregularities and without adequate state control raises doubts in countries with which China has military disputes or lacks political trust. Promoting more “political” officers might be an effort to weed out the endemic graft in PLA’s personnel management practices and increase the Party’s say over PLA’s affairs.

    This is precisely the objective of the recent call by General Fan Changlong, Vice Chairman of the CMC, who directed that senior military officers shall have to disclose information regarding their personal assets (including properties, vehicles, etc.), their dealings in official capacities, and the nature of employment of their family members and close associates.3 Xi Jinping as the CMC Chairman has also recently signed a new order titled “The Chinese People’s Liberation Army Garrison Regulations” to rein in the conduct of PLA and PAP personnel. The order shall officially come into effect from 01 Oct 2013 and seeks to restrict the outbound movement and use of official vehicles by making the garrison authorities answerable for any unacceptable consequence.4

    The flip side of such a “more political” approach is that it runs against the tide of worldwide military modernisation. Further professionalism of the PLA would suffer at least in the short term leading to possible disgruntlement among the PLA combatants but one which is unavoidable in the prevailing “new conditions”. Xi Jinping has tried to increase his standing within the PLA and his control over it by attempting a balance between the various PLA constituencies, objectives of the Party-PLA and the interests of the state.

    Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the IDSA or of the Government of India.