China Table of Contents
The role of the militia and the degree of party and PLA control over it have varied over the years. During the 1940s the militia served primarily as a PLA support force. After 1949 the party consolidated control over the country and gradually used the militia to maintain order and help the PLA with defense of the borders and coast. In the mid-1950s Minister of National Defense Peng Dehuai attempted to build a reserve system incorporating the militia. Peng's efforts were thwarted when the party expanded the militia, assigning it duties as a production force and internal security force during the Great Leap Forward. Lin Biao reduced the size of the militia and reemphasized military training in the early 1960s. The militia was fragmented during the early years of the Cultural Revolution, but in the 1970s it was rebuilt and redirected to support the PLA. The Gang of Four attempted to build up the urban militia as an alternative to the PLA, but the urban militia failed to support the Gang of Four in 1976, when Hua Guofeng and moderate military leaders deposed them. The militia's logistical support of the PLA was essential during the Sino-Vietnamese border war of 1979. In the 1980s Chinese leaders undertook to improve the militia's military capabilities by reducing its size and its economic tasks.
In 1987 the militia was controlled by the PLA at the military district level and by people's armed forces departments, which devolved to civilian control at the county and city levels as part of the reduction in force. The militia was a smaller force than previously, consisting of 4.3 million basic or primary--armed-- militia, and the 6-million-strong general or ordinary militia. The basic militia was comprised of men and women aged eighteen to twenty-eight who had served or were expected to serve in the PLA and who received thirty to forty days of military training per year. The basic militia included naval militia, which operated armed fishing trawlers and coastal defense units, as well as specialized detachments, such as air defense, artillery, communications, antichemical, reconnaissance, and engineering units, which served the PLA. The ordinary militia included men aged eighteen to thirty-five who met the criteria for military service; they received some basic military training but generally were unarmed. The ordinary militia had some air defense duties and included the urban militia. Efforts were made to streamline militia organization and upgrade militia weaponry. By 1986 militia training bases had been established in over half the counties and cities in the nation.
The militia's principal tasks in the 1980s were to assist in production, to undergo military training, and to defend China's frontiers in peacetime. In wartime, the militia would supply reserves for mobilization, provide logistical support to the PLA, and conduct guerrilla operations behind enemy lines.
Data as of July 1987