2003 June 10 Tuesday
China Leaders Afraid To Develop Air Power

The June/July 2003 issue of Policy Review Jacqueline A. Newmyer has a fascinating article on why the communist leaders in China have been afraid to develop air power to exploit it to the fullest. They are afraid to give too much power to individual warriors.

The exploitation of earlier, combat-ready inventions, such as crossbows (between 300 and 100 BC) and trebuchets (catapults, about 500 AD), was similarly delayed until the reign of the non-ethnically Chinese Mongol Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368). Where the ethnically Chinese Song Dynasty had feared that distributing crossbows would upset the class system by empowering ordinary soldiers, the Mongols were free of such reservations, or, at least, they refused to let domestic political considerations impinge on their program of conquest.7 China's wariness of weapons development in the twentieth century bears traces of the suspicion surrounding technology in the imperial age. The same concerns about empowering individuals and disturbing the domestic status quo motivated the rulers of the Song Dynasty and Mao.

The potential of technology to empower soldiers is perhaps nowhere more stark than in the field of air power. The pilot is a virtuoso, commanding a machine that grants him surpassing mobility. From his position in the cockpit, he can not only defy nature but also, if sufficiently motivated, threaten his own regime. (9-11 provided a horrific demonstration of what can happen when control of an airplane falls into the wrong hands.) For this reason, modern air power poses a highly potent threat to authoritarian governments. An insubordinate air force pilot or two might wreak destruction on a grand scale.

Newmyer traces the origins of modern Chinese leadership attitudes toward air power back to Taoism and Confucianism. She points out the role of People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) in Lin Biao's attempted coup and even says that Falun Gong was particularly popular in the PLAAF. The regime favors the development of missiles over aircraft because missiles are seen as more controllable by the central authority.

Newmyer thinks that the coming of capitalism to China may change cultural attitudes toward individualism enough to increase support for a more powerful air force. Also, each military action that dramatically demonstrates the steady increase in the capabilities of US air power adds additional impetus for the Beijing regime to more aggressively pursue the development of air power.

The whole essay is worth reading in full.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2003 June 10 12:37 PM  Culture Open Versus Closed Societies

Trent Telenko said at June 11, 2003 9:30 AM:


I commented on many of the Chinese Air Forces institutional problems in a series of letters to Jerry Pournelle discussing SDI. He made them into a special report here:

this page on Jerry Pournelle's site

The Marmot said at June 11, 2003 11:26 AM:

This was a truly fascinating post (and link!).

Trent Telenko said at June 13, 2003 8:23 AM:


Some linkie love is headed your way via this Winds link:


ParaPundit editing note: I put both of Trent's links into proper "a href" tags for easy click-thru.

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