People’s Liberation Army of China: A reminiscence
On the first of August this year, the People's Liberation Army (PLA) of China will celebrate its 93rd founding anniversary. PLA indeed has come a long way in its more than hundred years of arduous struggle and challenging journey since it took its bloody birth in Nanchang, capital city of the Jiangxi province in August 1927. The glorious history of the PLA is a long saga of a protracted war of the Chinese Army against the imperialist and reactionary forces. The PLA went through a long revolutionary process. It started as a Red Army, took different names at different times and situations namely New Fourth Route Army, Eighth Route army and finally all in all transformed to People's Liberation Army.
This great revolutionary Army in the course of its guerilla warfare undertook the epic long march unprecedented in the world military history covering a distance of 12,500 miles continuing for a period more than 2 years, from October 1934 to October 1936. The Red Army fought protracted guerilla battles over a vast area about half plains of Yenan, crossing the deep primary jungles, endless marshes and swamps, narrow valleys, steep gorges and snowcappedrocky mountains, fighting all through. About 'Long March' Mao Zedong wrote a classic poem which is worth quoting:
"The Red Army fears not the trials of the March,
Holding light ten thousand crags and torrents.
The Five ridges a wind like gentle ripples
And the majestic Wumeng roll by, globules of clay.
Warm the steep cliffs lapped by waters of Golden Sand,
Cold the iron chains spanning the Tatu River.
Minishan's the thousand li of snow joyously crossed,The three armies march on, each face glowing."
This great Army was led by great commanders like Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai, Chen Yi, PengDehuai, NieRongzhen and many others. It fought Japanese aggression and Chiang Kai Shek's reactionary forces, came out victorious and liberated the country. Post liberation in this great Army continuously pursued highest combat excellence, struggled to consolidate the country's independence and sovereignty and always remained a bulwark of defense as an invincible fighting machine.
PLA, true to its name, always maintained its basic peoples' army character. It always bore in mind what Mao Zedong taught, "army is more like a fish and people are like the water in a river". This has been the ethos of PLA and the essence of China's civil military relationship. PLA never was isolated from the broad masses and always remained deeply involved in all national reconstruction and infrastructure building and combating natural disasters, like floods, cyclones, tornadoes, droughts and earthquakes.
PLA never forgot Mao Zendong's words, "without the army, people have nothing". PLA always enjoyed the utmost trust, confidence, love and respect for the people of China. It is an all pervasive force with multidimensional characters. It is a fighting force par excellence with high combat capability and readiness. It is a productive force beyond comparison and a workforce, the colossus of which the world has not seen.
I recall I had the opportunity to live in a PLA unit in garrison very near to Beijing for a month in 1977. It was a part of the study curriculum, during my study in Beijing Modern Languages institute (now university), President Ziaur Rahman, the visionary leader of Bangladesh, who believed in strong Sino - Bangla relation, sent me to China to study Chinese language for my future employment as military attaché in the embassy. In my outdoor study (Kai Men Ban Xue) I was sent to a PLA unit, I lived in the military barracks along with the PLA junior commanders. There was no rank system in PLA at that time and officers were called commanders and soldiers, the fighters. I wore their uniform, ate, worked, slept and played with them.
I was introduced to the great master military strategist of ancient China, Sun Tzu. I was given many tactical combat and I was taken to the firing range to learn the skills of shooting. I found PLA soldiers were the most accurate on their targets and never missed any shot. The PLA unit I lived in was fully self-sufficient to cater its logistic needs. It had its own uniform and shoe making factory, it had its own agricultural fields to grow grains and vegetables, its own farm yards to raise cattle and get meat and dairy products. The unit was even running a medicine factory to produce medicine for local use and surplus to be sold outside
I remember in my language class text book there were many easy reading short stories. I read stories of BaiquenDaifu (Dr. Norman Bethune), how the Canadian doctor travelled thousands of miles from Canada to help the Red Army in its fights against Chiang Kaishek's reactionary forces, how the Canadian doctor participated in the Long March and selflessly rendered his service in treating wounded soldiers, saving their lives, many a time giving his own as he was of blood group 'O' positive, the blood group of universal donors. My textbook also contained stories of Leo Pend the great soldier of the PLA, who dedicated his life for the service of he believed, was weirenminfuwu, serve the people.
I went to China to study at a very significant period of her history. It was a time when the conspiring clique, the Gang of Four (Jiang Qing, Zhang Chunqiao, Wand Hongwen, YaoWenuian) had the total fall and the so called Great Cultural Revolution which caused untold sufferings to the people and the masses and brought chaos and disorder in the society had met its ultimate demise. I saw the grand jubilation of Chinese people. I saw their joys, happiness and ecstasies which were so spontaneous.
About 40 years ago when I lived in China, she made a tiny footprint in a global economy and political and military power. What a wonder China has become! China today has emerged as a vibrant and strong nation already occupying the center stage of world economy and power. China's phenomenal rise within only four decades or so is a miracle story. This miracle happened because of China's correct leadership, pragmatic policies, national unity and solidarity, peace and harmony. The unifying factor and the stabilizing core element has always been PLA, the liberator, the redeemer, the most patriotic, dedicated, loyal and trusted.
I recall, I was invited to China by PLA in 1996 when I was the Chief of Army staff. General Fu Quanyou, was the Chief of General Staff, PLA and General Chi Haotin the Defense Minister. I knew both of them personally very well. I was looking forward to this visit very earnestly.
Bangladesh Armed Forces received almost their entire military hardware from the PLA. I, as the first military attaché to China in the 80s, am a witness, how the PLA generously supported to raise our defense capability as we possess today. The services that PLA rendered un-equipping, arming and training of our total armed forces are immeasurable. That indeed is a yeoman's service. During my meeting with CGS and the Defense Minister, I was loud in expressing my thanks and gratitude. I sought their unabated continuity with multiple returns.
During that visit, I also had the honored privilege to meet his Excellency Jiang Zemin, the Honorable president of China and chairman of the Central Military Commission, the highest military organ of the country. I remember, president Jiang said, "China has changed a lot. It is not that same China which you saw when you lived here in the 70s and 80s. It has changed China, developed China and it is a new generation, a new leadership. The world is changing. I heard the Dhaka skyline has also changed. But in all these changes one thing has not changed and it will never change and that is our relationship with Bangladesh, our policy of Bangladesh".
He continued "I assure you General, China is your friend and will ever remain a friend. Whatever may be the situation and time, she will always be beside you. The relationship between China and Bangladesh is a relationship only of friendship, friendship and friendship and nothing but friendship." His words still ring in my ear. I treasure them. I believe this epitomizes our two militaries and two countries' true relationship.
Lt Gen M Mahbubur Rahman (retd) was a former Chief of Staff, Bangladesh Army