Domain Expertise

Understanding China’s Armed Forces

Instructor: Dennis Blasko

Who Is This Course For?

This course is for anyone who has a professional or personal interest in China and wants to understand the history, structure, equipment, and capabilities of its armed forces. At the end of the course, you’ll have a solid grasp of China’s military and national police forces and an analytic framework for assessing future developments related to Chinese military power. The instructor, Dennis Blasko, is a true expert on the Chinese military, and he provides a comprehensive view of the subject that will aid anyone charged with analyzing China, its military, the balance of power in Asia, or the implications for the United States and the rest of the world of China’s growing ambitions.

The course covers all aspects of Chinese armed forces in a comprehensive, easy-to-follow format. Even better, the course includes a companion eBook, Understanding China’s Military Forces: A Compendium, that serves as the printable follow-up to and expansion of the instructor’s seminal 2012 book, The Chinese Army Today.

This course is the perfect complement to our other China course, Understanding China’s Worldview.  That course’s instructor, Michael Hale, serves as the narrator for this course.

Hear an Expert’s Assessment of China’s Extensive Efforts to Reform and Modernize Its Armed Forces

The course draws heavily on Chinese sources, including official statements, defense white papers, and state press pieces, but the instructor never takes them at face value. Blasko’s in-depth knowledge of China allows him to separate the facts from the fiction in the information Beijing provides on its military capabilities and ambitions, leaving you with an objective view of what by any account is a dramatic increase in China’s military capabilities over the last decade. Blasko pays particular attention to the effects of recent reforms on the structure and abilities of the armed forces.

What You'll Get

Video Content


Course Transcript




Downloadable Extras


What You'll Learn

In this course, you’ll learn:

  • The history of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and how its origin and formative experiences shape the force today
  • How China views the role of military force in foreign and domestic policy, including the critical link between the Chinese Communist Party and the PLA
  • Trends in Chinese defense spending and the make-up of the defense budget
  • How all elements of the armed forces are organized, including how their structures have changed over the years
  • The nature, strengths, and weaknesses of Chinese training practices
  • The various missions of the Chinese armed forces and their level of competence in performing them
  • How China is upgrading its military hardware across the board, replacing aging Soviet-era equipment with Chinese-made, high-tech weaponry
  • How China assesses the results of its modernization and reform efforts so far
  • The analytic questions you should ask when assessing the future of China’s armed forces

Course Content


  • An Introductory Discussion with your Instructor
  • A Note About Sources
  • Glossary of Chinese Military Terms

Unit 1: A Brief History of the People’s Liberation Army

Unit 2: Chinese Armed Forces, Fundamental Principles, and the Defense Budget

  • Fundamental Principles of Modernization and Strategy
  • Chinese Military Doctrine
  • The Defense Budget

Unit 3: The Military Chain of Command

  • The Central Military Commission and Commands
  • Local Headquarters and Military Districts
  • Unit Grades and Organization

Unit 4: The Military Personnel System

  • Officers, Cadets, and Enlisted Personnel
  • Conscripts and Contractors

Unit 5: The Military Education and Training Systems

Unit 6: The Army

Unit 7: The Navy

Unit 8: The Air Force

Unit 9: The Rocket Force

Unit 10: The Strategic Support Force and Joint Logistics Support Force

Unit 11: The People’s Armed Police

Unit 12: The PLA Reserve Force and Militia

Unit 13: Challenges Ahead

Meet Your Instructor

Dennis Blasko

Dennis J. Blasko, Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Army (Retired), served 23 years as a Military Intelligence Officer and Foreign Area Officer specializing in China. Mr. Blasko was an army attaché in Beijing from 1992-95 and in Hong Kong from 1995-96. He also served in infantry units in Germany, Italy, and Korea and in Washington at the Defense Intelligence Agency, Headquarters Department of the Army (Office of Special Operations), and the National Defense University War Gaming and Simulation Center. Mr. Blasko is a graduate of the United States Military Academy and the Naval Postgraduate School. He has written numerous articles and chapters on the Chinese military and defense industries and is the author of the book, The Chinese Army Today: Tradition and Transformation for the 21st Century, Second Edition (Routledge, 2012).

Dennis Blasko

Try a sample lecture

Chinese Military Doctrine

This lecture is a part of the JTG Proficiency1 course Understanding China’s Armed Forces by Dennis Blasko.