Outside of China, many do not understand how this country is fighting. And this is very important.
Eurocentrism, which, alas, is still obsessed with our society, sometimes makes it difficult to see quite entertaining and instructive historical examples, even recent ones. One such example is the approach of our neighbor, China, to the use of military force. In Russia, it is not customary to think about this, and in many cases, stupid clichés that come from nowhere in the heads of our people interfere soberly with the Chinese: “the Chinese do not know how to fight,” “they can crush the masses, and so on.”
In fact, everything is so different that it cannot even reach a significant number of people. The Chinese approaches to the use of military force are totally different in comparison with what the rest of humanity practices, just as different from the rest of the people (this is a very important remark) are the Chinese themselves.
Let's start with the combat experience. After World War II, the Chinese army was regularly used against other countries.
From 1947 to 1950, the Chinese were engaged in a civil war. I must say that by that time several generations of Chinese were born and died in the war. But the civil war is one thing, but soon after it a completely different thing began.
In 1950, China occupied Tibet, eliminating the local ugly regime. And in the same year, the Chinese military contingent, under the guise of “Chinese People’s Volunteers” (CPV), under the command of the Marshal and future Minister of Defense of the People’s Republic of China Peng Dehuai, attacks the United States and its allies (UN troops) in North Korea.
Famous photo - Chinese units cross the Yalu River. The deployment of Chinese troops in the DPRK their opponent "overslept." Noteworthy is the lack of transport and heavy weapons. But this light infantry will soon take Seoul
As you know, the Chinese threw the UN troops back to the 38th parallel. To assess the significance of this fact, it is necessary to understand that they were opposed by troops with the most advanced military equipment for that time, trained and equipped according to the Western model, having powerful artillery, fully mechanized and possessing air supremacy, which at that time there was simply no one to dispute ( Soviet MiG-15s will appear in the areas bordering China only five days after the start of battles with the Chinese, and they will begin to fight in full force even later).
The Chinese themselves were mostly foot troops with a minimum of horse-drawn vehicles, armed mainly with small arms, with a minimum of mortars and outdated light artillery. There was a critical lack of transport, even horse-drawn, radio communication in the company-battalion link was completely absent, in the link of the battalion-regiment - almost completely. Instead of radio and field phones, the Chinese used foot messengers, horns and gongs.
It would seem that nothing shines for the Chinese, but their blow almost led to the complete defeat of the UN forces and led to the biggest retreat in American military history. Soon, the Chinese with a slowly recovering Korean people's army took Seoul. Then they were knocked out of there and further all the battles went in the vicinity of the 38th parallel.
It is difficult for modern man to appreciate this. The Chinese threw the United States and its allies with all their power literally with their bare hands. Moreover, often they, having neither heavy weapons nor any military equipment, dominated the battlefield. The Chinese were able, for example, to guess the moment of deployment from pre-battle formation to battle and the beginning of a foot attack precisely at the moment when the last rays of the sun disappeared and darkness fell. As a result, they managed to accurately reach the enemy’s location with minimal light and start the attack, and during the attack itself, immediately use the darkness to shelter.
The Chinese fought beautifully at night, circumvented the enemy's defensive positions in complete darkness, attacked without losing ground. Often, after engaging in a twilight battle with the defending enemy, they bypassed it with darkness, breaking through to the positions of artillery, destroying the gun’s calculations and reducing the whole battle to hand-to-hand combat. In hand-to-hand and bayonet attacks, the Chinese were completely superior to the Americans and their allies.
The Chinese introduced a huge mass of organizational and tactical techniques, which to some extent compensated for their lack of heavy weapons and military equipment.
The motivation and training of the Chinese, their ability to camouflage and misinform the enemy, the ability of their commanders to plan military operations and control their progress were sufficient to, together with their numerical superiority and moral readiness, endure huge losses and defeat the enemy, which was armed, organized and equipped one historical era ahead.
Military history knows few such episodes. This is a very important point - the Chinese army defeated US troops with allies on the battlefield and put them to flight. Moreover, the main problems with the inability of the Chinese to advance south of Seoul, after it was taken, lay in the plane of logistics - the Chinese simply could not properly supply their troops at such a distance from their territory, they had practically no transport and among the soldiers a mass phenomenon was starvation death. But they continued to fight, and fought with the utmost tenacity and bitterness.
Fans of the theory that the Chinese do not know how to fight should think about how this was possible.
Marshal Peng Dehuai, one of the prominent commanders in recent history
The ceasefire in Korea, on the one hand, froze the conflict and left Korea divided. At the same time, the threat of defeating the DPRK, which at the end of 1950 already seemed a foregone conclusion, was completely removed.
After Korea, a series of small local wars began. In the fifties, the Chinese waged armed provocations against Taiwan, crushed the rebellion in Tibet by force, attacked Burma in the sixties, forcing its authorities to sever relations with Chinese nationalists, and defeated India in the 1962 border conflict. In 1967, the Chinese re-tested India for strength in the then independent protectorate of Sikkim, but the Indians, as they say, “rested”, and the Chinese, realizing that there would be no easy victory, calmly “recorded a defeat on points” and retreated.
In 1969-1970, China attacked the USSR. Unfortunately, the real content of the conflict hid behind our national mythology. But it was Damansky who most vividly demonstrated the Chinese approach to war.
The analysis of this approach needs to start with the result of the battles, but it is extremely unusual and looks like this: the USSR defeated the Chinese troops on the battlefield utterly, but lost the clash. Interesting, huh?
We list what China received.
1. China has shown that it is no longer a junior partner of the USSR, even nominally. Then the consequences of this were still not clear to anyone, but the future American strategy to pump China money and technology to create a counterweight to the USSR was born out of the Soviet-Chinese clashes on Damansky and later at Lake Zhalanoshkol.
2. China has shown that it is not afraid of a war with nuclear powers. This seriously raised its political weight in the world, in fact, the emergence of China as an independent military-political “center of power” in the world began precisely then.
3. China received a high-tech trophy weapon for study and copying - the T-62 tank. Especially important for the Chinese was familiarity with the smoothbore tank gun and all that she gives.
4. China subsequently de facto captured the disputed island. After the collapse of the USSR, this territory became de jure Chinese.
Now let's see what the USSR received.
1. The ability to defeat the Chinese on the battlefield has been proven. But in fact, no one doubted her. This was the only positive outcome of the battles for Damansky.
2. The USSR, constrained by the confrontation with NATO in Europe, actually received a second front. Now it was necessary to prepare also for the confrontation with China. The question of what it cost the Soviet economy and how it influenced the collapse of the USSR has not been studied enough yet, but it has been worth it and it has influenced - it’s unique. Moreover, the behavior of the Soviet military-political leadership in the following years had certain signs of panic.
So, in all seriousness, it was discussed how to stop the Chinese hordes when they go across the border. Barrier lines were created, including using nuclear weapons, new divisions were deployed, and in such numbers that the road network of eastern Siberia and the Far East would never allow maneuvering even by half of these troops. The Chinese threat even influenced the weapon systems being created, for example, the 30-mm six-barreled gun on the MiG-27 appeared precisely as a response to the Chinese tank threat.
All this was worth a lot of resources. The Chinese doctrine with respect to the USSR was defensive to the very end, the Chinese were not going to step on Vladivostok and cut the Trans-Siberian Railway. At least independently, without the help of third countries.
3. The USSR showed that military operations against it are politically possible and, in some cases, permissible. If the Soviet Union had arranged a serious punitive operation against the Chinese, this would not have happened, but the Soviet Union didn’t do anything like that.
4. The disputed territory was eventually lost.
It is unpleasant to admit, but the USSR in that conflict is the losing side, despite the fact that, we repeat, the Chinese troops were defeated. The fact that this is not accidental was shown by the following conflict - the 1979 Vietnam-China War.
The First Socialist War
Unfortunately, we also do not understand this war, in addition, it is seriously mythologized, despite the fact that its course is mainly unknown to the layman. In the case of this war, it makes no sense to retell well-known facts, the course of battles is described in open sources, but it is worth focusing on what is usually missed in Russia.
We often like to say that the Chinese troops were qualitatively inferior to the Vietnamese. This is absolutely true - the Vietnamese were much better in battle.
However, for some reason we don’t remember about this, the Chinese plan of operation reduced the importance of the Vietnamese’s superiority to zero. The Chinese have secured an overwhelming numerical superiority, so large that Vietnam in its northern part could not do anything about it.
We are of the opinion that the regular VNA units did not have time for this war, but this is not so, they were there, just the Vietnamese command did not enter into battle everything that might be caused by poor communications. Parts of at least five regular VNA divisions took part in the battles, from auxiliary divisions converted a combat battalion a year earlier to the fully operational 345th and elite 3rd and 316th infantry divisions, which, although they proved to be first-class formations in battles, with Chinese numerical superiority, they could not do anything, they could only inflict losses on the Chinese, but the Chinese were indifferent to the losses.
It is known that Deng Xiaoping, the “father” of this war, wanted to “punish” Vietnam for invading Cambodia (Cambodia) and cooperating with the USSR. But for some reason, the fact that the Chinese did it in the end disappeared from the domestic consciousness - Vietnam received a very painful blow to the economy of the northern provinces, the Chinese destroyed absolutely the entire infrastructure there, blew up all the housing in some areas, stole all livestock, and even in some places the forces of special teams caught all the fish from the lakes. North Vietnam was literally beaten to the skin and then recovered for a long time.
Deng Xiaoping wanted to hit the "tentacles" (as he called it) of the USSR - and hit, the whole world saw that Soviet allies could be attacked, and the USSR would tolerate this, limiting itself to military supplies. This was the beginning of the end for the USSR.
Were the Chinese troops defeated? No.
The Chinese due to numerical superiority won all the main fights. And they left after they faced a choice - to move further to the south of Vietnam, where troops from Cambodia had already been massively transferred and where the units withdrawn from under Chinese attacks were concentrated, or to leave. If the Chinese went further, they would engage in a full-scale war with parts of the VNA, and the further south they advance, the more narrow the front would be and the smaller the Chinese superiority would be.
Vietnam could enter its battle Aviation, and China would have nothing to answer, in those years, Chinese fighters basically did not even have air-to-air missiles, none at all. Attempts to fight with Vietnamese pilots in the sky would be a beating for the Chinese. A partisan movement would inevitably begin in the rear, moreover, it had already begun in fact. The war could take a protracted character, and in the future the USSR could still intervene in it. All this was not necessary for Deng Xiaoping, who had not yet finished his struggle for power, as a result, the Chinese declared themselves winners and retreated, having plundered everything that they could reach. The retreat of the Chinese was their own decision, the result of a risk calculation. They were not forced out of Vietnam by force.
Let's see what China got from this war.
1. A powerful “slap in the face” was given to the USSR, which did not fight for an ally. In truth, in conditions where there are Vietnamese fighters on the spot, and at the airfields of the Far East Tu-95 and 3M refueling tanks, the Chinese in Vietnam should have been bombed at least a little, at least for demonstrative purposes. That did not happen. The cooling between Vietnam and the USSR after this war was inevitable, and in the mid-eighties it happened.
2. All the expansionist plans of the Vietnamese, who tried on the role of a regional power, were buried. Convinced of the reality of the Chinese threat, Vietnam began to curtail its foreign operations in the 80s, and completely completed them by the beginning of the 90s. It must be said that later on the border and in the South China Sea, China constantly reminded Vietnam of its dissatisfaction with Vietnamese politics. The constant Chinese attacks ended only when Vietnam ended all attempts to establish regional dominance, and the USSR collapsed. In 1988, the Chinese again attacked Vietnam, capturing a group of islands in the Spratly archipelago, just as in 1974 they captured the Paracel Islands, which belonged to South Vietnam. Now Hanoi is almost completely reduced to submission, there is simply nothing to show serious resistance to the Chinese colossus of the Vietnamese.
3. China has again confirmed to the world that he is an independent player who is not afraid of absolutely anyone.
4. Deng Xiaoping significantly strengthened his power, which made it easier for him to begin reforms.
5. The Chinese military-political leadership was convinced of the need for speedy military reform.
Based on the results of this war, Vietnam and the USSR received nothing but the opportunity to defeat the Chinese retreat from the propaganda point of view and declare Vietnam the winner.
Now we will understand the specifics of how and at what point the Chinese use military force.
War is the opposite
It is noteworthy that the Chinese in all cases try to avoid unnecessary escalation. With the exception of Korea, where China’s security interests were at stake, all their wars were limited. Faced with the prospect of escalation, the Chinese retreated.
Moreover. Again, with the exception of Korea, the Chinese have always used forces limited in numbers and weapons. Against the USSR, in Damansky, initially, insignificantly, insignificant forces went into battle. And when they were driven back, there was no use of additional military contingents from China. Before that, it was the same with India. In Vietnam, the Chinese were advancing until a sharp increase in the scale of the conflict loomed ahead, and immediately retreated.
For China, there is no problem at all in simply “winding fishing rods” and leaving with their heads held high, the Chinese do not persist and do not wage hopeless wars until they can no longer be waged. Neither the USSR in Afghanistan, nor the United States in Vietnam were able to do so and lost a lot, without gaining anything in the end, for the USSR, Afghanistan became one of the nails in the coffin. The Chinese do not do that.
In addition, nowhere has China used the full range of its weapons. There were no Chinese tanks on Damansky; Chinese aircraft were not used in Vietnam. This also minimizes the risks of escalation.
But in Korea, where it was not political gain that was at stake, but the security of China itself, everything was different - the Chinese fought for a long, hard and huge forces, eventually forcing the enemy (USA) to abandon their offensive plans.
Often, as is often the case with empires, military operations against neighbors are caused not only by foreign policy factors, but also by domestic politics. Thus, some American historians believe that provocations against the USSR were needed most of all to strengthen the sense of internal unity of the Chinese population, and some domestic experts are inclined to believe that the cause of the attack on Vietnam in 1979 was mainly Deng Xiaoping's desire to strengthen his power.
The most important thing in the Chinese wars is that the political results that China achieves by military force, for the most part, do not depend on the outcome of the battles.
This is the fundamental difference between the Chinese approach to war and the European approach.
Soviet troops drove the Chinese from Damansky. But what has this changed? Anyway, China got everything it wanted. Similarly, if the Vietnamese in 1979 retained, for example, Langshon, whose capture was the main victory of the Chinese and the peak of their success, then this would have changed almost nothing. All the political benefits from the war that China received, he would have received without capturing this city by storm. But the USSR and Vietnam would suffer the same political, economic and human losses as in reality.
The Chinese use military force to “educate” governments that they disagree with with dosed attacks of force and exactly until they incline them to the desired line of behavior. An example again is Vietnam, which has not been attacked since 1991. This is very different from the American approach, when unsympathetic countries fall under the pressure of sanctions and constant military pressure forever, and if it comes to war, then the enemy is completely destroyed. Instead of “educational” attacks, the United States and Western countries inflict punitive attacks that cannot persuade the enemy to change their line of behavior, but inflict suffering on him for the steps taken earlier. We saw an example of such a sadistic approach in the form of American missile attacks on Syria.
And it is also very different from the Western approach that the Chinese always leave the enemy the opportunity to get out of the conflict without losing face. Not one of China’s opponents has ever faced a choice between a complete loss of national pride and an end to the war on reasonable terms. Even the defeats of other countries from China were of a non-material nature and did not force them to wage a war with maximum exertion.
The West always seeks the complete destruction of the opponent.
It must be admitted that the Chinese way of waging war is much more humane than the western one. To do this, you can simply compare how many Vietnamese died in battles with China, and how many in battles with the United States. These numbers speak for themselves.
First, China is seeking limited military operations in terms of scale and time.
Secondly, China is giving in to the risk of escalation.
Thirdly, China is trying to leave the enemy a way out of the situation.
Fourth, with the maximum degree of probability, the use of military force by China will be such that the desired political result by the Chinese will not depend on how successfully these troops can operate - China’s political goals will be achieved at the time the hostilities begin, and in the same the moment the opponents of the Chinese lose. As a result of how the troops will manifest themselves on the battlefield, it doesn’t matter anymore, they can simply die, as under Soviet missile attacks in 1969, it will not matter. This is a cardinal difference between the Chinese approach to war and the European one.
Fifth, when China’s security is at stake, all this doesn’t work, and the Chinese are desperately fighting with large forces, and fighting VERY GOOD. At least, the only example of such a war involving the Chinese after the Second World War speaks about this.
Another important feature of the use of military force by China is that it is always used in advance, without waiting for such an increase in conflict in relations with the "opponent", which cannot be resolved without a really big war.
Of course, things change over time. China is one step away from achieving not only numerical, but also technological superiority in the military sphere over all countries in the world except the United States.
China's Sun is changing rapidly
The growth of China’s military power is accompanied by ongoing attempts to instill initiative and independence in Chinese commanders of all levels, usually not characteristic of the Chinese. Judging by some indirect signs, the Chinese have succeeded in this way, too. The growth of China’s military capabilities in the future may partly change this country's approach to the use of force, but it is unlikely that the old methods will be completely abandoned, because they are based on Chinese traditions that were established before Sun Tzu and the mentality, which changes very slowly.
So, we have some opportunities to predict Chinese actions in the future. Most likely, Chinese wars in this century will have much in common with their past wars.