Women in the Chinese Military

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This dissertation provides a sociological analysis of patterns of women's military participation in ancient China (5000 years ago-1840), during the post-Opium War period (1840-1949), and in modern times. It addresses three sociological issues: 1) under what conditions have Chinese women taken part in military operations? 2) Do Chinese women participate in direct combat? 3) Does the military institution facilitate women's social mobility to education, jobs and higher social status? The following questions are also addressed: does Chinese women's military participation go through cycles of expansion and contraction? What are the People's Liberation Army (PLA) women's evaluations of their military lives? The study scrutinized 717 Chinese military women from the secondary sources and 230 PLA women through a survey conducted in Beijing in 1992. Women participate in Chinese conventional and unconventional warfare across time. From the first female general, Fu Hao, who lived about 3200 years ago, to the 12 women generals who serve in the PLA today, women's frequent presence has been observed in both regular and irregular military formations. Chinese women participated in direct combat--50% in this study with a 12% combat casualty. Female guerri11a fighters suffered the heaviest, but no casualty of women has been recorded since 1949. Sixteen percent of these women commanded battles. Seventeen percent ranked major and above, 3.5% of them became national leaders. Most women warriors are of the Han nationality. Nearly half of the ancient and the PLA women were from official and officers' families. Cultural and ideological support for women's military participation has also been frequent. Military service is one of the social mobility channels which allow women to achieve or hope for social recognition or higher status. The scope of women's military participation goes in cycles of expansion and contraction, particularly affected by group security situation and shortage of manpower. Women's representation in regular military formations has been increased. Modem military women in mainland China and Taiwan are career makers. Most PLA women did not expect combat participation nor becoming a woman general.