The Limitations of Military-Civil Mobilization: Problems with Funding and Clashing Interests in Industry-Based PLA Reserve Units

Publication: China Brief Volume: 19 Issue: 18

Image: Members of the militia unit housed within the Jingke Company (精科公司) pose for a group photograph during unit training activities held in September 2012 in the city of Anqing (Anhui Province). (Source: Qianshan City Government)


One of the foundational concepts in Mao Zedong’s thought is that mobilization and “People’s War” (人民战争, renmin zhanzheng) depend on the masses and militia. [1]  This concept is the basis for the way that the leaders of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) continue to think about mobilization and the role of militia forces today. [2]  Chinese Communist Party (CCP) General Secretary Xi Jinping (习近平) has attempted to bring “People’s War” into the 21st century with his official theories on “military-civil fusion” (军民融合, jun-min ronghe) (MCF). [3] This concept embraces collective efforts by the militia, reserves, state-owned enterprises (SOEs), government organizations, and private enterprises—in other words, by virtually all economic and military institutions, as well as those engaged in the fields of science and technology. [4]

Xi’s approach is consistent with his experience as a CCP cadre during his time serving in the municipal CCP committee of Fujian, as vice mayor of Xiamen, and as CCP Secretary in Ningde Prefecture. Xi was first secretary of the Fuzhou Military Sub-District; and when Governor of Fujian Province, he concurrently served as deputy director of the Fujian Provincial National Defense Mobilization Committee and as Political Commissar of the PLA’s Fujian Anti-Aircraft Artillery Reserve Division (, undated). However, all does not seem to be going according to Xi’s plans, and some publications have indicated problems involving MCF and the defense mobilization system in multiple provinces throughout China. [5] As will be discussed below, the performance of militia units seems to be particularly lacking, and enterprises have shown reluctance to fully participate in the mobilization system.

This article discusses China’s means for organizing and using militia and reserves in the overall national defense mobilization system, as well as the related laws and regulations that pertain to the mobilization of reserve and militia personnel. In particular, it analyzes problems in training and mobilizing reserve and militia units housed within both private and state enterprises. The first sections of this article will outline mobilization laws and policies; the article will then examine a 2019 investigation of the militia system by China National Defense News, and the potential consequences of the shortcomings revealed by this reporting. In its conclusion, the article argues that these problems in the enterprise militia system will be difficult to correct.

The Legal Basis for Mobilization and the Militia System

Although the PRC State Council National Defense Mobilization Commission was established in 1994, there was considerable debate for a number of years regarding the enactment of a National Defense Mobilization Law. Other laws and regulations cover such topics as civil defense, people’s air defense, transportation and communications mobilization, PLA reserve forces, and the militia. [6] Lonnie Henley, a veteran PLA watcher, points out that between 1995 and 2000 at least 169 new laws and regulations governing the military were put into effect, many of which govern mobilization (RAND/CAN, February 2005).

The 1997 National Defense Law requires the state to “make preparations for war in peacetime and to mobilize the entire nation when China is under threat” (National People’s Congress, March 14, 1997). Article 48 of the law requires local governments above the county level to compensate enterprises for economic losses related to the requisition of individuals or materiel, and does not distinguish between private enterprises and SOEs. [7] This provision clearly can lead to disagreements between the national government and localities or local enterprises on the value of economic losses if there are claims for compensation. Although regulations on mobilizing transportation resources were enacted in 2004, the National Defense Mobilization Law was not revised until 2010. [8] The revised law still provides for compensation when civil resources and personnel are requisitioned. It appears that the extended debate occurred due to resistance from provincial and local government administrations, as well as enterprise officials.

Early Complaints and Problems with the Mobilization System

In 2002, a long-term, 15-year plan for mobilization was promulgated. [9] However, by the end of the plan’s term in 2017, it appeared that there were still problems with national and local government coordination; concerns in enterprises over revenue losses; and difficulties arising from the need for industries to operate in the civilian market while also making contributions to national defense. [10] Enterprises apparently objected to requirements to maintain and store supplies or equipment for mobilization. Private enterprises and SOEs also faced other problems: When personnel are mobilized, how can managers or owners keep a business running with trained staff? Who compensates enterprises if replacements are hired temporarily? And what entity pays salaries and benefits to mobilized personnel?  

If it is an extended mobilization, or if entire product lines must be changed, a business may suffer financially or lose customers. Supply chains could shift, supplies could be diverted for military use, and even delivery vehicles could be taken for use in the mobilization. How does compensation work in such cases? Compensation for the “requisition of civilian resources” seems simple in principle, but contentious in practice. How long would it take to be compensated by the state or a higher body? If an enterprise suffers financial losses, how is that compensated?  If an enterprise experiences a shortage of operating funds, does the state or a state-owned bank provide bridging loans? 

Funding mobilization remains a thorny issue, and the problem of compensation for private parties whose goods have been requisitioned is part of the discussion. [11] Local governments wrestle with how to compensate owners of requisitioned vehicles, ships, personnel and supplies. Apparently, it is not uncommon for owners to avoid or refuse requisition orders. [12]

Problems regarding funding also exist between the national and local governments. A writer from the PLA Academy of Military Economics notes that during “sudden incidents,” local governments rely on money and materials from the central government. However, before requesting funding from the central government, local government civil affairs and financial departments must meet and agree on a proposal.  This delays the arrival of aid, hampering response to incidents. Government agencies in charge of relief operations typically lack logistical support organizations, and have to scramble to find people and supplies when a crisis strikes. [13]

Some criticisms of the system, and recommendations for improvement, have come from military writers. For example, one group of PLA writers from the Hunan Military District has recommended modeling mobilization after the people’s air defense system, which is a centrally managed system with a national-level organization exercising direct control over the subordinate organizations. [14] As will be seen immediately below, one of the most thorough examinations of problems in the militia mobilization system was presented earlier this year by reporters from China National Defense News.

The China National Defense News Investigation

In 2019, Meng Fanli (孟凡利), Wang Yu (王宇), and Chen Shidong (陈世东) visited militia units in military sub-districts in four provinces and a provincial level city to review how militia units assemble, train, and conduct joint operations. Some of the units were technical in nature, conducting operations with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or handling missile maintenance. Other units were training for disaster operations. In general, however, it appears that in “shaping new-quality combat power, there is still a long way to go.” [15]

Evidently, problems noted in 2007 by earlier authors still impact the militia system today. [16] The three reporters found complaints from militia members that compensation was too low and that no allowances were provided for transportation to militia duties.  Militia members complained that if they were injured or contracted an illness on militia duty, there was no health insurance or assistance from the locality or enterprise during recovery.

In one county in Hunan they learned that, although a specialized militia unit from a private enterprise had been tasked to provide 6 vehicles and 20 militia members, only 2 vehicles and 8 militia members showed up at the assigned place and time for training. In this instance, because enterprise owners complained they could not spare the people or equipment, the remedy was to recruit more militia members in multiple batches from other enterprises.

In a UAV-dedicated militia unit in Liaoning, the UAV team members were “indifferent and failed to perform on time, militiamen bargained over elements of assigned tasks, and there was no CCP organization in the militia unit”—and thus, no sense of national spirit or discipline. Meanwhile, in maritime support teams, militia members were untrained and did not know how to use their equipment. As a remedy, the People’s Armed Forces Department (PAFD) ensured that at all levels of organization there was an appropriate level Party political officer and Party Branch. Further, militia Party Branch chiefs were told to coordinate with the Party branches chiefs embedded in private enterprises and SOEs.

In Tianjin, the three China National Defense News investigators found that there was no standardization for the civilian equipment carried or used by militia members to perform assigned tasks. In this case, the PAFD set up contractual agreements with private enterprises to ensure that standard, good quality equipment was issued to militia members; and that enterprise owners were compensated if equipment was lost or damaged. [17]


Militia and reserve units in today’s PLA remain dedicated to providing support to active duty forces in order to ”win people’s war under informatized conditions” (打赢信息化条件下人民战争, daying xinxihua tiaojian xia renmin zhanzheng). [18] However, much of the support now required is far more complex than in the past, involving skills such as network services, computer defense, missile repair, and aircraft maintenance. And all is not well under heaven: it appears that enterprises have been assigned the worst equipment (or insufficient equipment) for militia use, and also have not been providing enough qualified personnel to carry out mobilization tasks.

Militia mobilization today requires more than pulling farmers out of the fields or using drivers from SOEs. The future will bring more tension between local governments, provinces, enterprises and the national government; and it is unlikely that an increasing Party presence in militia units and enterprises will resolve the issues. The Party and the PLA will face some dilemmas: to adequately train modern militia and reserve units for combat or disasters when mobilized, there must be regular, standardized training. Enterprise owners and managers, however, will worry about how to replace mobilized personnel, maintain production lines, and obtain compensation for materiel and manpower. 

These tensions will be played out in National People’s Congress meetings and CCP Central Committee meetings, where senior Party officials from provinces, counties and enterprises will complain about lost time, wages, and materiel. For the Central Military Commission, the dilemma will be whether to focus on ensuring that militia and reserve units are immediately available for service, with the right equipment, when mobilized; or, whether after mobilization poorly trained, manned and equipped forces will be put into situations that require weeks to months more training. In wartime that translates into being unprepared for the battlefield, and in disaster relief it means being unprepared to provide necessary assistance. The PRC still has a long way to go before achieving its goal of achieving effective “military-civil fusion” in the militia sector.

Larry Wortzel is a veteran Asia scholar, who served two tours of duty as a military attaché in the American Embassy in China—including during the Tiananmen Massacre of 1989. Since retirement from the U.S. Army, Dr. Wortzel has served as director of the Asian Studies Center at The Heritage Foundation, and as a longstanding member of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission. He is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the International Institute of Strategic Studies.


[1] See Li Jijun (李际均), Military Theory and War Practice ( Junshi Lilun Yu Zhanzheng Shijian 军事理论与战争实践) (Beijing: Military Science Publishing House, 1994), 40–64, 100–122; Paul H.B. Godwin, “China’s Defense Establishment: The Hard Lessons of Incomplete Modernization,” in Laurie Burkitt, Andrew Scobell and Larry M. Wortzel, eds., The Lessons of History: The People’s Liberation Army at 75 (Carlisle, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, 2003), 15–57; also see Mao Zedong, “On Protracted War,” May 1938, in Selected Works of Mao Tse-Tung, Volume II (Beijing: People’s Publishing House, 1965), 113–194.

[2] Zhao Xueqing (赵学清) and Cui Zhanli (崔战利), eds., Overview of National Economic Mobilization (Guomin Jingji Dongyuan Gailun 国民经济动员概论) (Beijing: PLA Publishing House, 2000), 61, 77.

[3] Xi Jinping (习近平), “Focusing on implementing the military-civilian integration development strategy, promoting major military reform tasks across the military, and promoting economic development and national defense integration (Zhuoyan yu Guanche Junmin Ronghe Fazhan Zhanlue, Tuijin Kua di Zhongda Gaige Renwu, Tuidong Jingji Jianshe he Guofang Ronghe Fazhan 着眼于贯彻军民融合发展战略,推进跨军地重大改革任务, 推动经济建设和国防融合发展0,” in Extract of Important Expositions on Deepening National Defense and Army Reform (Guanyu Shenhua Guofang he Jundui Gaige Zhongyao Lilun Zhaibian 关于深化国防和军队改革重要论述摘编) (Beijing, PLA Publishing House, 2016), 84–97.

[4] Xi Jingping (习近平), “Speech at the Expanded Meeting of the Central Military Commission, November 16, 2012 (Zai Zhongyang Junwei Kuoda Huiyi de Jianghua 在中央军委扩大会议上的讲话),” Selected Works on National Defense and Army Building (Guanyu Guofang he Jundui Jianshe Zhongyao Lilun Xuanbian 关于国防和军队建设重要论述选编) (Beijing, PLA Publishing House, 2014), 8–18.

[5] See: Ling Xi (凌希), “Development in Military-Civil Integration in National Defense Mobilization (Guofang Dongyuan Junmin Ronghe Fazhan 国防动员军民融合发展),” China Military Science (Zhongguo Guofang Kexue 中国军事科学), Iss. 161, no 5, (October 2018): 104–111; Sun Zhaobin (孙兆斌) and Jin Lin (金琳), “Modes of Military-Civil Integration with Chinese Characteristics and Their Game Features (Zhongguo Tese de Junmin ronghe Moshi Ji Qi Boqi Texing 中国特色的军民融合模式及其博弈特性),” China Military Science (Zhongguo Guofang Kexue 中国军事科学), Iss. 162, no 6, (December 2018): 115–122; Meng Fanli (孟凡利), Wang Yu (王宇), and Chen Shidong (陈世东), “Break new Ground in Getting Stronger, Take Firmer Strides in Builidng Elite Forces—Surveys and Thoughts on Militia Building in the New Domains (Kai Xin Tuqiang Lie Zou Xiang Jingrui de Bufa Kengqiang—Dui Xinxing Lingyu Junmin de Diaocha yu Sikao 开新图强烈走向精锐的步伐铿锵对新兴领域民兵建设的调查与思考),” China National Defense Report (Zhongguo Guodang Bao 中国国防报), June 18, 2019, 3.

[6] See: The Civil Air Defense Law of the People’s Republic of China, accessible at; and the draft version of the National Defense Transportation and Communication Law, accessible at A summary of the laws and regulations is on the web site of the State Commission for National Defense Mobilization,

[7] Xu Kui (徐奎) and Cao Yanzhong (曹延中), “The Evolutionary History of the National Defense Mobilization System in New China (Xin Zhongguo Guofang Dongyuan Tizhi De Lishi Yanbian 新中国国防动员体制的历史演变),” Military History (Junshi Lishi 军事历史), No. 2 (2007),19.

[8] See: Regulations on National Defense Mobilization of Civil Transport resources (Revised), State Council and Central Military Commission Order 391, National Defense Mobilization Law of the People’s Republic of China [Effective July 1, 2010], Order of the President of the People’s Republic of China No. 25

[9] Xu Kui (徐奎) and Cao Yanzhong (曹延中), “The Evolutionary History of the National Defense Mobilization System in New China  (Xin Zhongguo Guofang Dongyuan Tizhi De Lishi Yanbian 新中国国防动员体制的历史演变),” Military History (Junshi Lishi 军事历史), No. 2 (2007): 19; and Cao Gangchuan () Stressed: The Building of National Defense Mobilization to a New Level (Cao Gangchuan Qiangdiao: Ba Guofang Dongyuan Ge Xiang Jianshe Tigao Dao Xin Shuiping 曹刚川强调: 把国防动员各项建设提高到新水平),”, August 7, 2003,

[10] Chen Guoquan (陈国全) “Integration of military and civilian , releasing new kinetic energy,” (Junmin Ronghe. Jiefang Qiangguo Qiangjun Xin Dongneng 军民融合,释放强:强军新动能), PLA Daily (Jiefangjun Bao  解放军报), September 26, 2017; Yu Chuanxin (于川信), “Large-scale layout of military-civilian Integration of national strategy  (Guojia Zhanlue de Junmin Ronghe Da Bu Ju 国家战略的军民融合 大布局),” PLA Daily (Jiefangjun Bao  解放军报), August 01, 2017, 24; Chen Zhuo (陈卓), “The Integration of the military and the people is also heavy and deep (Junmin Ronghe Zhongkuan yu Zhongshen 军民融合 宽亦重),” PLA Daily (Jiefangjun Bao  解放军报), December 22, 2017, 10.

[11] Li Ziyao, Kong Zhaojun 李紫瑶, 孔昭君, “Building of an Emergency Supply Chain Under National Economic Mobilization Conditions (Guomin Jingji Dongyuan Zhuangtai Xia De Weitai Gongying Lian Goujian 国民经济动员状态下的危态供应链构建),” Soft Science (Ruan Kexue 软科学), No. 8 (2012): 27.

[12] Peng, Li and Li, “Views on Raising the Level of National Economic Mobilization at the County Level,” 30.

[13] Liu Kaifeng (刘凯峰), “A Discussion of the Emergency Response Function in National Economic Mobilization (Tan Guomin Jingji Dongyuan De Yingji Gongneng 谈国民经济动员的应急功能)” Military Economic Research (Junshi Jingji Yanjiu 军事经济研究), No. 8 (2008): 31.

[14] Peng Qunwen (彭群文), Li Hongquan (李宏泉), and Li Lesi (李乐思), “Views on Raising the Level of National Economic Mobilization at the County Level (Tisheng Xianji Guomin Jingji Dongyuan Shuiping Zhi Wojian 提升县级国民经济动员水平之我见),” Junshi Jingji Yanjiu 军事经济研究 [Views on Raising the Level of National Economic Mobilization at the County Level, Views on Raising the Level of National Economic Mobilization at the County Level, Military Economic Research (Junshi Jingji Yanjiu军事经济研究) No. 7 (2009): 29.

[15] Meng Fanli (孟凡利), Wang Yu (王宇), and Chen Shidong (陈世东), “Break new Ground in Getting Stronger, Take Firmer Strides in Builidng Elite Forces—Surveys and Thoughts on Militia Building in the New Domains (Kai Xin Tuqiang Lie Zou Xiang Jingrui de Bufa Kengqiang—Dui Xinxing Lingyu Junmin de Diaocha yu Sikao 开新图强烈走向精锐的步伐铿锵对新兴领域民兵建设的调查与思考),” China National Defense News (Zhongguo Guofang Bao 中国国防报), June 18, 2019, 3.

[16] See Note 7.

[17] Meng Fanli (孟凡利), Wang Yu (王宇), and Chen Shidong (陈世东), “Break new Ground in Getting Stronger, Take Firmer Strides in Builidng Elite Forces—Surveys and Thoughts on Militia Building in the New Domains (Kai Xin Tuqiang Lie Zou Xiang Jingrui de Bufa Kengqiang—Dui Xinxing Lingyu Junmin de Diaocha yu Sikao 开新图强烈走向精锐的步伐铿锵对新兴领域民兵建设的调查与思考),” China National Defense News (Zhongguo Guofang Bao 中国国防报), June 18, 2019, 3.

[18] Ibid.