Get to know Benjamin Lai, author of Casemate’s just published DRAGON’S TEETH: The Chinese People’s Liberation Army—Its History, Traditions, and Air Sea and Land Capability in the 21st Century
Where were you born? Where did you grow up?
I was born in Hong Kong and I grew up in Hong Kong until when I was twelve father move the family to England. So I am a mix of two cultures.
Could you tell us a bit about any history of military service in your family? In what ways was the military part of your life from an early age?
I am the only one in my family to serve in any capacity in the military. When the pacific war started in 1941 my dad was too young to serve but he experienced the battle of Hong Kong 1941 and subsequent occupation by the Japanese. My mum was a Shanghainese. She was a child when the war started in 1937 and experienced occupation by the Japanese from 1937-1945.
I started my “career” in uniform when I was schooling in England with the Combined Cadet Force, something akin to the US’s JROTC. Later whilst attending University in England, I joined the UOTC (Universities Officers Training Corps.), the British version of the ROTC and later gained a commission after passing out from RMA Sandhurst (Royal Military Academy Sandhurst) in the British Army as a reservist officer.
Why did you decide to write this book? What prompted you to put this story down on paper?
As China plays an increasing important role on world affairs, one can see more and more the international discourses on China and in the western press; one rarely hears anything from China at least written in the English language. I felt that there is a gap – an information gap on this front and especially on the Chinese military.
How much research did you do for the book? Can you give us some tips on this?
This is my first book for Casemate and its focus on the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA). I live in Shanghai now and what I did was to present the lesser known facts and stories of the PLA to the Western reader – something outside of the rhetoric of information commonly available. All sources come from open means – from the Chinese media, military publications.
China is in fact a relatively militarized society – magazines, books and news stories. There is even a State TV channel dedicated to the Chinese military and most regional private TV companies runs a weekly or bi-weekly programme on military matters. Sometimes these appear as panel discussion, experts’ opinion, debates or just the latest news and happening around the world. Most news media outlet will run a webpage or column on military matters alongside commonly seen column such as International, home news, sports. It is from these sources that much of my information for my book on the PLA comes from.
What do you like most about your book? Why should we read it?
The book is I believe the only book written in English that outline the Chinese Military, its history, its tradition and point of views as portraits in the Chinese media. I avoided making the book like an academic thesis – lots of information but making reading very difficult and unfriendly. It is written from the Chinese point of view, using Chinese information source – whilst many western reader may not agree with the interpretation, it is never the less a different point of view which should be hear as part of the overall discourse on China
is available at www.casematepublishers.com and everywhere fine books are sold
When Mao Zedong proclaimed The People’s Republic of China in 1949, China was a poor and wrecked society after years of continuous wars. For centuries, in fact, China had been seen as a sort of plunder-zone to be invaded, and then a backwater until the late 1980s, when domestic policy brought about monumental changes. The result was that in the past quarter-century China has grown to be the second largest economy in the world, and its military has grown proportionately.
Successive decades of economic growth have transformed China—in addition to the weapons revolution during the computer age—so that by now the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has become a modern fighting force. No longer having to rely on massed infantry attacks, it now features a formidable arsenal including nuclear submarines, ICBMs, stealth fighters, and modern battle tanks. Perhaps ominously for other maritime powers, the Chinese have also focused on beyond-the-horizon missile technology, as well as anti-aircraft systems, and have also explored the possibilities of cyber-warfare.
What is today’s PLA really like? What are its traditions and histories, and how is it armed and equipped? How does it recruit and train? This book describes some of the lesser known battles and wars the Chinese have undertaken, and the development of their key weapons systems. The United States, having opened the door to “drone warfare,” have had an attentive audience for such technologies in Beijing.
The last chapter provides thoughts on how the Chinese view matters of security. It is not yet known whether foreign powers can still enforce their territorial wills on China, but future attempts will meet an increased challenge. This book will be of interest not only to general readers but to policy-makers and militaries in the West, who may not yet realize that a new China has replaced the old.