In This Review

Active Defense: China’s Military Strategy Since 1949
Active Defense: China’s Military Strategy Since 1949
By M. Taylor Fravel
Princeton University Press, 2019, 396 pp

This is the first book to provide a comprehensive history of China’s military doctrine as it has evolved since the founding of the People’s Republic. Fravel shows that this doctrine has changed a remarkable nine times—a reflection of how difficult China’s military situation was when, as a developing country, it sought to defend a large and exposed territory from fearsome rivals, including India, Japan, the Soviet Union, and the United States. Fravel highlights the most consequential changes of strategy and explains how they came about in response to shifts in other countries’ fighting capabilities, and at moments when China’s turbulent domestic politics were calm enough to let military leaders rethink the country’s defense challenges. The most recent strategic guidelines, however, reflect a new situation: rising Chinese power. Issued in 2014, they call for “winning local informatized wars”—in other words, being prepared to beat the United States in a high-tech military conflict in the South China Sea or over Taiwan.