In The Shadow: Chinese Special Forces Build a 21st Century Fighting Force by Scott J. Henderson

In its effort to build a modern 21st Century fighting force, China has had its own revolution in military affairs that has touched almost every aspect of the armed forces. Chinese special-operations forces have been no exception.

Major transformations in China’s elite special forces began taking place in the late 1980s and early 1990s.  The People’s Liberation Army, or PLA, has concentrated on selecting the highest quality individuals within the military, providing them with the most advanced equipment available, and training them in a wide range of military disciplines. The PLA has placed a high degree of emphasis on the physical and mental abilities of the candidates: The training can be grueling, and those who are found to be unsuited are cut from the program immediately. The dropout rate during initial training is said to average between 50 and 90 percent.

Within the military forces of the People’s Republic of China, or PRC, there are many units that could be classified as “special forces.” They include rapid-reaction forces, airborne divisions, amphibious landing units and marines. While these organizations certainly fit the category of special forces, for the purposes of this article, they will be considered to be large special-mission units and therefore not included. Instead, the focus here will be on smaller, more elite units tasked with unconventional or asymmetrical warfare.