A Comparison of Recruitment and Training Problems in the U.S. Army and China's People's Liberation Army

A Comparison of Recruitment and Training Problems in the U.S. Army and China's People's Liberation Army

USA and PLA recruits
August 12, 2021

In Brief

  • The U.S. Army and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA), although operating in disparate cultural and political norms, are facing similar recruitment and retention problems as they look to engage Generation Z (Gen Z) youth.
  • More reliant on and native to technology than any previous generation, even in rural areas, Gen Zers possess vast swaths of information and higher levels of education, but they are comparatively stressed and depressed.1 They also have higher rates of obesity and overall health problems.
  • The PLA is working to compensate for demographic and generational issues through the use of artificial intelligence and technology, despite its rural population often not having access to these techniques. Can the U.S. Army learn from this?
  • U.S. allies and partners in the Asia-Pacific region, such as Japan, Taiwan, Singapore and South Korea, are facing similar problems. What can the U.S. military do in terms of designing and implementing programs to meet and overcome these challenges?



In the United States, military leaders and trainers have catalogued the adjustments that have to be made to accommodate or appeal to Gen Z. Even in the U.S. Marine Corps, which emphasizes tradition and history in its initial recruit training, Gen Z Marines tend to reject the personal ties between themselves and their Corps and the sense of esprit de corps that the Marine Corps works to develop.2 In the Army’s 18th Airborne Corps, leaders are exploring material rewards for soldiers to “mobilize the potential of soldiers.”3 The old three-day pass was once used for that, while soldiers were motivated by mottos like the 9th Infantry’s “Keep up the Fire,” the 82nd Airborne’s “All the Way!” and the 101st Airborne’s “Rendezvous with Destiny.” Gen Z seems to be attracted more to material outcomes. 

A book on China’s People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA’s) aspirations for the conduct of future warfare, Long Distance Operations, argues that there is a strong sense of patriotism and nationalism in the generation born after the 1980’s in China.4 The author attributes this to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) program of education on defense and national security in schools throughout the country. For the generation born in the 1990s, that CCP program continued at all grade levels in schools. And that generation never experienced the political upheavals of the Tiananmen Massacre, an event erased from the teaching of China’s history by the CCP, while any mention of Tiananmen and 4 June 1989 is suppressed on the internet in China. 

This deep sense of nationalism and a patriotic resentment of perceived foreign interference has been reinforced by the ideological efforts of the party under Xi Jinping (习近平). During his tenure as CCP general secretary and chairman of the Central Military Commission, Xi Jinping has emphasized the “Century of Humiliation” that China suffered at the hands of Western nations.5 This refers to the period between 1842 and the Opium War and the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, when Western powers and Japan invaded China and divided parts of the country into extraterritorial zones.

In a speech to the PLA National Defense University of Science and Technology, chosen by the PLA as one of his most important speeches, Xi Jinping pointed out that the future of the PLA depends on recruiting and maintaining high-quality, educated personnel conversant in modern technology and its application in military affairs.6 Xi also emphasized that there are too many instances of problems in getting young, new college graduates through their initial military training, noting that young people are often not able to adjust to the conditions of military life. Xi used the colloquial Chinese term for being out of sorts or uncomfortable in an environment that one would use for a person who had bad jet lag or was thrust into unfamiliar and uncomfortable surroundings (水土不服). In that October 2013 speech, Xi summarized the problems that the PLA faced in finding senior leaders who understood and embraced applying high technology to warfare and exposed the difficulties faced with Gen Z recruits and young officers. 

Andrew Scobell and Frank Miller point out that Chinese leaders often manipulate crises or even manufacture them to stir up nationalist sentiment and exploit “deep emotional groundswells of nationalism” to strengthen a rationale for CCP rule.7 The effect of this CCP propaganda education has been to produce a Gen Z that is often hypernationalistic, even if it has many of the same traits as Gen Z in the United States. 

China’s defense problems also are compounded by a low birth rate, making it harder to maintain a large standing army.8 China’s military leaders have tried to compensate for that by turning to automation, artificial intelligence and smart, high-technology weapons. However, that objective is frustrated by the fact that the level of education in rural areas of the country is lower than in urban areas.9 Another complication is that, although educated Gen Z youth in the city have the skills that the PLA needs, they would rather make money and enjoy themselves than join the military. Youth in the countryside may find the military more attractive than working in agriculture or in a factory far away from home, but they lack the tech savvy. 

The U.S. Army finds itself in a similar position, finding it hard to attract upwardly-mobile, self-absorbed Gen Z recruits. Meanwhile, the birth rate in the United States has fallen to the lowest level in 35 years.10 Attitudes among Americans are changing; there is less stigma about not having children than in previous generations, and people are working harder and longer to make ends meet. All of this drives business and the military to find ways to automate and harness technology to make up for the lack of manpower. 

The result of these demographic and technological influences is that the militaries in both countries are seeking to use artificial intelligence, swarming unmanned weapons and a variety of technology-driven automated systems to make soldiers and their equipment more effective and to reduce the need to maintain a large military force. It is not only the United States that faces these problems. The same challenges face the U.S. Army’s partners and allies in Asia in places like Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand and most of the Southeast Asian nations.

Characterizing Gen Z in the United States and China

The stereotypical characterization of Gen Z youth, also called “NetGens” or the “iGen,” is that they are “increasingly self-absorbed since the advent of the Internet,” have grown up in a world dominated by the cell phone and are individualistic and irreligious.11 Although stereotypes can be misleading when dealing with individuals, some of these traits are evident in the young people entering the military. Military organizations have to deal with a “more fluid conception of career and authority identified in younger people” rather than a generation that is used to hierarchical authority—a generation that may be “intellectually prepared for danger and uncertainty, and is full of determination and self-confidence” but still can be “uniquely fragile.”12

In the United States, Gen Z learns differently from previous generations. Libraries are no longer the primary source of information; students can ask a cell phone or automated device for answers to questions. Online videos show how to complete projects, and Gen Z seems to prefer a more collaborative learning process, meaning teachers have to adapt teaching methods and styles.13 That is not exactly a learning style that fits into traditional basic training in the Army or U.S. military, where things may be done “by the numbers” and tasks are repeated and expected to be done in specific ways.14

For the PLA, youth in China also learn differently and adjust to training differently from earlier generations.15 Complicating the matter of training style, PLA regiments or brigades receive new recruits and train them every three or four years at the same time. Thus, at different places around China, at the same time, a PLA cadre (noncommissioned officers—NCOs—and officers who are usually CCP members) trains its new soldiers. There is no drill sergeant academy in the PLA. 

The U.S. Army has five basic combat training (BCT) centers and has a standardized program across the Army to train drill sergeants to ensure that methods of instruction and standards are the same at all the BCT centers. The PLA does not handle its conscripts or recruits the same way. It may even take some new soldiers right out of their educational institutions and make them specialized technical NCOs. In a PLA army (the ground forces) division, one regiment or brigade will be fully trained and fully operational in any given year; one regiment or brigade will be in the later stages of training; one in the process of more advanced unit training; and an entire regiment or brigade will be undergoing basic training and advanced skills training at the same time.16 That creates a unique set of problems for the PLA, making it more difficult to maintain training standards and methods.

In the PLA, although there are some “academies” devoted to different fields such as artillery or communications-electronics, there is no such thing as a “Center of Excellence” as there is in the U.S. Army. And, the PLA is having its own troubles getting new recruits and officers to adapt to military life. PLA psychologists and doctors are studying the use of Buddhist-like mindfulness training during initial military training, trying to find ways to relax recruits, often using U.S. Army studies as a model. For older generations, such as baby boomers, the only mindfulness training received in boot camp or basic combat training was the front-leaning rest, pushups, squat-thrusts and double-timing a few miles in formation. 

Some of the differences in Gen Z also mean it has different values from earlier generations. In the U.S. Army, that translates to different ways of training and motivating new soldiers.17 Indeed, there are ironic similarities in the ways that the U.S. Army and the PLA seek to develop certain traits in Gen Z soldiers, despite each military seeing the other as a potential enemy. CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping has made it clear that the United States is the greatest potential threat to the achievement of China’s military objectives; for the U.S. military, China is the “pacing threat.”18 Still, the PLA tends to draw directly on U.S. Army training techniques, programs and psychological studies of Gen Z to try to instill traits such as mental toughness, valor and loyalty in its Gen Z soldiers and officers. As an article in the party and army newspaper PLA Daily (解放军报) points out, China’s military leaders are working to keep the “essence of Chinese culture and CCP culture in training, while adopting what they can from the U.S.”19

One good example of this is a study by researchers at the PLA National Defense University of Science and Technology. It draws heavily on U.S. Army studies in seeking to develop attitudes of valor (勇敢), determination (坚定) and mental toughness or tenacity (顽强) in new soldiers and officers.20 The PLA journal—in the manner of Charles Portis’s 1968 novel that was adapted as the John Wayne movie, True Grit—calls these three qualities “grit.” Concurrently, the study also sought to make new recruits and officers admire and emulate these qualities and select emergent leaders that showed these qualities. Nine of 14 citations for this article draw from studies used in U.S. Army training programs. This is an example of how the PLA sees the U.S. military as the “gold standard” for a modern army while, at the same time, seeing it as a major potential threat.

There are strong similarities between the way that Gen Z recruits in China respond to training and military service and the ways that their generational cohorts in other Asian countries handle the same challenges in their entry into military service.21 Studying these similarities, and comparing the knowledge to how the U.S. Army has approached Gen Z recruits and succeeded in training and acculturating them, can be applied to U.S. Army Pacific engagement and training programs with allies and partners in Asia. 

However, there are also some traits unique to China that make military service unpopular and create recruiting, morale and other problems that should be kept in mind by U.S. planners and strategists.22 Gen Z consumers in China purchase huge amounts of luxury goods, which makes service in the PLA less attractive because of lower salaries. China’s Gen Z population has a “massive consumption capability” and a tendency toward “impulsive shopping.” That makes the PLA far less popular; off-duty time of new recruits and officers is tightly restricted and structured, and the training often takes place in remote areas without access to luxury goods or the electronic devices that the generation depends on. Gen Z youth also expect that their needs will be personalized for them. Personalized treatment and catering to personal needs are not elements of initial PLA training.

Cross-Cultural Differences and Similarities

A cross-cultural study from a Shanghai-based Chinese investment bank and brokerage firm, Orient Securities (东方证券), provides useful cross-cultural profiles of Gen Z in the United States, Japan and China.23 One can apply the results of this study to the challenges of recruiting soldiers and officers from Gen Z into the PLA, developing leaders among them and teaching and training them. The Orient Securities study reinforces how traditional methods may have to be modified in the U.S. Army and the PLA.

In the United States (and Japan), the dividends of high economic development influence what Gen Z seeks in material needs and create a higher level of pursuit of a social identity and self-realization. This creates what Orient Securities calls a confusion about material goods and independence (物质-迷茫-独立). In China, however, Gen Z differs somewhat from its counterparts in more developed economies and societies in terms of economic preferences, material needs and decisions, consumption philosophy, patriotism and education. Across cultures, according to Orient Securities, as Gen Z becomes the mainstream society, “consumables (卖萌)” have “become the embodiment of the aesthetic forms and values of Generation Z.” Gen Z wants specialized forms of marketing that are considered “cute” or attractive. Gen Z youth tend to “chase the stars,” creating what Orient Securities calls a “brain hole (脑洞)” or a new way of thinking, values and desires for entertainment. Their consumption is driven by physical manifestations of self-image and the internet.

In learning, material consumption and group orientation, Gen Z seeks “interest-oriented social scenes, decentralized video entertainment and User Generated Content (UGC).” Through a process that Orient Securities calls “planting grass (种草化),” Gen Z maintains a group affiliation, while at the same time pursuing individuality. In marketing (which for the purposes of this study can translate into military values and a military work ethic), new ways of providing UGC for learning and training have to be adopted, meaning Gen Z recruits must be internet savvy and be able to create their own unique learning styles. Moreover, according to Orient Securities, members of Gen Z tend to make choices based on the choices of opinion leaders in their chosen group affiliation.

In China, Gen Z is in the process of changing from a subsistence culture to being well off. In general, members of Gen Z have few worries about food and clothing; thus, they pay more attention to their own desires and mental or spiritual life. They also seek enjoyment in a content-rich, networked world. China’s Gen Z also follows trends in consumption. Members tend to spend more on luxury goods than earlier generations. Their education is test-oriented, focusing on outcome-based learning. Finally, they tend to be patriotic and proud of China and its achievements, even if they may seek to avoid or have trouble adjusting to the discipline and isolation of military service.

There is a tendency in Gen Z in Asia to adopt the characteristics of idealized models, creating an “idol culture.” In China, rural or urban life usually is related to economic status and translates to different levels of development and material goods. The development status and the material basis are usually the decisive factors that affect the personality of the cohort of Gen Z that the PLA must recruit or conscript. 

Gen Z, Fitness and Health

The manpower pool in the United States is shrinking for the U.S. Army.24 Americans from the southern states, on which the Army has traditionally been able to depend for recruits, are increasingly too obese or in such poor physical condition that they cannot serve.25 Additionally, in 2020, the U.S. birth rate fell to the lowest point in 50 years. The Heritage Foundation, in 2018, reported that “71 percent of young Americans between 17 and 24 are ineligible to serve in the military—that is 24 million of the 34 million people of that age group.”

Army recruiters are conducting physical fitness training programs to adequately condition new recruits before they head off to basic combat training.26 Once in training, recruits that start out unfit have a higher rate of injury than in the past.27 Compounding the problem, according to the Heritage Foundation, many Americans cannot qualify for military service because of a low educational level, a criminal background or the use of illegal narcotics.

The PLA faces similar problems. While crime and drug use may not be as bad in China as in the United States, PLA recruits have trouble paying attention in training,28 and they are suffering a higher injury rate in training than the PLA has seen in earlier generations.29 In cities and rural areas, mass transit has replaced walking and bicycle riding, the traditional ways to get around. Stress fractures in PLA trainees are higher than in the past, creating longer training times and a group of recruits that cannot complete training.30 The PLA is also having problems recruiting soldiers and officers among college students.31

Adjusting to Military Life: Morale, Mental Health, Loneliness and Isolation

Military life can be a difficult adjustment for young soldiers who are used to living with parents or on their own. In a study of workplace and work-style choices that the Economist conducted in the United States, Gen Z workers “were more likely than any other age group to cite personal choice . . . as the main reason for continuing to work remotely.”32 That makes selling the Army to Gen Z harder. At some point, there are barracks (even with private rooms), formations, organized training and, for some, compartmented facilities where work must be done—as part of a team, not alone. Whether in the United States or China, entering the military means learning to work and live with people from different backgrounds in a group setting and following orders and procedures exactly. In both the U.S. Army and the PLA, trainers and leaders work hard to facilitate this adjustment. In the PLA, however, the continued use of the political commissar (政治 委员 or 政委) system creates a more complicated set of problems.33 Before continuing the discussion on the difficulties of adjusting to military life, however, the reader must understand the role of the political commissar in the PLA.

Political commissar systems are not new to military organizations; they were used in the French Revolutionary Army, the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War, the Soviet Red Army (until the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991) and Nazi Germany. Currently, Taiwan’s military (the Republic of China) still has a system of political commissars, just as China does. 

In the PLA, the political officer or political commissar (PC) is equal to the commander. The PC is responsible for the ideological education of soldiers and officers, manages the PLA’s personnel system, manages party and personnel security files and keeps dossiers on all the solders in a unit, including the unit commander. Promotions, disciplinary actions, awards and schooling all come under the purview of the PC. Thus, even if the commander may have an equal say in a decision, that commander is not likely to contradict or countermand a demand from a PC, even if the commander outranks the PC. This creates a form of collective decisionmaking in the PLA.

There are two examples of events that demonstrated the influence of political commissars on command decisions and awards. The first was a training incident in the 15th Airborne Army; unit commanders and NCOs sustained injuries in a parachute training exercise because of high winds, and the PC took over. The second is concerned with the way that awards for heroism were made during the 1962 Sino-Indian Border War. 

The PLA airborne forces (the 15th Airborne Army of the PLA Air Force) did not train for mass tactical jumps for decades. Instead, the units were used in squad-, platoon- or company-size elements for reconnaissance, interdictions, raids and ambushes.34 Their parachute landings were Soviet style, with parachutes running with the wind facing the objective and stand-up, squatting landings.35 The role of the airborne changed for the PLA as China entered the 21st century and the PLA was given the mission to develop a better capacity for expeditionary operations. As large-capacity aircraft were added to support the airborne, the 15th began deployment exercises and mass tactical jumps.36

In a modern mass tactical deployment exercise, “Red Sword-2018 (红 剑-2018),” a combined-arms battalion with attached support from the 15th Airborne Army loaded on aircraft in Kaifeng in central China and flew directedly to a simulated combat jump in the western desert of China.37 Despite very high winds, the battalion commander ordered the jump to take place at the designated time. The battalion took a high number of actual casualties on landing, losing a number of platoon and company commanders and political commissars. With the commander of a company and other subordinate leaders injured, the political commissar took over. Rather than immediately establishing a chain of command and attempting to carry out the mission, the PC first ensured that his commissar system was in place. In the time it took the PC to do that, the opposing force inflicted crippling simulated casualties on the remainder of the paratroopers. The mission was a failure, and, along with the actual casualties, the opposing force inflicted crippling simulated injuries on the remainder of the paratroopers.

In the case of the Sino-Indian Border War in 1962, the majority of awards for heroism on the battlefield went to PCs rather than to small unit commanders, NCOs or individual troops.38 Of course, it is entirely possible that their strong commitment to the CCP led PCs and political officers to commit extraordinary acts of bravery, more than the average soldier or officer. However, this writer is skeptical. After all, it is the PCs who control the awards system. 

The bottom line is that in dealing with many morale, discipline, adjustment and mental health issues, responsibility in the PLA seems to be split, with the PC acting as counselor, morale and welfare officer and the equivalent of chaplain or spiritual counselor (and here the term spiritual refers to support for the Communist Party). Imagine being in a U.S. Army unit and spending almost half of your time in political meetings reading “The Works of General X, the Chief of Staff of the Army.” That has to detract from training for military missions. 

In the United States, Gen Z is more stressed about news and life than earlier generations and is more likely to report or seek help to address that stress.39 Military leaders must learn to address the generation differently, to motivate them and to deal with a cohort of recruits that learns quickly, is dependent on technology and grew up in a nation at war and with a society facing volatile economic and social problems.40 Still, some of Gen Z’s ability to think for themselves adapts easily to the Army’s concept of mission command.41 More than in the past though, the Army finds itself developing programs to address mental health and the stresses of military life.42 “Suck it up and drive on” is no longer the order of the day.

In China, the PLA faces a similar set of problems, compounded by the fact that millions of young men and women are left behind in smaller towns and villages to be cared for by relatives while their parents work in factories hundreds of miles away and seldom visit them at home.43 Identifying mental health problems, helping Gen Z adapt to military life and integrating Gen Z into units as officers or young soldiers has challenged the PLA’s military health workers, leaders and PCs.44 The sheer number of studies being produced by military medical institutions and health professionals in China shows the seriousness of the problem for the PLA. Moreover, psychology was traditionally not a major field in China, and instances of mental illness were dealt with harshly. The majority of the current Chinese studies designed to help recruits and new officers to get through training and adapt to military life draw on American scholarship on these subjects.

Training Injuries and Retention

A U.S. Army study found that, for men and women, the common reasons for seeking medical attention in basic combat training (BCT) was “pain in joint, lower leg” (15 percent), limb pain, ankle and foot pain, sprains, backache and joint, knee and shoulder pain.45 About 40 percent of men and 61 percent of women trainees sustained injuries in BCT. During advanced individual training (AIT) and integration into unit training, the rate of injuries differed, and some types of injuries were more common in certain fields. For instance, in the infantry there were more lower leg and joint injuries, while in artillery lower back pain and strain were more common.46 The Army puts a lot of time, manpower, money and effort into keeping soldiers healthy.47 Still, the U.S. Army has the advantage of conducting BCT and AIT at designated centers, meaning Army problems can be addressed in specific ways.

For the PLA, with training taking place in literally hundreds of regiments or brigades all around China in the ground forces and the paramilitary People’s Armed Police, the problem is harder. Go to any unit, and a cadre will have its own methods for dealing with recruit training. There is no central schooling for instructors or drill instructors. PLA medical personnel study the issue, and instruction may go out, but the PLA depends on a variety of health professionals to study these matters and make recommendations on how to address injuries.48

There are dozens of studies on injuries to recruits, soldiers and officers, but it is difficult to gauge whether the recommendations of these studies are recognized and implemented PLA-wide.49 The decentralized way that the PLA brings in new personnel and trains them creates its own problems, affecting combat effectiveness. 

Relationships to Superiors in Gen Z

In the United States, the Gen Z workforce wants “human interaction at work.”50 They can be cynical because they are exposed to a 24-hour news cycle and social media and have seen a lot of corruption, dishonestly and negativity. They are skeptical and resent being taken advantage of in the workplace. They want managers to give them regular feedback that addresses specific points. Finally, they expect a work plan developed together to track performance and facilitate communication. A lot of that fits into the way a small unit operates in the U.S. Army. However, Gen Z workers can be dismissive of older people and supervisors who do not have technology skills.

There are strong attitudes about work and supervisors in Gen Z.51 They want some control of and input into work schedules. They tend to have little patience for being forced to work when they don’t want to, and they want time off when they request it. That kind of work ethic doesn’t always fit well into military life. Finally, Gen Z workers seek inspiration from their leaders even for performing routine tasks. Army concepts such as mission command can provide the environment that Gen Z seeks.

In China, Gen Z is often taught in a rote memorization style, introduced with heavy lectures. There is not always a lot of interaction in the classroom. Despite the over-layering of Marxism-Leninism imposed by the CCP, Chinese society is still underpinned by a Confucian system and respect for elders and seniors. Indeed, these same characteristics can also be found in the Gen Z cohort in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore. That makes some of the transition to military life in China a little easier than it is for American youth, but there are still problems.52 And, just as with Gen Z in other countries, as the research presented in this study suggests, Gen Z expects supervisors and leaders to have some grasp of technology.

Military Effectiveness

The U.S. Army trains for specific tasks, to standards, gets regular evaluations and feedback and maintains a professional military development program for soldiers, NCOs and officers.53 As a large, standing army, it is one of the most effective military organizations in the world. There is a regular system of feedback for operations and exercises; leaders receive evaluations designed to improve or correct performance and the commander in chief, regardless of his or her political party, can count on the military to obey orders. There is a system to investigate corruption or abuse of office, notwithstanding complaints in Congress that occur from time to time.54

In China, as chairman of the Communist Party Central Military Commission, general secretary of the CCP and president, Xi Jinping does not have the confidence in the PLA that the U.S. president may have in the Army or armed services. Xi was not happy with the PLA when senior leaders bribed their superiors for promotion, education or command. In units, junior leaders were expected to bribe superiors to get ahead; from the time that he took over as CMC chairman, he has worked to correct that.55 Xi has been vocal about his lack of confidence in the PLA for some time.56 He does not have complete confidence that the PLA is effective or that it can execute the missions he has set out for it. He has accused his senior leaders of what he calls the “five incapables (五个不会), or being unable to 1) judge the battlefield situation, 2) understand the intent of senior leaders, 3) make operational decisions, 4) deploy troops properly [on the battlefield], and 5) deal with unexpected situations.”57 


In the U.S. Army and the Chinese PLA, there is a common focus on new technologies, data fusion and developing systems, designed to compensate for a smaller military. The Army and the PLA seek to employ artificial intelligence and technology to compensate for demographic and generational issues, to use unmanned systems and enhanced intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems to maintain awareness of the battlefield. 

The U.S. Army is probably in a better position than the PLA in that it is continually striving to meet the challenges of generational change and adapt to Gen Z while taking advantage of that generation’s embrace of information technologies. It is clear from this research that the PLA faces many of the same challenges but, in general, is also following the lead of the U.S. Army in how to address the new generation it seeks to recruit and train. 

A major advantage that the U.S. Army has is that it has taught its people to think and incorporates them in decisionmaking, empowering them to use initiative and to follow the concept of mission command in acting. That is harder for the PLA, in part because of the structure of society in China, but also because of the role that the Communist Party and the political commissar play in the military.

Reinforcing its own strengths and understanding the strengths and weaknesses of the PLA can help the U.S. Army to be in a better position to respond to China’s provocations and aggressive behavior in the Indo-Pacific region. 

This research also has identified areas where U.S. allies and partners in the region face similar problems. Thus, looking at the results here that bear on the militaries of Japan, the Republic of Korea, Singapore, the Philippines, Taiwan and Thailand may allow USARPAC and the entire Army to design programs to increase partner capacity in societies and nations facing similar technological, generational and demographic changes. 

★  ★  ★  ★

Dr. Larry M. Wortzel had a distinguished 32-year military career, retiring as an Army Colonel in 1999. A graduate of the U.S. Army War College, he earned his BA from Columbus College, Georgia, and his MA and PhD from the University of Hawaii. His last military position was the Director of the Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. Army War College. He is currently a senior fellow in Asian security at the American Foreign Policy Council and an Adjunct Research Professor at the U.S. Army War College. After three years in the Marine Corps and attending some college, Dr. Wortzel began his professional career assessing political and military events in China as a sergeant in the U.S. Army Security Agency in 1970 and gathering communications intelligence on Chinese military activities in Laos and Vietnam during the Vietnam War. After Infantry Officer Candidate School, Ranger and Airborne training, he was an infantry officer for four years. He moved back into military intelligence in 1977. In the Indo–Pacific theater, he has served in the 3rd Battalion, 27th Marines; 7th Radio Research Field Station, Thailand; 1st Battalion, 9th Infantry in Korea; U.S. Pacific Command; attached to the Defense Attaché Office in Singapore; and served two tours of duty as Military Attaché at the American Embassy in China. After retiring from the Army, Dr. Wortzel was the Asian Studies Center Director and then the Vice President at The Heritage Foundation. He served as a commissioner on the congressionally-appointed U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission between November 2001 and December 2020.

1  “Generation Z is stressed, depressed and exam-obsessed,” Economist, 27 February 2019.
2  Captain Dan Stallard, “Esprit de Corps: Morale and Force Preservation,” Marine Corps Gazette, April 2018.
3  Haley Britzky, “The 18th Airborne Corps wants YOU . . . to help fix the Army,” Task and Purpose, 20 August 2020.
4  Jiang Yumin (蒋亚民), Long Distance Operations (远战) (Beijing: Military Science Publishing House, 2007), 227.
5  Mark Tischler, “China’s ‘Never Again’ Mentality: Western analysts often overlook how much of China’s modern-day policy is driven by the collective trauma of its colonial past,” Diplomat, 18 August 2020; Sebastien Roblin, “‘Century of Humiliation’: China Hasn’t Forgotten the Opium Wars,” National Interest, 24 April 2021. Communist Party propaganda and education programs generally ignore the political corruption, widespread peasant revolts and popular dissatisfaction over governmental incompetence in the Qing Dynasty, which weakened centralized imperial authority.
6  Xi Jinping (习近平), “Thoroughly and Deeply Implement and Carry Out the Party’s Goals for a Strong Army Under the New Situation; Rapidly Build and Have Our Army’s Special First-Class Universities and Colleges (深入贯彻落实党在新形势下的强军目标;加快建设具有我军特色的世界一流大学),” in General Political Department of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (中国人民解放军总政治部遍印), eds., Important Selections from Xi Jinping’s Speeches on National Defense and Army Building (习近平关于国防和军队建设重要论述选编) (Beijing: PLA Publishing House, 2014), 182–83.
7  Frank Miller and Andrew Scobell, “‘Decisionmaking Under Stress’ or ‘Crisis Management’? In Lieu of a Conclusion,” in Andrew Scobell and Larry M. Wortzel, eds., Chinese National Security Decisionmaking Under Stress (Carlisle, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, 2005), 231.
8  Nicholas Eberstadt, “The China challenge: A demographic predicament will plague the mainland for decades,” Discourse Magazine, 9 June 2021.
9  “Serving the Rich: Inequality in Education,” Economist, 29 May 2021, 36–37.
10  Lindsey Jacobson, “Researchers expect the US to face underpopulation, blaming a falling birth rate and economic crises,” CNBC, 6 January 2021.
11  Annalisa Quinn, “Move Over Millennials, Here Comes ‘iGen’ . . . Or Maybe Not,” NPR, 17 September 2017, https://www.npr.org/2017/09/17/548664627/move-over-millennials-here-comes-igen-or-maybe-not. Quinn provides a critical review of Jean M. Twenge, iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy—and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood—and What That Means for the Rest of Us (New York: Atria Books, 2017).
12  Patrick Hinton, “Engaging Generation Z: A Military Perspective,” 3x5 Leadership, 10 February 2020. Hinton is a British Army artillery officer. This characterization is also drawn from KC Reid, “How the Network Generation is Changing the Millennial Military,” War on the Rocks, 20 March 2018.
13  Jessica Schrader, “How Gen Z Learns: It’s More Self-Paced and Collaborative Than Ever,” Metro Parent, 19 February 2021; Kerry Troester, “How Will We Train Generation Z?,” Training and Industry Blog, 25 July 2018, https://trainingindustry.com/blog/strategy-alignment-and-planning/how-will-we-train-generation-z-cptm/.
14  See for instance KC Reid, “How the Network Generation Is Changing the Millennial Military,” War on the Rocks, 20 March 2018.
15  Li Dongzhe (李东哲), Ning Dan (宁丹) and Fang Han (方汉), “Ideal Meets Reality, ‘How to Break’ the Psychological Gap (理想遭遇现实, 心理落差’怎么破),” People’s Liberation Army Life (解放军生活) 12 (December 2020): 78–79; Xu Xinhua (许新华), Wang Xiaoyan (王晓燕), Yin Sulei (阴素蕾) and Wang Zongjie (王宗杰), “Application of Mindfulness Intervention in Military Physical Training of Recruits (正念干预在新兵军事体能训练中的应用),” Southwestern Military Surgeon (西南军医) 23, no. 2 (March 2021): 153–54.
16  Larry M. Wortzel, The Dragon Extends Its Reach: Chinese Military Power Goes Global (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2013; first published 2013 by Potomac Books, Washington, DC), 3–27.
17  Sergeant 1st Class Christopher Mascia, “Leading Generation Z: Abandoning the Zero-Defect Mentality,” NCO Journal, May 2020, 1–2.
18  Brittany De Lea, “Biden defense chief dubs China the ‘pacing threat’ amid ascendancy,” Fox Business, 29 January 2021.
19  Zhang Shibo (张仕波), “Striving to Matching the World’s Most Advanced Standards While Maintaining Chinese Characteristics in Military Schooling (努力建设具有世界先进水平和中国特色的最高军事学府),” PLA Daily (解放军报), 8 March 2016, 10.
20  Chen Lingling (陈玲翎) and Zhang Xiaoliang (张小亮), “Analysis of the Practices and Methods of Military Grit Training (军人坚毅品质训练内容及方法),” National Defense Technology (国防科技) 42, no. 1 (February 2021): 106–10.
21  Orient Securities (东方证券), The new needs, new culture and new economy of Generation Z—In-depth report on economic research of Generation Z (Z 世代的新需求、新文化与新经济—Z 
世代), 18 June 2019, http://www.199it.com/archives/900600.html.
22  Daxue Consulting, “Marketing to Gen-Z Consumers in China,” 8 July 2019, 1–8, https://daxueconsulting.com/gen-z-consumers-china/.
23  Orient Securities, The new needs, new culture and new economy of Generation Z, 1–8.
24  The states are Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas. See Richard Sisk, “Army Recruits from Southern States Most Unfit, Prone to Injury: Study,” Military.com, 16 January 2018. Also see Mike Stobbe, “US Birth Rate Falls to Lowest Point in More Than a Century,” U.S. News & World Report, 5 May 2021.
25  Thomas Spoehr and Bridget Handy, “The Looming National Security Crisis: Young Americans Unable to Serve in the Military,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder, 13 February 2018; Drew Brooks, “The Army’s Next Crisis: Americans Aren’t Fit Enough To Fight,” Task and Purpose, 27 February 2018.
26  Author interview with Army recruiters in Williamsburg, VA, 2 June 2018.
27  Daniel B. Bornstein, George L. Grieve, Morgan N. Clennin et al., “Which US States Pose the Greatest Threats to Military Readiness and Public Health? Public Health Policy Implications for a Cross-sectional Investigation of Cardiorespiratory Fitness, Body Mass Index, and Injuries Among US Army Recruits,” Journal of Public Health Management and Practice 2, no. 1 (January/February 2019): 36–44, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29319585/.
28  Feizhou Zheng, Peng Gao, Mindi He, Min Li et al., “Association between mobile phone use and inattention in 7102 Chinese adolescents: a population-based cross-sectional study,” BMC Public Health 14, no. 1022 (2014): 1471.
29  Wu Jin (吴进), Li Chunbao (李春宝), Huang Peng (黄鹏), Zhou Zhixiong (周志雄) et al., “A Summary of the Epidemiological Research on Military Training Injuries in Our Army (我军军事训练伤流行病学研究综述),” Journal of PLA Medical College (解放军医学院学报) 41, no. 12 (January 2021): 1236–39, 1246; “Don’t Let New Recruits Suffer Injuries Before Going to Units (莫让新兵带伤下连),” PLA Daily (解放军报), 16 February 2013, 6.
30  Tang Wenhao (唐文浩), Yang Min (杨旻), Yan Ming (燕明) et al., “Research Progress on Prevention and Treatment of Stress Fractures (应力性骨折防治研究进展),” Chinese People’s Liberation Army Medical Journal (解放军医学杂志) (April 2021): 15.
31  Jin Nongbin (金农斌), “Preventing Contradictions in the Training and Use of College Students as Soldiers,” (大学生士兵培养使用的矛盾问题和对策措施),” National Defense (国防) no. 5 (2016): 53.
32  “Office re-entry is proving trickier than last year’s abrupt exit,” Economist, 3 July 2021, 63–65.
33  The following description of the political commissar system draws from these sources: Larry M. Wortzel, “The General Political Department and the Evolution of the Political Commissar System,” in James C. Mulvenon and Andrew N. D. Yang, eds., The People’s Liberation Army as an Organization: Reference Volume v1.0 (Santa Monica, CA: Rand, 2002), 225–45; Wortzel, The Dragon Extends Its Reach, 3–4, 7–15, 85.
34  “China’s largest airdrop test set a world record for test (中国最大空降空投试验创世界纪录 试跳员骨裂),” China News Network (中国新闻网) 27 November 2014, http://mil.news.sina.com.cn/2014-11-27/1634813112.html.
35  Zheng Chao (郑超), Du Junjie (杜俊杰), Wang Linfei (王林飞), Chang Qi (常祺) et al., “The Influence of Semi-Squatting Landing Lumbar Protective Gear on the Spine-Pelvic Angle and Angular Velocity (半蹲式着陆腰部护具对脊柱-骨盆夹角及角速度的影响),” Journal of PLA Medical College (解放军医学院学报) 41, no. 7 (July 2020): 697–700, 704. When the author and the U.S. defense attaché to China, then BG John A. Leide, made a static line parachute jump with the 15th Airborne in 1989, the 15th Airborne commander, a grizzled old paratrooper with over 6,000 jumps who had gone from private to general, was startled to watch the author turn into the wind, pull and hold a slip, and do a parachute landing fall.
36  Liu Faqing (刘发庆), “Construct a World’s First-Class Airborne Corps Based on New Missions on New Missions (立足新使命建设世界一流空降兵),” PLA Daily (解放军报), 21 December 2017, 7.
37  Liu Kang (刘康), Jiang Long (蒋龙) and Li Dongdong (李冬冬), “Joint Force of Crack Troops Goes on the Attack (合力成势精兵出击),” Air Force News (空军报), 11 September 2018, 1.
38  Jiang Siyi (姜思毅), ed., History of Operations in China’s Self-defensive Border Counterattack against India (中印边境自卫反击作战史) (Beijing: Military Science Publishing House, 1994), 491–567.
39  Sophie Bethune, “Gen Z more likely to report mental health concerns,” Monitor on Psychology, American Psychological Association 50, no. 1 (January 2019): 20, https://www.apa.org/monitor/2019/01/gen-z.
40  Senior Master Sgt. Chris C. Moore, “Engaging Gen Z,” NCO Journal, 2 August 2019, https://www.armyupress.army.mil/Journals/NCO-Journal/Archives/2019/August/Generation-Z/#bio.
41  Department of the Army, Army Doctrine Reference Publication (ADRP) 6-0, Mission Command (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 17 May 2012), https://caccapl.blob.core.usgovcloudapi.net/web/character-development-project/repository/adrp6-0-2012.pdf.
42  “Behavioral Health,” Army Public Health Center, https://phc.amedd.army.mil/topics/healthyliving/bh/Pages/default.aspx; Department of the Army, Army Techniques Publication (ATP) 6-22.5, A Leader’s Guide to Soldier Health and Fitness (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 10 February 2016), https://armypubs.army.mil/epubs/DR_pubs/DR_a/pdf/web/atp6_22x5.pdf.
43  Li Dongzhe (李东哲), Ning Dan (宁丹) and Fang Han (方汉), “Ideal Meets Reality, ‘How to Break’ the Psychological Gap (理想遭遇现实,心理落差’怎么破’),” People’s Liberation Army Life (解放军生活) 12 (December 2020): 78–79; Chengchao Zhou, Sean Sylvia, Linxiu Zhang, Renfu Luo et al., “Parental Migration On Health, Nutrition, And Educational Outcomes,” Health Affairs 34, no. 11 (November 2016), https://www.healthaffairs.org/doi/10.1377/hlthaff.2015.0150.
44  Zhang Shuai (张帅), Han Wenyang (韩汶洋), Dan Moshui (单墨水) and Huo Kun (霍焜), “A Survey of the Relationship between Psychological Adaptability and Coping Styles of Recruits in a Certain Unit in 2020 (2020年某部新兵心理适应能力与应对方式的关系调查),” Journal of Practical Medicine (实用医药杂志) 38, no. 5 (May 2021): 385–87; Zheng Yongjun (郑永军), Sun Guangyong (孙冠勇), Lu Jiangning (吕江宁), and Wang Ying (王瑛), “Application of Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point Theory in the Ultimate Identification of Mental Illness in Recruits (危害分析与关键控制点理论在新兵精神疾病终极鉴定中的应用),” People’s Military Surgeon (人民军医) 63, no. 11 (November 2020): 1063–66; Liang Xuejun (梁学军), Gan Jingli (甘景梨), Liu Lizhi (刘立志), Duan Huifeng (段惠峰) and Zhu Xiquan (祝希泉), “Relevant Research on Psychological Characteristics and Psychological Flexibility of Recruits with Adaptive Disorder (新兵适应性障碍的心理特征及心理弹性的相关研究),” Southwestern Military Surgeon (西南军医) 23, no. 1 (January 2021): 5–8; Zhang Guanghua (张光华) and Pan Chaowei (潘朝伟), “Make Good Use of Social Support to Ease the Psychological Gap of Recruits After Joining the Unit (善用社会支持缓解新兵下连后的心理落差),” Political Science Journal (政工学刊) 3 (March 2021): 72–73.
45  Maria T. Bulzacchelli, Sandra I. Sulsky, Lei Zhu et al., The Cost of Basic Combat Training Injuries in the U.S. Army: Injury-Related Medical Care and Risk Factors (Natick, MA: U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, March 2017), https://apps.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/1050457.pdf.
46  Veronique D. Hauschild, Terrence Lee, Stephen Barnes, Lanna Forrest, Keith Hauret and Bruce H. Jones, “The Etiology of Injuries in US Army Initial Entry Training,” US Army Medical Department Journal 2, no. 18 (Jul–Dec 2018): 22–29, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30623395/.
47  Army Public Health Center, Army Injuries, Causes, Risk Factors, and Prevention Overview, 19 March 2021, https://phc.amedd.army.mil/topics/discond/ptsaip/Pages/Army-Injuries-Causes-Risk-Factors-and-Prevention-Overview.aspx.
48  Tang Wenhao (唐文浩), Yang Min (杨旻), Diwu Weilong (第五维龙) et al., “Research Progress on Prevention and Treatment of Stress Fractures (应力性骨折防治研究进展),” Chinese People’s Liberation Army Medical Journal (解放军医学杂志) (April 2021): 15; Yang Di (杨迪) and Sun Xingwei (孙兴维), “High Cold Training, Scientific Prevention of Training Injuries (高寒练兵,科学预防训练伤),” People’s Liberation Army News (解放军报) 7 (February 2021): 2; Li Yuanyuan (李媛媛), Guan Jing (关静), Jiang Rui (关静) et al., “Value Analysis of Multi-Slice Spiral CT Combined with Musculoskeletal Ultrasound in the Diagnosis of Acute Ankle Training Injuries in Recruits (多层螺旋CT联合肌骨超声诊断新兵急性踝关节训练伤的价值分析),” Southwest National Defense Medical (西南国防医药) (November 2020): 985–87.
49  Ma Baolan (马宝岚) and Qu Liang (曲良), “Rehabilitation Nursing Care of an Escort Crew Member After Achilles Tendon Rupture (护航舰员跟腱断裂术后康复护理1例),” Journal of Practical Medicine (实用医药杂志) 37, no. 8 (August 2020): 675–76; Wu Jin (吴进), Li Chunbao (李春宝), Huang Peng (黄鹏) et al., “A Summary of the Epidemiological Research on Military Training Injuries in Our Army (我军军事训练伤流行病学研究综述),” Journal of PLA Medical College (解放军医学院学报) 41, no. 12 (January 2021): 1236–39, 1246.
50  Rea Regan, “Everything You Need to Know about Generation Z in the Workplace in 2021,” ConnectTeam, 21 October 2020.
51  Dana Wilkie, “Generation Z Says They Work the Hardest, But Only When They Want To,” SHRM, 11 June 2019.
52  Zhang Shuai (张帅), Han Wenyang (韩汶洋), Dan Moshui (单墨水) and Huo Kun (霍焜), “A Survey of the Relationship between Psychological Adaptability and Coping Styles of Recruits in a Certain Unit in 2020 (2020年某部新兵心理适应能力与应对方式的关系调查),” Journal of Practical Medicine (实用医药杂志) 38, no. 5 (May 2021): 385–87.
53  Jim Greer, “Training: The Foundation for Success in Combat,” Heritage Foundation, 4 October 2018, https://www.heritage.org/military-strength-topical-essays/2019-essays/training-the-foundation-
54  See, for instance, Senate Armed Services Committee, Hearings to Examine the Posture of the Department of the Army in Review of the Defense Authorization Request for Fiscal Year 2021 
and the Future Years Defense Program
, 116th Cong. (2019–2020), https://www.congress.gov/event/116th-congress/senate-event/327343?s=1&r=4.
55  See 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 (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),” in Extract of Important Expositions on Deepening National Defense and Army Reform (关于深化国防和军队改革重要论述摘编) (Beijing: PLA Publishing House, 2016), 84–97; Xi Jinping, (习近平), “Speech at the Expanded Meeting of the Central Military Commission, 16 November 2012 (在中央军委扩大会议上的讲话),” in Chinese People’s Liberation Army General Political Department, comp., Selected Works on National Defense and Army Building (关于国防和军队建设重要论述选编) (Beijing, PLA Publishing House, 2014), 8–18.
56  Xi, “Speech at the Expanded Meeting of the Central Military Commission,” 8–18.​​​​​​​
57  Shaanxi Military District (陕西军区), “Not a ‘Good Start,’ Focusing on Insufficiencies (不求开门红重在找不足),” PLA Daily (解放军报), 5 February 2015, 9, http://www.81.cn/jfjbmap/content/2015-02/05/content_101551.htm. In Chinese these are (不会判断战场形势), (不会理解上级意图), (不会定下作战决心), (不会摆兵布陈), (不会处置突发情况).

Lead photos courtesy of the U.S. Army and the Ministry of National Defense of the People's Republic of China