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Parliamentary Body to Discuss Military Ranks

June 24, 1988

BEIJING (AP) _ Stars and bars may again grace the uniforms of Chinese soldiers as the government announced today it had set up a committee to study restoring ranks to the People’s Liberation Army.

The late Chinese leader Mao Tse-tung abolished ranks more than 20 years ago, calling them a vestige of hierarchical, bourgeois society.

Zhang Husheng, director of the Information Bureau of the General Office of the Standing Committee of China’s parliament, said today the committee will also take up proposals to confer medals on retired soldiers and confirm ranks held in 1955-65, before Mao did away with the system.

Zhang was speaking at the first news briefing ever held by the Standing Committee. He said it was part of efforts to ″increase openness″ of government proceedings.

The 155-member Standing Committee handles day-to-day affairs of the 3,000- member National People’s Congress, China’s parliament, which hold only one session annually. The committee is meeting for the second time since the seventh plenary session was convened in March.

Zhang said the agenda will be led by a series of proposals submitted by the Central Military Commission, headed by senior leader Deng Xiaoping.

Among the proposals is one that defines the roles of officers in the People’s Liberation Army.

Zhang said military ranks were ″conducive to commanding and control of our army and required by modernization and standardization of our army.″

Deng has repudiated Mao’s concept of an egalitarian, proletariat army and has sought to bring back ranks as part of efforts to create a more modern and efficient fighting force. Since 1985, China’s military has been reduced in size from 4 million to 3 million troops.

The military has also abandoned its old force doctrine of ″People’s War,″ which relied on guerrilla warfare to protect the country, and embraced military theories closer to those of the West.

It is widely believed that the PLA will formally reinstate ranks on either Aug. 1, Army Day, or Oct. 1, National Day.

Even though Chinese soldiers have been formally without ranks for the past two decades, they have not been equal. Generals still command and foot soldiers still obey.

In addition, even though all military uniforms appear to be the same, irrespective of a soldier’s position, subtle differences in clothing indicate great differences in power. High-ranking officers, for example, wear wool Mao suits in the winter and the jackets usually come with four pockets. Foot soldiers wear cotton suits and only get two pockets.

Zhang said the Standing Committee will also discuss such issues as the nation’s financially pinched education system and how to improve the work of the National People’s Congress and the committee.

Although China’s policies are still set by the ruling Communist Party, the People’s Congress in recent years has shed its rubberstamp image and become a forum for debate and discussion of those policies.

Zhang said the Standing Committee will establish a practice of holding news briefings once every two months and will make the contents of its meetings as open to the public as possible.

He said the committee also plans to set up a reception room where ordinary Congress members can come to express opinions.

Update hourly