A Chinese Exchange


A brief insight into the first British-Chinese Officer exchange

British Soldiers Take Part in Exchange with Chinese Army – BBC News [HD]

Seems very, errm, regimented

Does this translate into creative thinking, flexibility and the ability to improvise, or, a strictly hierarchical and wooden approach.

I suppose with half a gazillion soldiers it matters less!


H/T Grim901


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My first thought is “Did we REALLY send a group of people on an exchange who couldn’t speak the language?!?!”

Somehow I suspect that the Chinese wouldn’t send officer cadets to us and expect us to provide interpreters.

Following on from that though, I suppose the larger your force the less you’d want parts of it deciding to do their own thing and I can see that from an internal point they might not want particularly independent officers to lessen the chance of the army deciding they might do a better job of running the show.

On the other hand, given modern manouverist warfare I think in a fight they might end up coming unstuck in the same way we did in WW1; with junior officers who weren’t really trained to seize opportunities that presented themselves.


On the other hand, given modern manouverist warfare

To manouvre you’ve got to kill an awful lot of Chinese first.

I expect the PLA instigated the exchange whether or not the exchangee’s spoke the language or not. I have a friend who is going on an all expenses trip to China for 2 weeks soon courtesy of the Chinese government after she passed a Mandarin exam. They’re keen to spread the word.


Peter, “modern manouverist warfare” isn’t as off the cuff as most people think, usually, moves would be planned days in advance, support assets allocated and route scouted and planned way in advance. Only time the “instant that wins a battle” happens is usually only on a tactical small unit level. And unfortunately, the Chinese idea of a “small unit” is enough people to run you out of bullets, then run you over as well, a tactic that the Americans learned to their disadvantage in the Korean War that it is nastily effective when done right.

There is also a difference in Western and Eastern tactics where the west is a bit more technical, setting up base of fire, suppression, flanking etc etc while the east seems to concentrate more on suppressive mobile firepower and a “down your throat” platoon line assault, or at least they did decades back. Might have changed. The west sometimes does this as well, in the tactic called Immediate Assault, which is usually more of a close range counter ambush tactic, but the Chinese use it as a general assault tactic as well. They got enough men to make it work unfortunately. Remember, they are still on the old Soviet system, which is a 10(?) man team compared to our 7 man system, approximately a 50% advantage in manpower per squad though technically 4 of them were supposed to be feeding a DShK(?) I think. I got my old notes in a notebook I chucked God knows where, I’ll need to dig it up as a reference, but I’m not sanguine about finding it. It has been 2 decades after all.

And with that 2 decades reminder, their tactics may have changed too, so take with a grain of salt.


@Peter: when we have “Chinese speaker’s corners” in all our public parks I’ll expect the average Sandhurst cadet to have a smattering of putongua :-)

My experience of Chinese officialdom comes from the likes of the police, and subtlety is not their strong point. Neither is attention to detail!


Observer, even the “synchronization”-worshipping Americans shifted from a planning cycle close to 48 hrs to reacting to events on the brigade level within six hours in 2002.
And classic German manoeuvre warfare is indeed a colonel to LtGen leading a vanguard of what we’d call battalion battlegroup today and just roll forward, preferably through bivouacs of surprised hostiles.

Gloomy Northern Boy

Interesting stuff.



I suspect that there are not a lot of schools in UK teaching Chinese and probably not large numbers at university either. I’d be surprised if the armed forces were training more than a handful each year (if that).

IIRC a few years ago a PLA solder completed the 12 month RMAS course.

Daniele Mandelli

Spies for SIS?

Gloomy Northern Boy

Danieli – At the very least a some detailed instruction on discreet information gathering before departure and a lengthy debrief on return…

Obsvr – Not sure, but I think our Universities are pretty good on Chinese and an increasing number of secondary schools are offering it…to my certain knowledge two or three in Gloomyville certainly are…and of course we have a fair Chinese community ourselves, so that must help. Things may be better than you might expect.


What seems clear is that the British officer-cadets has the superior bearing. Though the Chinese “translator” is hampered by the need to speak English, you get the sense that the British guys are the more articulate and better prepared of the two.



basic question of probability, not a lot learning chinese at school, not a lot going to RMAS, probability of one or two doing both = very small. Back in the 1950s and ’60s lots of schools taught Russian (mostly as a result of the intensive 2 year language course for selected NS volunteers instead of doing uniformed service which produced about 10,000 very competent Russian speakers). It didn’t result in huge numbers of Russian speakers attending RMAS, Mike Jackson is probably the best known. A related question is whether or not chinese is on the official list of languages that the Army supports (ie that members of the Int Corps learn). If its not officially supported it is also very difficult to get language pay for it, I had a Hungarian speaker who had this problem, height of the Cold War, and Hungarian wasn’t on the UK list of required languages.