Date Thesis Awarded


Access Type

Honors Thesis -- Access Restricted On-Campus Only

Degree Name

Bachelors of Arts (BA)




Tun-Jen Cheng

Committee Members

Paul Manna

Hiroshi Kitamura


China’s “striving for achievement,” or fenfa youwei (奋发有为) foreign policy strategy challenges U.S. regional primacy, emphasizes Chinese leadership in foreign affairs, and vigorously promotes economic and strategic initiatives favorable to China. According to State Department analyst Elizabeth Hague, People’s Liberation Army (PLA) promotion patterns will most likely change in response to China’s new economic and strategic demands. However, there is currently little analysis on exactly how PLA promotion patterns are changing.

This thesis fills the gap by statistically analyzing how age, personal connections, education, professional experience, and foreign experience are associated with the grade promotions, not rank promotions, of 275 high-level PLA officers under Xi Jinping, defined as officers at or above the grade of corps leader (正军级). This study allows U.S. policymakers to better understand how the PLA is directing its hard power resources to support the fenfa youwei strategy, track the types of officers who are likely to fill PLA leadership positions in the future, and prepare policy responses to address shifting PLA strategic priorities.

This thesis has five major findings. 1) As a high-level officer gets one year older under Xi, his or her odds of promotion decrease by a factor of .804. 2) High-level Xi-era officers who have served in the Lanzhou or Shenyang Military Regions at or above the corps leader grade sometime in their careers are more likely to receive promotions. 3) Each additional level of education (from a middle school education to a doctorate) that a high-level Xi-era officer achieves increases his or her odds of promotion by a factor of 1.413. 4) High-level Xi-era officers with experience serving in two or more PLA services, branches, and danwei (work units), at or above the corps leader grade are 2.639 times more likely to be promoted than officers without such experience. 5) Combat experience during wartime, non-combat experience (including counterterrorism experience, disaster relief experience, and experience leading military ceremonies), and international experience do not significantly increase the likelihood of high-level PLA promotions under Xi.

This thesis does not address the change in the PLA’s structure that has occurred since the PLA began its massive reorganization in early 2016. New methodologies will be required to quantitatively analyze PLA promotion patterns after this reorganization.

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