war on the rocks

Admiral Xiao’s Influence and Beyond

July 29, 2013

Admiral Xiao Jinguang was the first commander of the PRC’s navy. He was in charge of the Navy from 1950 to 1980–a period even longer than Sergei Gorshkov (1956-1985). Xiao survived various purges, the machinations of Lin Biao (before Lin himself fell from power), and the Cultural Revolution. At one point, he was attacked, and Mao himself defended him, declaring that, so long as he was alive, no one else would run the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). This despite being a ground forces general during the Chinese Civil War. Also, despite being a ground pounder, Xiao founded the Dalian naval academy, one of the key naval professional military education institutions, and also helped run the program that developed China’s first nuclear submarine.

While much has been made of Liu Huaqing as China’s answer to Mahan (Liu spent more time actually in the navy, and also propounded China building aircraft carriers), one wonders what impact Xiao had?

Which raises the larger question: What impact have long-lived commanders had on institutional development in various militaries? Admiral Hyman Rickover clearly influenced nuclear power development in the USN, and Gorshkov affected Soviet naval development. But how sustained were these efforts, once these giants disappear?

Dean Cheng is the Heritage Foundation’s research fellow on Chinese political and security affairs.

Photo Credit: Petty Officer 2nd Class Ron Shackelford, U.S. Navy