The politics of the apolitical
great efforts are being made to keep new Chinese soldiers depoliticized
I don’t think this gets it. Great efforts are being made to keep them politicised, so long as the politics inculcated in them is what the Party wants it to be. It’s a very important point that the Chinese army doesn’t exist in the same context of civil-military relations that a Western army does, and not even in the same way an army in a Western authoritarian state does. Specifically, they reject the idea that the military is “above politics”. They do, very much, believe that the army must serve the civilian power – but the nature of that power is different.
The Communist Party is a party. It also at least believes itself to be Communist, even if it’s not obvious how it isn’t capitalist. Rather than maintaining a status quo, the point of a Communist Party is to change things, to wage the revolution and re-shape society. In the context of Chinese history, even if the nation seems indestructible, the state has been fragile, has been contested, its borders have moved, its sovereignty has been variable in quality. At the moment, there are two of them, and there have been many more in the past.
In that sense, the People’s Liberation Army (the name is significant – it’s not called the Chinese Army) is one of the instruments with which the Party intervenes in Chinese society to create the kind of state it wants. The link between the propaganda/media-management plan, the army recruitment cycle, and the National People’s Congress process, should be seen in this light. Conscription played a very similar role in French and German history, so this shouldn’t be surprising. Rather than permanent revolution, permanent statebuilding is going on – given the uncertainty of the future, and the strangeness of a Communist Party with Maoist intellectual heritage in charge of a capitalist superpower, it’s probably much more useful to think in terms of process rather than of an end-state.
It’s also true that armies in unevenly-developed societies tend to try to take over the state they are told they are building. As a result, it’s very important to the CCP that this process remains integrated into the Party’s ideas, culture, and organisation. An army in China that wasn’t political in the CCP sense would be very political indeed in the Western, and usually pejorative, sense.