Book Review: The Dragon’s Teeth by Benjamin Lai

[FULL DISCLOSURE: I received my copy of this book free from the author and/or publisher. I was not paid for this review and the opinion expressed is purely my own]

If you pay attention to the goings on in the world and not just the US election news you are well aware that China is a rising power in Asia.  China is now not only a commercial power but also an increasingly assertive military power.  The Chinese military is opaque at best to most Western observers and it is difficult to gauge its military capability based on what are usually hyperbolic news reports.  Therefore, it is somewhat prescient that this volume has appeared now.

Benjamin Lai’s book The Dragon’s Teeth is a realistic and pragmatic look at the current state of the Chinese military.  He presents a fact-filled and fairly objective evaluation of where the Chinese military is at, how it got there, and in a final interesting chapter, where it might be going.

First the stats.  It is 258 pages of text divided into 6 topical chapters and an afterword.  It includes a voluminous appendix listing all the current weapons in the Chinese inventory as well as a bibliography and index.  Finally, there is a plate section containing photos and illustrations.

The book is organized logically beginning with an introduction of the history of the PLA up to 1949 and post 1949 before going into a discussion of the current state of the various branches of the PLA and the state of indigenous Chinese weapons development.  The origins of the modern Chinese military differ greatly from most contemporary militaries and the circumstances and conditions surrounding its formation go far in explaining why it is organized the way it is and why the Chinese strategic outlook is what it is.

The final chapter and the afterword are perhaps the most interesting of all.  The final chapter is a concise, yet explicit analysis of the Chinese strategic outlook. The Chinese, and specifically the Chinese military, does not see the current disputes in the South China Sea and Asia through the same lens as do China’s potential rivals.  Many people in the west do not fully appreciate that and this chapter alone makes the book worth reading.  The afterword is a more speculative appreciation of where the Chinese expect to be militarily and strategically in the near future.

The Chinese military is under-studied in the West not through lack of interest, but through lack of good accessible sources.  This book is a step in fixing that lack of material.  I highly recommend this work to anyone who wants a greater understanding of the Chinese military and the role they play in shaping policy in the PRC.