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Chinese Air Power in 20th Century: Rise of the Red Dragon

Chinese Air Power in 20th Century: Rise of the Red Dragon Book Review

By David L. Veres

Date of Review March 2020 Title Chinese Air Power in 20th Century: Rise of the Red Dragon
Author Andreas Rupprecht Publisher Harpia Publishing, LLC
Published 2019 ISBN 978-1-9503940-0-5
Format 256 pages, softbound MSRP (Euro) 38.95€


Andreas Rupprecht adds over a century of historical perspective to his previous studies from Harpia Publishing with Chinese Air Power in 20th Century – available in North America from Casemate.

Subtitled “Rise of the Red Dragon”, the 256-page volume charts the impacts of “political events” and “military developments” on “different periods” of Communist Chinese military aviation history.

The lavishly illustrated chronicle spans six, chronologically-arranged chapters:

  • Prequel: 1911-24
  • Early years: 1924-49
  • Founding period: January 1949 to December 1953
  • Overall development: January 1954 to April 1966
  • Cultural Revolution: May 1966 to October 1976
  • Modernization: October 1976 to the present

Contents course through all major events affecting the PLAAF. The Korean conflict. Clashes with Taiwan ROC and India. The Great Leap Forward. The Cultural Revolution. The Vietnam War. Sino-Soviet disputes. They’re all here.

Sections survey the acquisition, deployment, organization, and manufacture of Chinese fighter, bomber, attack, transport, training, and UAV assets.

Coverage also highlights the combat experience, political factors, key personnel, airborne forces, indigenous resources, and international support underpinning PLAAF development.

Fascinating facts liberally season the study.

How many Tu-4s actually received Zhuzhou WJ-6 turboprops? Page 61 reveals the number. And what happened during humanity’s “first ever successful SAM engagement”? See page 79.

Did you know that China sought to acquire the SAAB 35 Draken? I didn’t, either.

Rare photos and art illustrate the effort. And maps geographically illumine contents. How about those depictions of aborted PLAAF warplane projects?

Unfortunately, many remarkably interesting and evocative historical shots are reproduced so small as to prove almost useless.

Good luck finding, for instance, that “extremely rare” PLAAF Mosquito fighter-bomber on page 57 – or gleaning details from that equally exotic La-9UTI a page later.

Additionally, Rupprecht’s awkward and opaque English diction often sows confusion. What does “PLAAF were strictly forbidden to engage any US military unless US aircraft did not enter Chinese airspace” mean?

Finally, knowledgeable observers might reasonably dispute the author’s “Chinese way of thinking” assessment – notably on issues of pragmatism, perspective, innovation, and curiosity.

If China “often thinks several more steps ahead of Western powers”, for instance, why do widely acknowledged Chinese intellectual property thefts and market espionage remain such pervasive and pressing international problems?

Concerns aside, Harpia’s study perfectly complements its “Modern Chinese Warplanes” series. I really enjoyed it.

Annotations, abbreviations, sidebars, extended captions, and index supplement main text. And three appendices with tables summarize major PLAAF units and serial systems.


With thanks to Casemate for the review copy.