Within the PRC government, the PLA maintains a semi-autonomous existence. The PLA reports not to the State Council of the People's Republic of China but rather to two Central Military Commissions, one belonging to the state and one belonging to the party. In practice, the two CMC's do not conflict because their membership is almost identical. By convention the chairman and vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission are civilian members of the Communist Party of China, but they are not necessarily the heads of the civilian government. It was the case with both Jiang Zemin and Deng Xiaoping, that the retained the office of chairman even after relinquishing their other positions.
In contrast to other nations, the Minister of National Defense of the People's Republic of China is not the head of the military, and is in fact a rather low ranking official. The People's Liberation Army (PLA) has several branches which include the Ground Forces; Navy (includes Naval Infantry (marines) and Naval Aviation); Air Force, Second Artillery Corps (the strategic missile force); People's Armed Police (internal security troops, nominally subordinate to Ministry of Public Security, but included by the Chinese as part of the "armed forces" and considered to be an adjunct to the PLA in wartime)
The People's Liberation Army was founded on August 1, 1927 during the Nanchang uprising. The uprising occurred when troops of the Kuomintang rebelled under the leadership of Zhu De and Zhou Enlai. This uprising took place after the end of the first Kuomintang-Communist alliance. They were known as the Red Army. Between 1934 and 1935, the Red Army survived several campaigns lead against it by Chiang Kai-Shek and engaged in the Long March. During the Sino-Japanese War, the Red Army was nominally integrated into the Chinese national army forming the Eighth Road Army and the New Fourth Army units. During this time, the Red Army used primarily guerilla tactics, but also fought several conventional battles with the Japanese and the Kuomintang. After the end of the Sino-Japanese War, the Red Army renamed itself the PLA and won a civil war against the Kuomintang.
During the 1950's, the PLA with Soviet help transformed itself from a peasant army into a more modern one. One of the earliest operations was the reoccupation of Tibet in 1950. In December 1951, the PLA intervened in the Korean War as United Nations forces under General Douglas MacArthur approached the Yalu River. Under the weight of this offensive, Chinese forces captured Seoul, but were subsequently pushed back to a line roughly straddling the 38th Parallel. The war ended as a standstill in 1953. In 1962, the PLA also defeated India in the Sino-Indian War. Establishment of a...