Chinese Tanks Q&A – Answers [Very Long Post]

Link to questions

Again, thanks to Will Kerrs from Tanks Encyclopedia for answering most of the questions.

Nothing Inside: What tanks above tier 6 are real? This response also incorporates questions from: Gkirmathal, mrx, yurrasicpark, IRON, Akina90, Landserlandsa, zzjgo, Deano, and Ahuci.


The following tanks were probably not used by the PLA – Renault NC-31, Vickers Mark E Type B, T-34/76 (I’m slowly coming around to this one, though), the Type 58 is just a rebuilt T-34/85s with some modifications, and the mysterious Chi-Ha with 76mm gun and new superstructure was probably Japanese-built.

The following are real – WZ-131, WZ-132 (this tank is often mislabelled), WZ-111 (only the surviving hull is proven to exist, obviously, and we don’t know what the turret or gun looked like), 59-16 (possibly made it to the prototype stage), WZ-122 (not in game), 1224 (not in game), 122 (not in game), WZ-1226 (or just ‘1226’, not in game), and 132 (not in game, at least two prototypes). There are almost certainly more prototypes not in game that I’ve missed off here.

The following have no evidence to suggest that they are real and are therefore likely to be fake – 110, 113, and 112.

The following have no evidence to suggest that they are real, and because of their characteristics, are very likely to be fake – T-34-1, T-34-2, T-34-3, 121, and Type 59-Patton.
The following are definitely fake: Every Chinese server only tank destroyer, 121B, WZ-132A, and WZ-132-1.

If people show me evidence, I’ll revise the list.

A lot of people are asking me questions along the lines of “Are all of the Chinese tanks real?” or “Are these guns real?”

We have Chinese internet sources posting photos and data sets of a lot of the prototype tanks in WoT. Apparently, most of the data and photos are from various books and museum displays. Not all of the tanks included in World of Tanks are mentioned in these sources. Dddzxc (a very helpful person, indeed), has provided some links for information about the 132 and WZ-132 projects (and some others) and I highly recommend checking them out (I need to have them translated and then I will evaluate them. I’ll work on this next month):

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Photos of the 59-16 model.

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This is reported to be a prototype 59-16 after being hit by a nuclear blast during testing. It has the correct number of roadwheels.

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The WZ-131.

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Surviving 132 prototype with a 76mm gun at Baotou. Confusingly, the tank has been mislabelled as a “WZ-132”.

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132B (this one has an 85mm gun). Confusingly, the tank has been mislabelled as “WZ-132”.

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WZ-132 prototype with a 100mm gun. This resembles the WZ-132 in game, but the gun does not (at least from screenshots I’ve seen). The photo is mislabelled.

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Another WZ-132 prototype that has been mislabelled.

The existence of all other dubious prototype tanks is tricky, so I want to explain a historiographical problem with discussing what tanks are fake and what tanks are real.
With the exception of a few, all of the Chinese tanks could be real. I cannot really categorically confirm any of the dubious tanks to be real or fake without going into Chinese archives and seeing documents and photos that are, to my satisfaction, real. There lies the problem.

The existence of all of these prototypes and otherwise undocumented tanks hinge on the word of Kongzhong, who are reportedly able to access Chinese military archives, and report what they find. However, as with Russian archives, researchers are reportedly only allowed to take notes, and materials found in the archive cannot be reproduced. That’s the first problem.

The second problem is that World of Tanks is infamous for being jam-packed with fake tanks (such as the G.W. E-100), and having tanks operated by the wrong country (such as the 10.5cm leFH 18/3 (Sf) auf Geschützwagen B2(f)). So, given that World of Tanks has this reputation, they cannot be trusted as a credible source.

The burden of proof is on Kongzhong and World of Tanks to prove that these tanks exist, and given that they cannot produce credible evidence of its existence (regardless of this being beyond their control), then where am I, as a historian, left to stand? Anyone who makes claims based on some documents (made secret by government policy, or by their own choice) is very difficult to trust as a source. It’s worse when someone keeps documents and sources to themselves and just cites them as “secret documents” – they could stretch reality or just make things up.

As a result, I’d like to conclude that the dodgy Chinese tanks in World of Tanks are fake until proven real.

There’s a problem with this conclusion, though. I don’t have access to every Chinese document, museum display, book, etc, and thus there might be proof out there that we just haven’t seen yet.

Museum displays in particular, mainly those posted by Beijingman.blogspot, have helped spread some brilliant information, such as LVT(A)-4s with 57mm ZiS-2s (although these are mentioned in other sources, such as books, the first time they became famous was when his blog was reposted by a World of Tanks fan page). If we had not seen photos of the LVT(A)-4 with ZiS-2 and ZiS-3s, then we might be tempted to claim that these are fake vehicles. It sounds like such a dubious conversion, does it not? So maybe we might see evidence of all of the dubious tanks in the future through sources like this.

In sum, we cannot prove that all of the dubious vehicles in the Chinese tree do not exist. However, I have come to some conclusions based on available evidence.

The WZ-131 and WZ-132 are real. There are photos of these, widely available, and Dr. Martin Andrew has a section in Tuo Mao on them. I will write about these upon request. The 59-16, is, as we know, a scale model only (or perhaps made it to full prototype – a photo seems to indicate the latter). The WZ-132 (that we know according to photos) is actually the “132”. The captions often seen on these photos are wrong, according to Chinese internet sources. One (reasonably reliable) source claims that 28 132 tanks were made. There are also plenty of prototype tanks not in the game.

Dddzxc (a very helpful person, indeed), has provided some links for information about the 132 and WZ-132 projects (and some others) and I highly recommend checking them out (I need to have them translated and then I will evaluate them. I’ll work on this next month):

This is my list of dubious tanks:

Renault NC-31.
The PLA operating these is extremely dubious. I have seen a photo (albeit dubious looking) showing the Manchukuo Imperial Army operating one (Manchukuo was a puppet state set up by Japan in Manchuria in 1931), and I’m also led to believe that the Japanese Kwantung Army operated some in Manchuria, too. I don’t have any information to suggest the PLA was capturing and then using heavy weapons such as tanks before 1945. In the Civil War, Mao was very hesitant to arm his offensives in Manchuria with weapons heavier than machine guns and mortars until 1948, by which time there’s absolutely no way NC-31s were still in working order, even if the PLA did capture one (which I really don’t think they did).

Vickers Mark E Type B.
The PLA operating these is only suggested by “The Tank Division of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army 1945-1949”, unknown author, Humanism Print, 2017. They suggest that a photo shows some Mark E Type Bs in PLA service as training vehicles in 1949. However, the book even states that the photo is not proof of this, and the description provided by the photo’s owner is dubious.

I showed Dr. Martin Andrew the photo, and he concludes, as do I, that the photo is just Kuomintang (Nationalist) service tanks. Given that the book came out in 2017, and the photograph is published from a private collection (not Chinese archives) Wargaming / Kongzhong are unlikely to have picked up on this, so I suspect that they have inserted the Vickers Mark E Type B wrongly.

However, I do see that you can give the tank a T-26 turret in the game (to turn it into a T-26). This is historically accurate, as the PLA captured or destroyed three T-26s (one was a T-26 M1935, and the other two were, statistically, likely to have been M1935s) during the Huaihai Campaign (November 1948 – January 1949). They reused a T-26 M1935, but it’s unclear what happened to the other two, or what model they were. Details on the PLA’s T-26(s) are unclear generally.

Type T-34.
I have seen no photos or even literary sources that claim the PLA used T-34/76s.
The only piece of evidence supporting the existence of the Type T-34 is a T-34/76 in the Korean War Museum in Dandong, Liaoning Province, PRC. The roadwheels are T-34/85 modernization wheels. Truly, that tank’s provenance is unclear, but I suspect that it was a T-34/76 operated by the North Koreans, which was recovered, in one way or another, obtained by the PRC. With no apparent PLA markings, this vehicle is not sufficient evidence of the “Type T-34” existing, at least, not without further museum-sourced information about the specific tank.

In the photo, there is an SU-100 with no markings, too, which could easily have been (if not very likely to have been) used by the PLA.

I could in fact be very wrong on the Type T-34. In any case, there’s not sufficient evidence for my satisfaction. If you, personally, think the museum tank is enough evidence, then that’s fine. I’m just being cautious.

The 57mm gun is almost certainly nonsense, for the record.

Type 58.
This actually is real, but there is a misconception (not even deriving from WoT) that these are Chinese produced T-34-85s. Having had discussions with Francis Pulham (who is currently writing a fairly comprehensive book on T-34s that I’m contributing to), I’d like to prove, beyond all doubt, that Type 58s are just rebuilt T-34-85s with some modifications (such as new cupolas, new hatches, etc).

Chinese internet sources tell us that the PRC was trying to produce its own T-34-85s. In 1954, they had all the documents (schematics and manuals) relating to SU-76s, IS-2s, and T-34s translated into Chinese. They were obviously interested in becoming self-reliant on tank maintenance, and thus began organising their tank repair shops into production bases for spare parts.

In March, 1955, they successfully produced some tracks. In May, 1956, they managed to make some gearboxes. In February, 1957, they made some diesel engines, and apparently had successful trials of these. Essentially, the PRC could have made its own T-34-85s at this point, and were planning to do so in 1958. However, they were given license to produce T-54s, and produced those instead. It seems as though Type 58s really are just modernised T-34s.

If you don’t believe this source (frankly, I have no real reason to doubt it) then another piece of evidence is that the Type 58s have too many production differences to have been indigenously produced. If you know your T-34 variants, and if you look closely at museum and private photos of Type 58s, then you can see the following:

-Some are ‘Factory 112 Original Production’ models, which means that they were cast and have a continuous seam around the lower portion of the turret.
-Some are ‘Factory 112 Composite’ models, which means that a front portion was welded.
-Some are ‘Factory 112 Angled Seam’ models, which have an angled seam on the turret cheeks.

For reference, all three of these 112 turret types were fitted with both the twin rear air extraction fans and the mushroom type split air extraction fans.

-‘Factory 183 turrets’, which have ones with cheek cut outs, are also very common.

Essentially, we see too much variation in T-34 production models (in both museum examples, and period photos) for the Type 58s to have been produced by China.
Francis Pulham and I currently have a kickstarter campaign for a T-34 book.

Type 97 Chi-Ha w/ 76mm gun.
We don’t know who made this tank. It could have been the Japanese, the Kuomintang, or the PLA. I strongly suspect it was not the PLA. The KMT or Japanese seem more likely. Whilst the KMT are known to have converted some M10 GMCs into SPHs with 105mm guns, but if you look, these appear cruder than the Chi-Ha conversion). Therefore, it’s more likely a Japanese modification. It’s a real mystery – I’d have to do some more digging.

LeCreuset9 specifically asked me about this tank. The tank is supposed to be a T-34 derivative made in 1954, before the PRC even had the capacity to build T-34s (which was around 1957/8). WoT say that the tank was developed around 1954 – if this means plans or drawings (because they say there were no prototypes developed), then it exists in that form.

I doubt very much that they could actually physically build this tank with 1950s technology. It has a smaller profile and a stronger engine? Give me a break. The second turret modification also shows a Type 59-esque turret. Does that not strike anybody else as ludicrous? This one I really would like to call fake, historiographical problems aside. I’ve not even seen any Chinese internet sources on this.

If this is real, it was likely drawings only. I don’t think the Chinese were in any situation to be building prototypes for a T-34 derivative until 1957.

This has the same problem as the T-34-1. It was essentially a Chinese T-54 (but supposedly a totally different vehicle) before the T-54 was exported to China? This one strikes me as fairly unlikely, too. If there is evidence of this in Chinese archives, I expect this to be nothing more than a discussion by Chinese engineers dreaming of producing the T-54 before 1956 (when the Soviets helped them start producing the T-54). I’d love to see evidence of this, though.

If this is real, it is likely drawings only, not even schematics.

So if I understand this correctly, this is a modification of the T-34-2? I don’t believe the T-34-2 existed, so I don’t believe that the T-34-3 does either.

The Chinese had been producing their own copies and variants of Soviet field guns, such as the 122mm Type 60 in the late 1950s (heavily based on the Soviet 122mm D-74, but as a matter of fact, a different gun), which might go some way to suggest that this tank is real.

If this is real, it is likely drawings only, not even schematics.

The history of this tank, being a Soviet project passed onto the Chinese, is very convenient. It does, in one sense, make it more plausible, however. The Chinese guns are a little dubious. This one might not seem unreasonable, but I’m sceptical regardless.

Again, no evidence for this, hence it’s dubious.

WZ-111 Model 1-4
As above.

As above.

As above. Reasonably reliable Chinese sources seem to suggest this is real, though. This could be real, but I’ve not seen any photos thus far.

A tank project reportedly cancelled in the late 60s, with the prototype destroyed in nuclear testing? It has a 105mm L/7 gun that was not obtained by the Chinese until ~1980. This is impossible and is therefore fake.

The tank is basically a Type 79 with a slightly different turret (the LRF is wrong, the fume extractor is too small, etc). Why could they not just put the Type 79 in the game instead of lying?

Type 59 Patton.
I answered this in one of my articles, although it is actually feasible as some kind of test vehicle. The whole turret ring discussion might be invalid if the tank is just some kind of means of testing the Patton’s capabilities. In any case, I doubt the vehicle exists in the way in which World of Tanks is suggesting –

This is a Frankenstein of various tanks, the most influential of which was the late production Type 62-I (the one with a turret basket and sideskirts). The gun appears to be based on modern 105mm guns used on various tanks, such as the Type 62 Gai. There are probably some WZ-131 and WZ-132 elements in there, too, such as the turret.

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This is the best photo I’ve been able to find of one (without scrolling down too much on Google). I’m sure our Chinese friends would graciously provide us with better.

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Type 62 Gai with the 105mm gun that the WZ-132-1’s gun appears based on.

Of the WZ-132 prototypes, there is no evidence of one with such a ridiculously long gun. Even the Type 62 Gai has a shorter gun than this (based on eyeballing, not comparing measurements).

All of the tank destroyers.
These are all fake. They just appear to be copies of Soviet counterparts, and in the context of Chinese tank development, it just seems dubious. Given that they are not releasing them outside of the Chinese server, you have to wonder if that is because they don’t want to take any flak from wiseguys like me. Again, same problem as the 112, 121, and 121B, but for these, we actually have someone with insider knowledge who claims that these are fake (see an article on TAP from about a year ago).

In sum, we really don’t know very much about Chinese tanks compared to other countries. Most of the interest surrounding them has been drummed up since World of Tanks created the Chinese tank tree, thus scholarship on Chinese tanks, certainly in English, is confined mostly to Western military reports (see the work of Dr. Martin Andrew), which means that we only really know about tanks that were actually accepted into service.

The Chinese scholarship available to us tends to be internet sources (which contain dubious or unsubstantiated information), or museum photos of plaques (which provide little information). Thus, if there is ever some kind of ‘Chinese glasnost’ with regards to military archives, then we might find that everything we know, or think we know, is untrue.

I am more than willing to believe, if given credible and non-World of Tanks related evidence, that any of these tanks are real (some more readily than others, mind). Our internet sources, which crucially provide photos, are excellent pieces of evidence, as we’ve seen. However, they seem to be reposting museum displays, Chinese books, etc. I’d like to evaluate their source materials, but seeing as though I don’t have them, this is hard to do.

The WZ-122.

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The 122. This looks closely related to the WZ-122.

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The 1224.

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WZ-1226 or ‘1226’ prototype.

The WZ-111 hull.

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T-26 M1935 captured by the PLA.

T-34/76 on display in Liaoning Province. This could be proof of the PLA operating T-34/76s. The roadwheels are T-34/85 modernisation wheels.

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Chi-Ha with 76mm gun. It’s entirely unclear who built this. I suspect it was the Imperial Japanese Army.

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Here is a very handy diagram for all of the Chinese tanks. Admittedly, there are a couple on there that I’ve never heard of. Source:

Renarde_Martel: Is Chickentikka’s description of the vehicles [T-34-1, T-34-2, T-34-3, etc] accurate?

Response: TLDR: I can’t evaluate something without seeing its sources. Moreover, there are no photos distinctly showing a T-34-1, T-34-2, or T-34-3. I don’t believe the T-34-1 or T-34-2 exist, though. There is no evidence of the T-34-3, but it’s fairly plausible.

‘Chickentikka’ has not cited any sources in the article linked in your question, so I can’t really comment on the descriptions of the tanks because I can’t go and check their sources.

If this person has used Chinese internet sources (which is not as unreasonable as it might sound given the lack of scholarship) then I would be intrigued to see them. It’s difficult to evaluate the validity of internet sources unless they cite their original sources (and it’s generally better if they provide photos – the higher quality and resolution, the better).
I reverse image searched some of the photos in that article, and found they link to a Chinese page written in 2008 that is no longer available (at least, not to me). Some are reposted more recently on other Chinese websites, but without seeing the original source(s) ‘Chickentikka’ used, I can only say that the claims made in that article hinge entirely on the author’s word, which, as I’ve explained before, can be problematic for a more cautious historian.

As I mentioned earlier, I don’t believe that the T-34-1, T-34-2, or T-34-3 existed (at least, not beyond concept drawings). As such, the section (and I quote directly from the article) sounds a little dodgy:

“The military was unsatisfied with the T-34-1, so T-34-2 was designed with less weight and lower profile. Using the fact that the smaller size meant less weight, they were able to add more frontal armour (turret armour as well).”

The T-34-1, as I discussed, was likely a concept drawing only. T-54 production was passed onto the Chinese before full T-34 production (of any sort, be it T-34-85 or this T-34-1 concept) started, so I think the PLA was probably more impressed by the T-54, as opposed to not being satisfied with the T-34. Subtle difference, but important. I don’t believe the T-34-2 existed to a point where they could definitely say the tank weighed less. Again, this assumes that the T-34-1 and T-34-2 existed (as I say, they were concept drawings only at best, but there’s essentially no proof of either).

Most of the claims made in the rest of article don’t sound too unreasonable, but they’re basically unsubstantiated. I’d be cautious of the article, but not surprised to learn that parts of the basic history are correct. The previous Chinese internet sources I’ve mentioned, provided by Dddzxc might be useful to you. I just haven’t had time to evaluate them. What I will say is that I’m very cautious to use sources which are published after World of Tanks released their Chinese tanks because it might skew the information in the source.

Leggasiini: Would it be possible to build a historical / semi-historical Chinese TD line? How would it look like?

TLDR: Yes, tier I-VII are fine if you like Soviet tanks, VIII and IX have no viable tanks except SPGs with insufficient gun depression to be TDs, and the X is probably too modern for WoT.

It’s possible to build a semi-historical anything, so let’s stick to totally historical.

The Chinese don’t seem to do anything with tank destroyers of their own accord (with the possible exception of the so-called “SU-76 Gai” – again, what this tank was is very unclear) until the 1980s. They used Soviet-supplied SU-76s, SU-100s, and ISU-122s from 1950-1980, but those are the only tank destroyers which fit in the game properly.

The WZ-141 (a project from around 1975) has recoilless rifles, which I’m told isn’t kosher for WoT. The Type 89 doesn’t enter service until 1989, which I believe is outside the game’s time period.

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WZ-141 prototype. I think I’ve seen another configuration.

The only other candidate for a Chinese Tank Destroyer is barely good enough for tier II – a Clectrac 30 tractor with a 37mm gun and two machine guns was built by the Armoured Car and Tank Corps of Chungking (Chongqing) in 1932, but we have no photos of this. It might have looked something like the Sutton Skunk or HTZ-16 tractor tanks.

Anyway, if you were to take some creative liberties, here is what you could have:

  1. Clectrac 30 w/ 37mm Gun (although not used by the PLA, I suppose it’s acceptable. Unfortunately, we have no photos of this tractor tank. It might look something like the Sutton Skunk see here –
  2. SU-76 ‘Local Production’ (there’s a photo of a plaque in a museum in Beijing showing an SU-76 that looks very poor quality. It is believed to have been locally produced, but it might just be a training tank. I don’t think we’ll have any more clues without another photo, or a better rendering of the current one.)
  3. SU-76 (704 supplied from the USSR, 1951-1954.)
  4. ‘SU-76 Gai’ (this is the SU-76 with a cast superstructure, resembling a Type 62 turret. This one is also potentially dubious. FrankvC-jr asked me if I thought this tank can go into WoT, and I think it can, based on my speculations about it.)
  5. LVT(A)-4 with ZiS-2 (Apparently, these had their original turrets in place, with their guns replaced by ZiS-2s still with their gunshields. There is also a photo or two of LVT-4s with ZiS-3s, but of course, LVT-4s do not have turrets. We know next to nothing about both vehicles except they were made around the mid/late 1950s, and were converted in series.)
  6. SU-100 (99 sold from the USSR in 1954.)
  7. ISU-122 (40 sold from the USSR in 1950.)
  8. Type 70-I w/ 122mm howitzer (this is actually a self-propelled howitzer and does not have the gun depression for anti-tank direct fire.)
  9. Type 85 w/ 122mm (this is actually a self-propelled howitzer and does not have the gun depression for anti-tank direct fire.)
  10. Type 89 (China’s first self-produced tank destroyer.)

Other people are asking me if certain tanks (EG WZ-1224, Type 80 MBT, Type 85 MBT, etc) can be added to the game, or whether they can replace current tanks in game. I don’t play the game, and therefore I don’t know about the mechanics of it. I’m vaguely aware of there being some kind of cut-off point in terms of technology, armour types, and guns, but I don’t know where this lies. You’ll have to work this out for yourselves, or someone with a more solid grip on the game will be able to tell you.

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The SU-76 ‘local production’. I suspect this to actually be a training vehicle, but who knows?

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PLA SU-76s on parade at the Forbidden Palace, Beijing, probably 1954.

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The mysterious ‘SU-76 Gai’.

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LVT(A)-4s with 57mm ZiS-2s in place of the original gun.

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LVT-4s with 76mm ZiS-3s mounted on the hull.

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PLA SU-100s on parade, probably 1954.

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ISU-122s on parade in 1954.

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Type 70-I with 122mm howitzer.

Type 85 with 122mm howitzer.

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Type 89 without the usual thermal sleeve over the gun.

Cancer1234: Could you tell us about an incident where Chinese and Russian soldiers fought over a broke down tank prototype on an island in the border region?

Response: TLDR: The Chinese fought the Soviets in order to assert their territorial integrity and national sovereignty. In 1969, things turned into a war, and the Chinese, very luckily, were able to capture a T-62 in the course of a battle at Zhenbao / Damansky Island. They used reverse-engineered parts for the Type 69, but the Type 69 wasn’t good enough for them, so they appealed to the west for western tank tech and made the Type 79.

This was the Sino-Soviet Border Conflict in 1969. I don’t want to go into major details about the background to it (not everybody will be too interested in the finer details of border disputes), so I’ll include a list of sources for further reading. There are two sides to this story, so, again, I highly encourage people to research this for themselves and make up their own minds about the course of events.

A basic background

The Sino-Soviet border was hotly disputed in the 1960s. Part of the eastern border was situated along the Ussuri River, where the Damansky or Zhenbao Islands (Russian and Chinese names respectively) were located. The islands were essentially right in the middle of the border, and thus both the Soviets and Chinese claimed them. (It’s not quite that simple, but it’ll do for the purposes of the question.)

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Map of the conflict.

The dispute goes all the way back to the 17th century, when Tsarist Russia was expanding towards the east. Long story short – more of the same happens in the 18th and 19th centuries – particularly in the 19th with the so-called ‘Unequal Treaties’ between China and various foreign powers (See the Opium Wars, First Sino-Japanese War, etc). There were attempts in the early Chinese Republic by Sun Yat-sen to resolve the issue of unequal treaties (and by extension, borders), but he died in 1925, and from that point on, the Republic of China was, in the most simplistic explanation ever, busy from then on.

The PRC (People’s Republic of China) is declared in 1949, the war ends shortly after (nominally, that is). The USSR and PRC cooperate (albeit begrudgingly) until the Sino-Soviet Split circa 1960. (I’m not going into details as to why this happens because it’s not directly related to the question.)

Tensions had been growing for about a decade prior to the incident in 1969. The Chinese stated that they were just trying to clearly demarcate their border, whereas the USSR didn’t understand there to actually be any dispute. In the broader context of the Sino-Soviet Split, China was really asserting its sovereignty from the USSR, something which had been troubling the CCP for quite some time. For example, China had wanted to invade Taiwan, but wasn’t allowed to because of Soviet pressure. (Again, I advise reading up on this if you don’t want such a grossly oversimplified view. I highly recommend Wiegand’s Enduring Territorial Disputes for more information on this.)

China had been making military threats about its borders to the USSR since around 1964, and there had been a series of small scale military incidents from that point on, but March 1969 is the part the question is specifically directed at.

There are both Russian and Chinese versions of events, but the story essentially goes like this (this section is based on Dr. Martin Andrew’s “Tuo Mao: the Operational History of the People’s Liberation Army”, I highly recommend reading the section in Chapter 4 on this for more):

In the morning of 2nd March, 1969, eight Soviet border guards were confronted by a Maoist protest on Damansky / Zhenbao Island consisting of 300 PLA soldiers disguised as civilians. The protestors suddenly opened fire on the border guards and killed them. Local Soviet border guards responded and retook the island from the PLA, but 31 border guards were killed and 14 were wounded in the fight.

On 15th March (nearly two weeks later), PLA artillery began to hammer the island, and Chinese infantry stormed it shortly after. The Soviets responded by sending in 20 tanks and 30 other AFVs (such as BTR-60s), along with 200 of their own soldiers. Four T-62s tried to flank the PLA from the rear, but they were being targeted by PLA artillery. T-62 #545 then lost a track to a Chinese AT mine and was effectively disabled. The other T-62s withdrew. More Soviet AFVs (mostly, if not totally, BTRs) were disabled from Chinese AT fire from ranges of only ~80 metres, and Soviet mechanized infantry did not disembark and begin any further assaults. As a result, the PLA controlled the islands again and begun digging in.

By 5pm that same day, the Soviets had brought up heavy artillery, including BM-21 rocket systems and began to fire at the PLA. They firstly destroyed Chinese AT positions, and then launched a salvo at PLA forces who were dug in on the island. An estimated 600-800 PLA soldiers were killed by the latter barrage.

Subsequently, the Soviets retook the island, and resisted three PLA counterattacks.

At night, the PLA snuck over to the disabled T-62 and began stealing components. They took the gun stabilizer, the sights, and APFDS ammo – all for reverse engineering. (Chinese tank development had truly stagnated since the withdrawal of Soviet advisors and engineers following the Sino-Soviet split in 1960. You need only look at Chinese tank developments to see how badly this had affected them. For example, even after reverse engineering of the T-62, their Type 69 was hardly more than a modernised Type 59. Thus, it is clear to see why the PLA were so keen to reverse engineer Soviet equipment.)

On the 17th March, the Soviets realised that the tank needed to be salvaged or scuttled, in order to prevent the Chinese from reverse engineering the entire thing. At first, the Soviets tried to retrieve the T-62, and Soviet artillery even rained down on Chinese positions to provide covering fire for the operation. However, they realised, for one reason or another, that recovery was impossible – keep in mind that this tank had lost a track and was stuck on a frozen river. As a result, the Soviets tried to scuttle the tank by sinking it in the river by breaking the ice around it.

Four Chinese ISU-122s attempted to prevent the scuttling, but they were hit by Soviet artillery. One was blown up, one caught fire, and the other two subsequently withdrew. The T-62 was eventually sunk in the river up to its turret, and this was apparently deemed sufficient by the Soviets.

Except it wasn’t. On the night of 1st/2nd May, the PLA brought three heavy tractors, and hitched the T-62 to them. They towed it away, and the rest is history. T-62 #545 now on display in Beijing. (I’m not clear on what these exact tractors were, and how they managed to pull the operation off. I assume – please note the use of the word ‘assume’ – that the tractors were armoured ARVs, which meant that they resisted small arms fire, and that Soviet artillery did not target them.)

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T-62 on display in Beijing.

The reverse engineering of the tank helped Chinese designers in the Type 69 project. Up until 1969, Chinese tank development was not satisfactory. Even when the Type 69 was complete and rolling off production lines it was considered unsatisfactory. This led to the development of the Type 79, with new western (not Soviet) components, such as a copy of the 105mm l/7 gun and Marconi FCS system.

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Type 69 tank.

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Type 79 tank with its distinctive 105mm gun.


Andrew, Martin, Tuo Mao: the Operational History of the People’s Liberation Army, PhD dissertation, submitted to Bond University, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, 2008. (The Sino-Soviet border dispute is discussed in Chapter 4, and talks more about the military history of the conflict. I also highly recommend this for a broader military history of the PLA.)

Goldstein, Lyle J. ‘Return to Zhenbao Island, Who Started Shooting and Why it Matters’ The China Quarterly 168 (2001), 985-997. (This is a good overview of working out who was the aggressor, etc.)

Luthi, Lorenz M., The Sino Soviet Split: Cold War in the Communist World (Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2008). (This provides some good background information on the Sino-Soviet Split.)

Robinson, Thomas W., ‘The Sino-Soviet Border Dispute: Background, Development, and the March 1969 Clashes’ The American Political Science Review 66 (1972), 1175-1202. (This piece of scholarship is a little dated, but it’s a fine and short overview of the conflict.)

Wiegand, Krista E., Enduring Territorial Disputes: Strategies of Bargaining, Coercive Diplomacy, and Settlement (Athens, University of Georgia Press, 2011). (Chapter 8 is on the Sino-Soviet border dispute. A nice, easy read. You can probably get a cheap second hand copy of this from an international relations student. This is how I got mine.)

Cancer1234: Did tank cooperation of the Chinese government with the Soviets after the Sino-Soviet split continue in any form?

Response: TLDR: No.

Khrushchev withdrew all Soviet technical advisors, engineers, etc in 1960. The Chinese were on their own from this point, hence why they had to reverse engineer Soviet weapons, and acquire western tank technology, such as the 105mm L/7 gun (around 1980).

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A nice cartoon on the Sino-Soviet split.

SgtZephyr: How long did the Chinese use the captured Japanese tanks in active service?

Response: TLDR: Probably around the mid-50s.

We don’t know. As far as I can tell, they were phased out shortly after the Civil War. Gongchen Tank (the famous Chi-Ha Shinhoto) was reportedly retired as late as 1959. I suspect that it was either used for training purposes, or ceremonial purposes. I wish I had a more concrete date to give you for all tanks, but sources make no mention of this. I have no evidence to suggest that Japanese tanks were fielded after the initial Soviet arms sales to the PLA ended in 1955, so sometime in the mid-50s seems quite likely.

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Chi-Ha Shinhoto tanks in PLA service.

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Ha-Go tanks in PLA service.

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Type 95 So-Ki in PLA service on display in Beijing.

Nothing Inside: Are there Chinese improvements in captured Japanese vehicles?

Response: TLDR: Probably nothing as standard. One-off improvisations might have occurred during the Civil War. There are reports of engines being replaced after the Civil War – I doubt it but can’t prove it either way.

Not that I can confirm.

Every now and again, when I discuss Gongchen Tank, people mention two things:

Firstly, there seems to be a misconception that Gongchen Tank was a regular Chi-Ha which has a 47mm gun placed in the turret instead of a 37mm gun. Gongchen Tank was always a Chi-Ha Shinhoto, which means it had a 47mm gun. I chased up the suggestion of this, and it comes from a Wikipedia article on Gongchen Tank that was worded badly.

Secondly, the same Wikipedia article mentions some Chi-Ha tanks being given a Kharkov 500hp V-2 engine. There is no citation here for me to trace, so I can’t confirm this as true or false. I’ve not read anything about this, but scholarship on Japanese tanks in PLA service is very wanting, even if you count Chinese language sources (which I often have to use). These engines were used on a plethora of Soviet tanks which were all superior to the Chi-Ha. It seems as though Japanese tanks were very quickly phased out of PLA service (it’s completely unclear when, but I’d imagine not much later than 1955, even as training tanks), so why would they need to replace the engine?

Some Chi-Ha Shinhoto tanks in Chinese museums seem to have a strange box added to the turret. I really cannot say for sure what these are. In fact, I have no idea. It’s possible they were added for some kind of restoration purpose (making the restoration inaccurate), but I don’t know. I’d need to talk to a curator about these turret modifications. See here –

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Strange turret modification to a Chi-Ha Shinhoto, on display in China. The writing is in Simplified Chinese, indicating it does not date to the Civil War period.

One Chinese commenter on TAP has asked: Dddzxc: As a Chinese player, I found a record of the Revolutionary Hero Tank (功臣号CHI HA KAI). When it entered the museum, they switched 57mm gun to the original 47mm gun. Do you have the data or photos of the converted 57mm gun?” so I’ll address this here.

There are no photos of Gongchen Tank, available to me, that are before the October 1st Victory Parade, 1949. I believe I have seen some photos of Gongchen Tank on that parade, and they show it with a regular 47mm gun. I hadn’t heard of any 57mm gun suggestion before this. The issue is, again, that scholarship on Gongchen Tank (and indeed, all Japanese tanks in PLA service) is rather lacking. I’ve read this article (, which suggests it did have a 57mm gun, but this is the first time I have read about this. Could it be a typo? I, personally, doubt that it is a typo, but the photos show 47mm guns only.

I mean, I am slightly concerned to read a number of sources suggest that the original gun was replaced, but seeing no photographic evidence to confirm this. The story in the linked article tallies, for the most part, with what I’ve read (although it goes into more detail). In all honesty, my sources for my Tanks Encyclopedia article on Gongchen Tank are probably, at best insufficient, and at worst unreliable. More academic scholarship is wanting with regards to Gongchen Tank. In any case, I’ve done the best with what I’ve got.

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Gongchen Tank on what I believe to be the October 1st 1949 parade. The gun just looks like a regular 47mm gun of any Chi-Ha Shinhoto.

Dddzxc: China has planned to build a tank factory to produce LT in 1942. The project was stopped because the Burma Road was cut off. The planned LT completed the aluminium model and produced some parts. Do you have any information about this LT?

Response: TLDR: I have no idea.

I have no information on the Kuomintang building light tanks. It was, frankly, nigh on impossible for them to do that for the exact reason you say, their ports and the Burma Road being cut off, meaning that getting supplies into and out of China, 1937-1945 was incredibly difficult. I will have to do more research into this, but this would take me at least a week or two. I can’t answer this here and now. I wonder if PRC archives even have information on this one.

You are more than welcome to assist me on this.

Bellzidanto: When do you set the Chinese Pz.1, BT-5?

Response: TLDR: The Panzer I was used by the Kuomintang, and the handful they had were lost at Shanghai in 1937. The BT-5 might have been used in very small numbers by the KMT 200th Division from late 1937 or early 1938, but we have no photos of it, and no credible sources about it.

If you’re asking me the history of those two tanks, then that’s fairly straightforward.

As part of a broader military modernization campaign, the KMT hired German military advisors headed by General von Seekt. These advisors convinced Chiang Kai-shek to buy as many arms as possible from Europe – no doubt, a money-making scheme by the German advisors, as China bought plenty of German-produced equipment including Panzer Is, Sd.Kfz.221s and 222s, field guns and artillery pieces, and even large numbers of the Stalhelm helmet.

According to Panzer Tracts, 15 Panzer I Ausf. As were sold to the Kuomintang in mid-late 1936. They arrived in June, 1937, in horrible condition. They were shipped poorly, so lots of parts had rusted, including the gun mounts, the gun sights, and steering brakes. The electrical components were heavily damaged by the warm and humid air – most worryingly of all, the cooling fans for the brakes. The batteries for the electrical components were also ruined anyway. In addition, some tool boxes, cloth components, and operation manuals were ruined. Worse still, the tanks would often overheat. Temperatures inside the tank could get as high as 60 degrees c in the summer, even with all hatches open. The only positive for the Panzer I was that it was considered rather roomy. Everything else was inadequate.
So essentially, the Panzer Is the Chinese got were in horrific shape. In fact, the KMT even accused the Germans of selling the Chinese used models, which is not what they agreed. The Chinese paid 1.03 million Reichsmark for the tanks (about US$25 million in today’s money), so they were, understandably, not happy.
According to some photos, some Panzer Is were rearmed with Soviet DP-29 machine guns. This might have something to do with the Chinese thinking that the tanks were underarmed. The Chinese felt that a tank weighing over 5 tons should have an armament of a 20mm or 37mm gun, or, at very least, a powerful belt-fed machine gun (like their Vickers Mark E Type B, Vickers-Carden-Loyd Light Amphibious Tanks). Off-road use of the tanks was unimaginable, because the tracks were not wide enough for any rather muddy rice fields (especially anywhere north of the Yangtze River). Essentially, the tracks got stuck in the mud, and the tank threw the track. Dykes that separated fields were often around 1.5 metres tall, and the Panzer I had trouble clearing those, too. Off-roading on completely dry fields was okay, if the driver was careful.

In spite of all of this, the Panzer Is served at the Battle of Nanjing (Nanking) against the Japanese in December, 1937. The battle was short (lasting less than two weeks), and brutal. I believe all of the tanks were abandoned, as opposed to lost in battle.

According to Benny Tsang, they were abandoned in Xiaguan District at night time around December 12th. The story essentially goes that hordes of civilians and soldiers went to Xiaguan’s harbour (in the south of Nanjing) in order to escape the Japanese. They were blockaded by barrier troops (who were there to stop mass desertions). A tank unit burst through the blockade troops, and found that there were few ships in the harbour. People tried to board the last ships, but they were so overcrowded that they sank. After that, there was no escape for thepeople left in Nanjing. The rape of Nanjing commenced the following day.

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Chinese Panzer I Ausf As with DP or DT machine guns, abandoned in Nanjing, December, 1937.

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Sd.Kfz. 222s and a couple of 221s in KMT service.

With regards to Chinese BT-5s, especially after the heavy losses in 1937 at the Battle of Shanghai and the Battle of Nanjing, the KMT appealed to the USSR for arms sales. As a result of the Sino-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact, signed in August, 1937, the USSR began supplying the KMT’s newly formed 200th Division with Soviet equipment (probably very late December or early 1938). 83 T-26s were sold, along with small, but unknown numbers of BT-5s (I believe I’ve read around 4, but there is no photographic evidence), BA-27s (at least 4 according to photographic evidence, unclear which model), BA-3/6s (unclear which model, at least two according to photographic evidence), BA-20s (unclear which model, no photographic evidence), and possibly some BA-10Ms (which are possibly misidentified BA-3/6s).

Despite sounding impressive, Soviet arms shipments to Spain were much greater, and such a small number of AFVs would never cover the vast expanses of China from further Japanese gains.

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Chiang Kai-shek inspects a CV-35 of the 200th Division, circa 1938.

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Chiang Kai-shek inspecting some T-26s.


For currency conversion: [Accessed on 17/05/2017]. Note: I took the figure of 1.03 reichsmarks in 1936, converted it into US dollars for 2015, and multiplied the answer by 1 million. This might be a little inaccurate, but it gives a ballpark figure that we can work off as a comparison.

Benny Tsang provided some information and documents relating to Chinese Panzer Is back in 2011. I can produce everything upon request.

Deano: Is there any kind of potential for a thunderbolt style premium tank? (As in premiums based off of a real historical vehicle)

Response: TLDR: T-62 #545 and Gongchen Tank are the main ones that spring to mind.

The only two I can think of are Gongchen Tank (a Chi-Ha Shinhoto), and T-62 #545. I’ve already talked about these two, so I won’t go into any detail. Some tanks, British and US, were captured in Korea, and they could perhaps be included too. Some of the more interesting ones include: M24 Chaffee, Cromwell Mk VII, M4A3E8, M36 Jackson, and a Centurion Mk. III (of the King’s Royal Irish Hussars). Not all of these were recovered by the PLA, of course.

Deano: What is the best Chinese tank design you’ve seen that’s not featured in World of Tanks?

Response: TLDR: I like the Renault FT as used by the Fengtian Army of Zhang Zuolin because they had locally built 37mm guns. [Seb: I love Zuolin’s clique too, they had a great flag]

I quite like the Renault FT tanks of the Fengtian Army because it was the first ‘proper’ tank in China. What I will say immediately is that I need to research FTs in China in a lot more detail. Thus far, I’ve got some broad ideas, and I was due to start my research on them last month. Unfortunately, this is a busy month for me, so I will start this properly in June. Here is what I have thus far:

The Fengtian Army was the army of famous (or, infamous) warlord, Zhang Zuolin (sometimes Chang Tso-lin in old scholarship), which operated out of Manchuria from 1911-1937. (Zuolin was assassinated by the Japanese in 1927, but his son, Zhang Xueliang replaced him and swore loyalty to the Kuomintang, who Zuolin was sympathetic to anyway.)

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Zhang Zuolin, probably in the mid-1920s.

For those who don’t know about the Warlord Era (1916-1928), in the most basic terms, here is what you need to know:

The Qing Dynasty collapsed in 1911 because it consistently failed to successfully respond to foreign and internal threats from roughly the First Opium War (1839-1842) up to the Boxer Rebellion (1899-1901). As a result, there was an uprising in 1911 (the Xinhai Revolution), and a republic was declared. When Yuan Shikai was elected president in 1913, his rule was fairly autocratic. He even declared himself Emperor in 1915, attempting to restore the monarchy. Provincial officials refused and then began to rebel. Yuan eventually died in mid-1916. Politically fractured, divided, and lacking a strong government, local warlords began to assert autonomy, thus begins the Warlord Era. Various factions (and there are a lot!) across China begin fighting each other for dominance.

(That’s all you really need to know for the purposes of this question. I’ve simplified this beyond imagination because it’s a lot to cover, it’s all very complicated, and it can be quite boring at times, especially for the purposes of the question ‘What is your favourite Chinese tank?’ In any case, I encourage anyone intrigued to read up on it.)

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Somewhat simplistic map showing how divided China was in the Warlord era. (Chang Tso-Lin is a different Romanization of Zhang Zuolin.)

Zhang Zuolin became one of the most powerful warlords, and he was able to acquire some significant military hardware including bomber aircraft and tanks. A lot of the tanks / armoured cars were locally built, but he was also able to obtain Renault FTs from the French.

At this point, I would like to point out that sources are sketchy on Zhang Zuolin and his tanks. Anthony B. Chan’s Arming the Chinese: The Western Armaments Trade in Warlord China 1920-1928 is (as he smugly reminds us in his preface to the 2nd edition) the most complete account of the arms trade in the Warlord Era. (However, he can only say this because very few people have investigated the arms trade in the Warlord Era. In fact, the Warlord Era as a whole is much understudied in western academia). Unfortunately, there is no mention of the Renault FT being sold to Zhang Zuolin in his book. So, our best source on Warlord Era arms trade has got nothing to help us. Not even a footnote.

There are two other sources (that I have to hand) that I need to comb through to see if there are any references to the Renault FT. These are Francis Arthur Sutton’s autobiography, and his biography by Charles Drage. Sutton was a British adventurer who aided Zhang Zuolin, and if you want to know a bit more about him, read my article on his tractor tank from 1933 – Unfortunately, I don’t have the time to do this at the moment, but I will do so next month.

So what I can say on the Renault FT in China thus far is largely based on the word of Benny Tsang, a forums user who goes by the name of ‘Akira Takizawa’, and a few others. Naturally, I want to check their sources myself, but at this moment in time, I don’t know what their sources are, or I don’t have access to them. A lot of the sources, when cited, are very old scholarship (one book dates to 1945).

(With our detour into scholarly problems over, back to the Renault FT.)

It seems as though around 1918, Zhang Zuolin bought a handful of Renault FTs from the French expeditionary force dispatched to Vladivostok. Later around 1922-1925, he acquired some more. In total, I think the Fengtian Army operated a total of ~two dozen (24-26 seems a common ballpark figure).

These Renault FTs were armed with ZB-29 machine guns, or Type 14 37mm guns, locally built at the Shenyang arsenal. We have photos of them on parade in Mukden, 1930, showing both of these guns.

Zhang is reported to have lost ~12 during the Warlord Era. Another ~12 were captured by the Japanese in 1931 following their invasion of Manchuria, and were used by the Kwantung Army, and, apparently, the Manchukuo Imperial Army. ~2 were given to the KMT in 1932/3. We have evidence of at least one, because a photo shows a Type 14 37mm gun variant with a KMT sun. The KMT also acquired a handful of their own in 1927.

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Three Renault FTs of the Fengtian Army in Mukden, 1930. Two of them have locally built 37mm guns, the middle one has a ZB-29 machine gun.

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KMT Renault FT with a Type 14 37mm gun, thus proving the KMT inherited some of Zuolin’s FTs.

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Renault FT of the Kwantung Army, as indicated by the distinctive star on the hull, and the headgear of the soldiers.

Chan, Anthony B., Arming the Chinese: The Western Armaments Trade in Warlord China, 1920-1928 (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2010).

Sutton, Francis Arthur, One Arm Sutton (Surrey: The Windmill Press, 1933).

Drage, Charles, General of Fortune: The Fabulous Story of One-Arm Sutton (London: Heinemann, 1963).

‘The First Tanks of China’, August 2006,—-+Renault+FT-17+of+Manchurian+Army [Accessed 14/05/2017]

‘Questions on Chinese FTs’, November, 2009, [Accessed 14/05/2017]

‘New Info about Chinese FT-17’, January, 2009, [Accessed 16/06/2017].

Additional reading (I include these as a basis for foundational study, I can make further recommendations upon request):

On the 2nd Sino-Japanese War / War of Resistance:
Harmsen, Peter, Shanghai 1937: Stalingrad on the Yangtze (Oxford: Casemate Publishers, 2013). This is, and will probably remain, the seminal work on the Battle of Shanghai.

Mitter, Rana China’s War With Japan, 1937-1945, the Struggle For Survival (London: Penguin Books, 2014). This is a very basic reader (essentially, pop history), but novices to Chinese history will enjoy this book.

On the Chinese Civil War:

Westad, Odd Arne, Decisive Encounters: The Chinese Civil War 1946-1950 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003). Novices and academics alike cannot study the Chinese Civil War without this book. I include this as my only recommended reading on the Civil War because it is quite comprehensive and accessible.

Military studies on the Chinese PLA:

Andrew, Martin, Tuo Mao: the Operational History of the People’s Liberation Army, PhD dissertation, submitted to Bond University, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, 2008. This is the seminal piece of studies into the PLA from its foundation until ~ present day.

Bjorge, Gary J., Leavenworth Paper Number 22: Moving the Enemy: Operational Art in the Chinese PLA’s Huai Hai Campaign (Fort Leavenworth: Combat Studies Institute Press, 2003). This is a book that focuses a lot on military tactics, and goes into a lot of depth on the Huai Hai Campaign, winter 1948/9. As a historian (not so much a military historian – yes, there is quite a difference), I don’t like everything in this work, but it is quite an useful source.

Unknown author, The Tank Division of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army 1945-1955 (Taipei: Humanism Print, 2016). This is a Taiwanese book that came out recently. It is written in Traditional Chinese, and I have had sections translated. I feel as though this source is unreliable, and would like to replace it soon. In any case, it has some good photos (which are, unfortunately, printed on poor quality paper).

On the collapse of the Qing Dynasty:

Andrade, Tonio, The Gunpowder Age: China, Military Innovation, and the Rise of the West in World History (Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2016). Fans of Jared Diamond will enjoy this work. I encourage military historians to read this book. I encourage non-military historians (mainly academics) to avoid this book unless looking for a light read.

On the T-34: