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Embattled Glory

Veterans, Military Families, and the Politics of Patriotism in China, 1949–2007

Neil J. Diamant

This groundbreaking book examines the treatment of veterans of the People's Liberation Army and military families as an illuminating window into Chinese patriotism, citizenship, and legitimacy. Using a wealth of recently declassified archival documents and employing a wide comparative perspective, Neil J. Diamant presents the first large-scale study of these groups in comparison to similar populations in other parts of Asia and in the West. He offers an unprecedented look at the "everyday interactions" among veterans, military families, state officials, and ordinary citizens as they attempted to secure urban residence, jobs, spouses, medical care, and respect.

Often celebrated by the government for their glorious and patriotic service, veterans and military families were the beneficiaries of many policies, such as affirmative action in hiring and access to political power. But, the author asks, if veteran and military families were heroic, why did many of them compare their situation to "donkeys slaughtered after grinding the wheat" and "tossed-away dirty socks?" And what explains the thousands of suicides among veterans, rampant discrimination, and ongoing protests against the government? By comparing veterans in China to their counterparts in the United States, the Soviet Union, Israel, and elsewhere, this book provides important answers to the larger question of what circumstances lead to better or worse treatment of veterans, and what this treatment tells us about patriotism, legitimacy, and respect for military service.
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Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
Pages: 480Size: 6 x 9
978-0-7425-5767-3 • Paperback • January 2010 • $43.00 • (£29.95)
978-0-7425-5768-0 • eBook • January 2010 • $40.00 • (£24.95)
Neil J. Diamant is associate professor of Asian law and society and chair of the Department of Political Science at Dickinson College.
Chapter 1: Introduction
Chapter 2: To the City or Bust: Veterans and the Quest for Urban Citizenship
Chapter 3: The Complications of Veteran Identities
Chapter 4: The Job Front
Chapter 5: Stuck in the State's Cement and Falling Through Its Cracks: Veterans in Policy and Bureaucracy
Chapter 6: Vulnerable Heroes: Veterans' Heath, Family, and Sexuality in Chinese Politics
Chapter 7: Between Glory and Welfare: Military Families, the State, and Community
Chapter 8: Salt in the Wounds: Veterans in the Reform Era, 1978–2007
Chapter 9: Conclusion: Walter Reed, Iraq, and China

Appendix A: A Brief Survey of Archival Materials in China
Appendix B: Selected Character List
Appendix C: Source Materials
Rarely is China described without some reference to its 'nationalism.' How do we explain, then, the overwhelmingly poor treatment of China's military veterans and their families, including those belonging to the triumphant People's Liberation Army? Diamant's answer, which draws on specific analyses of social and economic factors, carries us toward conclusions that will require a rethinking, for China, of the very idea of patriotism.
Arthur Waldron, University of Pennsylvania

Neil J. Diamant's excellent study of Chinese veterans goes a long way toward correcting this neglect [of the military and war in Western histories of China]. . . . His descriptions of the disappointments of veterans who come home from military service to find that they are not particularly welcome are very moving. . . . Diamant's book is about Chinese veterans, but it is informed by comparisons with the treatment of veterans in many other societies. The comparisons are so rich that they make the book a general study of the treatment of veterans, not just a book about China.
American Historical Review

A welcome addition to the limited literature on the subject. . . . Overall, the book sheds much-needed light on an understudied topic. Diamant does an excellent job of using archival material to improve our understanding of Chinese veterans in the Maoist era and adds to our understanding of politics and social issues in that era. . . . The author clearly has a passion for this topic. . . . He is deeply concerned with veterans and how they are treated, whether in China or elsewhere. Hopefully it will encourage further research and bring more scholarly attention to the comparative study of veterans' issues.
China Quarterly

A wonderful book that both expands the study of war from its normally European base to the significant case of China and also expands the study of contemporary China from the usual emphasis of party, village, and enterprise. Very well-written and exhaustively researched, it should be read by both students of war and of China. It is a far too rare marriage of rigorous theoretical questions and solid empirical answers.
Miguel Centeno, Princeton University

Although focused on China, this volume is as much a discussion about ‘veterans universal’ as it is about Chinese veterans. It is perhaps Diamant’s Israeli Defense Forces service during the Lebanon years that makes the difference, enhancing the quality of this title. . . . Diamant has created a more than interesting look at veterans’ benefits in China and has used comparative bridges to other nations and cultures to illuminate the point that what societies say about their veterans and what services and benefits they actually deliver are two very different things. It is a good piece of work and well worth reading.
Armed Forces & Society

Taking on a highly important and yet much neglected topic, Niel J. Diamant's new book . . . sheds light on larger questions regarding the legitimacy of war, patriotism, and nationalism in China. This . . . ambitious work . . . paints a sophisticated picture of the difficulties Chinese veterans have faced. . . . It makes a unique and welcome contribution to the sparse literature on the subject.
Journal of Political and Military History

Painstakingly researched, engaging, thought-provoking and even moving. . . . Diamant succeeds brilliantly in making the case that China’s veterans have been shabbily treated, both by the Party, their government, and their fellow-citizens. He also draws on secondary literature and on his experience as a veteran of the Israeli army to put China’s treatment of veterans into comparative perspective. . . . Embattled Glory is an excellent and thought-provoking piece of scholarship which would make excellent reading for graduate and advanced undergraduate students as well as to scholars with a serious interest in the history and politics of the People’s Republic.
Twentieth-Century China

Neil Diamant has made a pioneering contribution with his book, the most substantial study of China's treatment of its veterans and military families since the founding of the PRC. . . . He offers a direct and pragmatic study of how veterans and military families were treated at the local level and how they were received by the general population. . . . The single most important contribution of this study is the author's challenge to the prevailing view of the threat of China's rising nationalism and patriotism. . . . It poses an interesting question to readers: whether the CCP's self-interest in the retirement of its party cadres overrides the general national interest of the nation's demobilized soldiers.
Pacific Affairs

Drawing on detailed archival work, Diamant depicts the arduous plight of demobilized veterans and their families, masterfully portraying their frustrating interactions with government officials, factory bosses, and local cadres. . . . In revealing the incongruity between the public image of the soldier-hero versus the reality of veterans’ mistreatment, Diamant forcibly deepens and challenges our understanding of Chinese nationalism, citizenship, and patriotism. Diamant’s comparison of the fate of Chinese veterans with those from other countries is especially useful in driving his point home. . . . The book’s striking thesis is that everyday Chinese nationalism and patriotism is weak in large part because China has ‘never experienced being a “nation-in-arms” in a legitimate war’ and the related lack of a ‘lived experience between classes’ produced ‘no significant leveling effect.’ This insight makes us see old events in a new light.
Journal of Asian Studies

Places the experiences of Chinese veterans and soldiers' families in comparative perspective, drawing upon the historical and sociological literature on Soviet, American, Japanese, Australian, Roman, German, French, and Israeli veterans, among others

Draws extensively upon never-seen-before archival materials from Chinese cities and the countryside, as well as from archives in Taiwan and Israel

Offers new perspectives on how to conceptualize, measure, and evaluate key issues such as patriotism, citizenship, and state legitimacy in China

Reveals how ordinary citizens and low-level officials interacted with veterans and military families in multiple settings, and how this differed significantly from their status in propaganda

Presents, for the first time, archival data on how ordinary citizens assessed the legitimacy of the Korean War

Explores the causes of suicide among veteran and military families, both populations touted as "heroic"