Logistics: China Goes Full Beamte

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September 24, 2020: As part of the Chinese military modernization that began in the 1990s, China adopted an old European custom of civilian administrative and technical specialists who were part of the military, wore uniforms and had rank and pay equivalent to senior NCOs and officers all the way up to senior generals. These were called Beamten (officials) and the system was established so the number of Beamten could be greatly expanded in wartime to provide needed specialists in areas like medicine, meteorology (weather prediction), logistics (procuring food, clothing and equipment), legal, education, research, construction, finance, maintenance and repair of heavy equipment and so on. The rank insignia on beamte uniforms are similar to but distinct from what officers and senior NCOs wore.

Bematen do not have military rank or authority, although junior troops often cannot tell the different and saluted beamte they encountered. Beamte only have authority in their specialty often supervise (not “command”) large numbers of non-uniformed civilians and coordinated activities with managers and executives of civilian firms providing goods and services to the military. During World War II over 100,000 Beamten worked for the German military and towards the end of the war many of them, especially those who were retired officers of NCOs, were converted to officers because of the shortage of officers in the last year of the war.

The current Chinese military has two million personnel plus about 30,000 “Beamte” which the Chinese call “contract civilians” or “civilian cadres (supervisors)”. There are many more non-uniformed civilian employees that the contract civilians supervise. Many of these work for provincial recruiting and administrative organizations that handle conscription and volunteers for the military. Like the Germans, the Chinese Beamte are considered officer level officials who wear uniforms with special insignia, are paid at rates similar to officers and provide a force of experienced Beamte that can be rapidly expanded in wartime. The Chinese beamte work on three to five year employment contracts.

The American system is different and the Department of Defense has 750,000 civilian government employees. Most of these are never expected to serve with the troops although some do and the civil service (GS) ranks are used to determine what level accommodations these civilians receive if working with the military overseas or a combat zone. These civilians are usually given field (combat uniforms) with no rank insignia. So are other civilians attached to the military in a combat zone, like journalists. But this is much less “militarized” than the beamte system developed by many European armies during the 19th century. The system continues in some countries into the present although most now use the less formal American system for civilian employees of the military. China found the German World War II system more useful for their needs, especially since the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) occupies a special position in the Chinese military similar to the German Nazi Party during World War II. Like the Germans the Chinese favor military veterans for Beamte jobs but only if the vets have the necessary technical or educational skills as well.

 


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