August 25, 2012:
Over the last three years, without any fanfare, China has changed the names of its armed forces. Gone is the PLA (Peoples Liberation Army) prefix for the navy (PLAN) and air force (PLAAF). It's now just the Chinese Army, Chinese Navy, and Chinese Air Force. There is also the Marines of the Chinese Navy. These changes can be seen on patches worn by Chinese troops operating overseas. These badges show the symbol representing the service, the name in Chinese and also in English (the international language, especially in Asia).
Since there was no official announcement, there was no explanation for why the old PLA prefix was dropped. The PLA was the original Chinese Communist armed forces, founded in 1927 by the Chinese Communist Party. This force was initially known as the Chinese Red Army. After World War II the PLA name was formally adopted for all the communist armed forces.
Because of this Communist Party connection, and continuing Chinese efforts to merge with Taiwan (the last territory held by the non-communist groups that lost the civil war in 1948 and took refuge on Taiwan), it is believed the "Peoples Liberation" prefix was discarded to please the "democratic" (as opposed to "communist") Chinese on Taiwan, as well as all those non-communist neighbors.
For the last two decades China has been working to modernize its armed forces and this name change appears to be a minor, but important, part of that.