January 21, 2011:
China considers information about how its armed forces are organized to be state secrets. Thus sorting out the composition of the Chinese armed forces means collecting a lot of data from news media, blogs and message boards. Even then, you're never quite sure if you have it right. For example, consider Chinese naval aviation reserve units. Those who follow these matters cannot agree on whether Chinese naval aviation actually has reserve units. Some units (often "independent regiments" that are actually the size of Western squadrons) appear to shut down for a year or more (their aircraft don't fly and there appear to be few, if any personnel assigned), and then, suddenly the unit is back in the air again. This, however, may just be a version of the "war mobilization unit" pioneered by the Soviet Union. The Chinese adopted many military concepts from the Soviets, and this appears to be one of them.
A war mobilization unit is one that has equipment, and very few personnel assigned. If there's a war, local men who recently got out of the armed forces, are recalled and given some time (rarely enough) to get the weapons and equipment operational and then it's off to war. This is bad enough with an army unit, but with aircraft, it's even worse. Capable pilots need constant time in the air to retain their combat flying skills. Recalling civil aviation pilots to man rarely flown reserve aircraft is the sort of thing that provides aerial targets for the enemy, and not much else. But that appears to be what the Chinese are doing, perhaps only as an experiment, or an old habit that just won't go away.