Unrestricted Warfare

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Unrestricted Warfare
The cover to the original Simplified Chinese edition
AuthorsWang Xiangsui
Qiao Liang
Original title超限战
CountryPeople’s Republic of China
LanguageChinese, English
PublisherPeople's Liberation Army Literature and Arts Publishing House
Publication date
February 1999
Followed byUnrestricted Warfare and Countering Unrestricted Warfare (2016) 
WebsiteUnrestricted Warfare at the Internet Archive

Unrestricted Warfare: Two Air Force Senior Colonels on Scenarios for War and the Operational Art in an Era of Globalization[1] (simplified Chinese: 超限战; traditional Chinese: 超限戰; lit. 'warfare beyond bounds') is a book on military strategy written in 1999 by two colonels in the People's Liberation Army (PLA), Qiao Liang (乔良) and Wang Xiangsui (王湘穗).[2] Its primary concern is how a nation such as China can defeat a technologically superior opponent (such as the United States) through a variety of means.[3] Rather than focusing on direct military confrontation, this book instead examines a variety of other means such as political warfare.[4][5][6][7] Such means include using legal tools (see lawfare) and economic means as leverage over one's opponent and circumvent the need for direct military action.[8] [9] [10] [11]


Taylor Fravel pointed out a common distortion in translation of the subtitle of the book. While it was translated and understood in the West by many as "China’s Master Plan to Destroy America", the actual subtitle was "Two Air Force Senior Colonels on Scenarios for War and the Operational Art in an Era of Globalization".[1]

Source of text[edit]

The English translation of the book was first made available by the Foreign Broadcast Information Service in 1999.[5][2] The book was then published in English by a previously unknown Panamanian publisher, with the subtitle "China's Master Plan to Destroy America" and a picture of the burning World Trade Center on the cover.[12] A French translation was published in 2003.[13]

The text has been cited by the US government, e.g. on a military website by James Perry who states:

In February 1999, the PLA Literature and Arts Publishing House issued Unrestricted Warfare, a book written by two PLA air force political officers, Senior Col Qiao Liang and Senior Col Wang Xiangsui. The venue for publication and the laudatory reviews of the book in official publications suggested that Unrestricted Warfare enjoyed the support of some elements of the PLA leadership. The Western press quoted various sensational passages from the book and described it in terms that verged on hyperbole. The book was not a blueprint for a “dirty war” against the West but a call for innovative thinking on future warfare.[14]

Weaknesses of the United States[edit]

The book argues that the primary weakness of the United States in military matters is that the US views revolution in military thought solely in terms of technology.[15] The book further argues that to the US, military doctrine evolves because new technology allows new capabilities. As such, the book argues that the United States does not consider the wider picture of military strategy, which includes legal, economic, information, technological and biological factors, making the case that the United States is vulnerable to attack along asymmetric lines.[16]

Certain passages of the book have aroused controversy, specifically sections suggesting terrorism as a form of asymmetric warfare in order to weaken technologically superior enemies such as the United States. Additionally, analysts have also praised the book for seemingly accurately predicting the events of 9/11, 3 years before the date of actual events taking place:[17]

"Whether it be the intrusion of hackers, a major explosion at the World Trade Center, or a bombing attack by Bin Laden, all of these greatly exceed the frequency of bandwidth understood by the American military. The American military is naturally inadequately prepared to deal with this type of enemy psychologically, in terms or measure, and especially as regard military thinking and the methods of operation derived from this."

— Qiao Liang, Unrestricted Warfare p.344 - 45

Alternative methods of attack[edit]

Reducing one's opponent, the book notes, can be accomplished in a number of ways other than direct military confrontation.[5] The book notes that these alternative methods "have the same and even greater destructive force than military warfare, and they have already produced serious threats different from the past and in many directions for...national security."[5]

List of methods of attack[edit]

  • psychological warfare[9]
  • smuggling warfare[9]
  • media warfare[9]
  • drug warfare[9]
  • network warfare[9]
  • technological warfare[9]
  • fabrication warfare[9]
  • resources warfare[9]
  • economic aid warfare[9]
  • cultural warfare[9]
  • international law warfare[9]

Defense against unrestricted warfare[edit]

The authors note that an old-fashioned mentality that considers military action the only offensive action is inadequate given the new range of threats. Instead, the authors advocate forming a "composite force in all aspects related to national interest.[18] Moreover, given this type of composite force, it is also necessary to have this type of composite force to become the means which can be utilized for actual operations. This should be a "grand warfare method" that combines all of the dimensions and methods in the two major areas of military and non-military affairs so as to carry out warfare.[19] This is the opposite of the formula for warfare methods brought forth in past wars."

Impact and reception[edit]

Originally published as a work of military theory, the book has recently garnered renewed interest amongst the backdrop of deteriorating US-China relations and the trade war initiated by the Trump Administration. The book is the subject of extensive study by both current and former members of the US military establishment with numerous papers and articles published on the subject by the National Defense University, Army University Press and the School of Advanced Warfighting.[20][21][22] The book is also the source of inspiration for many separate books such as Stealth War and War Without Rules by US Air Force Brigadier General Robert Spalding.[7][23]

Contents of the book has also been cited as the source of inspiration for hardline US policies towards the People's Republic of China by former chief strategist to the president of the United States Steve Bannon.[24]

The whole [Chinese] strategy is to avoid kinetic warfare and focus on information and economic [warfare]....I told him [Trump] China has been engaging in an economic war against us for the past 20 or 25 years.

Steve Bannon, Former Chief Strategist to the President of the United States

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b McReynolds, Joe (10 January 2017). China's Evolving Military Strategy. Brookings Institution Press. p. 41. ISBN 9780985504595.
  2. ^ a b Liang, Qiao; Xiangsui, Wang (1999). "Unrestricted Warfare". People's Liberation Army Literature and Arts Publishing House. CiteSeerX
  3. ^ "Unrestricted warfare". The Institute of World Politics. 2002-08-22. Archived from the original on 2023-08-24. Retrieved 2023-08-24.
  4. ^ Commin, G; Filiol, E (2015). "Unrestricted Warfare versus Western Traditional Warfare: A Comparative Study". Journal of Information Warfare. 14 (1): 14–23. ISSN 1445-3312. JSTOR 26487515.
  5. ^ a b c d Spalding, Robert (2022-04-19). War Without Rules: China's Playbook for Global Domination. Penguin Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-593-33104-0. OCLC 1333782936.
  6. ^ Hagestad, William T. (2012). 21st Century Chinese Cyberwarfare. IT Governance Publishing. doi:10.2307/j.ctt5hh5nz. ISBN 978-1-84928-334-2. JSTOR j.ctt5hh5nz. S2CID 265579729.
  7. ^ a b Spalding, Robert (October 2019). Stealth War: How China Took Over While America's Elite Slept. Penguin. pp. 12–13. ISBN 978-0-593-08434-2. OCLC 1119746281.
  8. ^ Adams, David A. (July 2003). "Managing China's Transition". Proceedings & Naval History Magazine. ISSN 0041-798X. Archived from the original on 2020-06-08. Retrieved 2020-05-09.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Van Messel, John A. (January 2005). "Unrestricted Warfare: A Chinese doctrine for future warfare?". Archived from the original on 2020-06-08. Retrieved 2020-08-23.. (full text Archived 2023-08-24 at the Wayback Machine).
  10. ^ Bunker, Robert J. (March 2000). "Unrestricted warfare: Review essay I". Small Wars & Insurgencies. 11 (1): 114–121. doi:10.1080/09592310008423265. ISSN 0959-2318. S2CID 145170451.
  11. ^ Cheng, Dean (March 2000). "Unrestricted warfare: Review essay II". Small Wars & Insurgencies. 11 (1): 122–123. doi:10.1080/09592310008423266. ISSN 0959-2318. S2CID 144355000.
  12. ^ Qiao, Liang; Santoli, Al; Wang, Xiangsui (2000). Unrestricted warfare : China's master plan to destroy America. Internet Archive. ISBN 9780971680722. OCLC 1035666615. OL 18168579W.
  13. ^ Qiao, Liang; Wang, Xiangsui; Denès, Hervé (2003). La guerre hors limites (in French). Paris: Payot. ISBN 978-2-7436-1149-1. OCLC 63131359.
  14. ^ Perry, James D. (January 2000). "Operation Allied Force: The View from Beijing". Aerospace Power Journal. ISSN 2169-2246. OCLC 44432584. Archived from the original on June 8, 2020.
  15. ^ "To Win without Fighting". www.usmcu.edu. Archived from the original on 2023-11-06. Retrieved 2023-08-24.
  16. ^ Bolander, Jeffery W. (February 2001). "The Dragon's New Claws". Marine Corps Gazette.
  17. ^ "Unrestricted warfare - The Institute of World Politics". www.iwp.edu. Retrieved 2024-01-22.
  18. ^ "Unrestricted Warfare is Not China's Master Plan". Air University (AU). 2022-04-25. Retrieved 2023-08-24.
  19. ^ Hong, Taehwa (2023-08-17). "China Doesn't Compartmentalize". Foreign Policy. Archived from the original on 2023-08-24. Retrieved 2023-08-24.
  20. ^ "Précis: Unrestricted Warfare". Army University Press. Retrieved 2024-01-22.
  21. ^ Unrestricted Warfare: A Chinese Doctrine for Future Warfare? (Report).
  22. ^ "Sun Tzu in Contemporary Chinese Strategy". National Defense University Press. Retrieved 2024-01-22.
  23. ^ "A New Generation of Unrestricted Warfare". War on the Rocks. 2016-04-19. Archived from the original on 2024-01-04. Retrieved 2024-01-04.
  24. ^ "Steve Bannon and the Chinese book that made him a China hawk". South China Morning Post. 2018-10-04. Retrieved 2024-01-04.

External links[edit]