Emerging from the Chinese Civil War (1927-1949) as the nation’s monolithic armed forces, The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) continued the Sino practice of wearing breast and sleeve identification patches. Departing from the variance of patches worn by China’s diverse militaries of the past, the new patches would be standardized in graphic design and method of wear. Of China’s new patches, none would be more iconic than that of the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army (CPVA, also abbreviated CPV for Chinese People’s Volunteers).
The Chinese Central Military Commission’s and Chinese People’s Volunteer Army’s General Political Departments approved the patch after the Korean Armistice Agreement was signed in July 1953, with an in-country start of wear date of October 19th that year for those still present in North Korea or those deploying as part of the reconstruction effort–the wear date intentionally made on the anniversary of the Chinese entering the war. CPVA personnel in China started wearing the patch immediately after the approval as stock of the patch became available.
Though the first version of the patch was made and issued in 1951, it wasn’t worn due to the concerns of security and avoidance of officially implicating the PLA’s as participants in the war. The first row of the patches’ reverse lists the military department information and for the 51 series of patches this was often the (PLA) Ministry of Defense. Again, any items bearing the PLA’s August 1st logo or naming any PLA department were required to remain in China. No patches were produced domestically in 1952, but new series were made from 1953-55. Subsequent patches would use a numerical code for security reasons when completing the military department section of the patch.
Chinese entering Korea from 1950-51 were issued the 51 series patch. Those entering in 52 had to wait until the 53-55 series patches were created and issued. On an extremely limited basis were new patches beyond these dates created, and those were exclusively for the delegation representing the CPV at Panmunjom.
Those CPVA members, to include non-Chinese such as Soviet technicians, airmen, and medical staff, who served in North Korea throughout the reconstruction period until 1958 were authorized wear of the patch. Likewise, members of the Chinese delegation to the Panmunjom Truce Committee continued to wear the patch long after China had ended her assistance mission to Korea.
Wear of the patch by any Chinese official was discontinued on 1 May, 1985. On 15 December, 1994 the CPV delegation was disbanded and production of official CPV insignia ceased.
The biggest take away if collecting the patch is to ensure it is written in traditional Chinese (中國人民志願軍) and not simplified Chinese (中国人民志愿军) as some reproductions are, especially surplus from some TV/film productions.
Collectors may want to try and find an example from each year, though securing post 1950’s dated patches will be difficult as those were only produced for the CPV delegation. I absolutely would not spend more than US$50 on any deadstock patch, barring any personalized nuances that may increase its value.
The patch was absolutely not worn by any member of the CPV, in theater, during hostilities though frequently they are sold as being “captured.”
A final note on CPV insignia that needs to be repeated. During the war, CPV uniforms were supposed to be sanitized. The Type 50 uniforms worn throughout the war already had plain faced buttons yet factory ink stamps and production tags inside the garments often remained and no cap badges were worn. The PLA, and thus the CPV, during this period did not have a system of ranks and rank insignia therefore no “captured Korean War CPV rank insignia” exists as there weren’t any to be captured. Likewise, the Type 50 canteen of the period was painted with the PLA August 1st star and was supposed to be removed either by scratching it off or painting over it. Of all Chinese pieces, the canteen would be one item that for whatever reasons, could be found with the PLA logo still present.
China introduced it’s new rank and branch of service insignia with the Type 55 family of uniforms, and its notions were embellished with the August 1st emblem. All regular PLA uniform buttons and cap badges would now feature the August 1st mark, whereas buttons and badges produced for the CPV would continue to be plain faced until CPV items were discontinued in 1994. This will be elaborated on in a future post.