As tensions spike between China and other countries in Asia's disputed waters, serving and retired Chinese military officers as well as state media are questioning whether China's armed forces are too corrupt to fight and win a war.
A slew of articles in official media in recent months have drawn parallels with the rampant graft in the People's Liberation Army (PLA) and how a corrupt military contributed to China's defeat in the Sino-Japan War 120 years ago.
The concerns are striking given the rapid modernization of the PLA, from the development of stealth fighter jets to the launch in 2012 of China's sole aircraft carrier. Backed by a budget that is second only to the United States, China's military is projecting power deep into the South and East China Seas, unsettling the region as well as Washington.
But two scandals have shone the spotlight on deeply rooted graft in the PLA - a key target of President Xi Jinping's sweeping anti-corruption drive.
China said in June it would court-martial General Xu Caihou, who retired in 2013 as vice chairman of the Central Military Commission, the top military decision-making body, for taking bribes.
Earlier this year authorities charged one of his proteges, Lieutenant-General Gu Junshan, with corruption. Gu was the deputy head of the PLA Logistics Department until he was sacked in 2012. Sources have told Reuters that Gu stands accused of selling hundreds of military positions, raking in millions of dollars from a position that gave him sway over appointments and development contracts for military-owned land.
What worries some generals and other Chinese experts is that the buying and selling of senior jobs - long an open secret in China - has led to those with talent being cast aside.
"However much you spend on the military, it will never be enough if these corrupt officials keep appearing," retired Major-General Luo Yuan, one of China's most widely read military figures, told Shanghai-based online news portal The Paper last week.