Military training is part of coming-of-age of every Chinese younger than 60. Required by China’s Military Service Law instituted in 1955, first-year high school and college students are required to go through military training that typically lasts from 2 weeks to 2 months. It’s not the best part of one’s memory – complaints are commonly heard, but no one makes a big deal out of it, either. This week, however, a series of reports of military-trainings-going-wrong has ignited a national debate about whether China still needs compulsory school military training.
First, there was this violent clash between a group of 9th grade students and their military training instructors at Huangcang Middle School in Longshan county, Hunan province. A total of 42 people, including 40 students, 1 teacher and 1 military officer, were injured in a fight on Sunday. 22 Student were still in hospital as of Tuesday.
Pictures of students with bloody heads and hands soon went viral online. The exact reason behind the clash is still unclear at this point. But widely-circulating witness accounts are that it started when a military instructor went overly flirtatious with a female student. Then a group of male students started to get physical. Ribbing soon blew out into an outright brawl after a teacher got involved and more students joined to protect the teacher.
The news seems to strike a chord among Chinese netizens who themselves have had unhappy experiences during military training. Many hailed the students’ bravery of “doing something that they’ve always wanted to do but didn’t have the guts to” – beating up military instructors. Others shared their own experiences of being abused during military training.
About 32% of netizens who participated in a survey held by Sina said that they’ve either personally experienced or witnessed clashes between students and military instructors. “Don’t mess with the military instructors, or you will know what it’s like to live in hell. That’s the lesson I’ve learnt after military training.” One netizen remembered.
Most surprisingly, a large number of netizens described cases where they’ve seen military instructors having improper, or even sexual, relations with female students during training. “Many military officers are taking school military training as a perfect opportunity to hook up with young girls.” One netizen commented.
As if things are not bad enough, a female student in Liaoning province was reported to have jumped to her death after being punished for having bad standing posture during military training. Another male student in the city of Xi’an suddenly fell dead during a training session. All happened in the past few days.
Discussions have evolved from sharing unhappy experiences to questioning whether China still needs compulsory military training for students in the year of 2014. The practice was originally put in place to 1) teach students basic military skills and national defense concepts; 2) promote collectivism; 3) promote patriotism; 4) strengthen students’ willpower.
Many now question how much of the intended objectives can be achieved through current training sessions where most students spend the majority of their time standing long hours in late summer sun. The biggest take-home skill is probably how to fold a comforter into a perfect standing cubic. “What’s the use of military training in today’s China other than to brainwash students into obedient citizens?” Many netizens asked.
There are also supporting voices, arguing that young kids nowadays are too spoiled, and should receive training of how to endure hardship and “eat bitterness.” But even the advocates agree that school military training as it is today needs reform. “Students should get a chance to learn from soldiers in active service.” One netizen suggested.
Some others, however, geared towards censor-worthy areas of criticizing China’s military forces in general. Though instructors involved in the violence are reported to be officers on reserve duty, online denunciation targets at the entire military force.
“Only thugs, members of gangs and bullies join the army.” One netizen referred to the old Chinese saying that “Good iron won’t be made into nails. Good boys won’t join the army.” Another netizen had bigger doubts: “I feel so disappointed. How can we reply on such a military force to defend our country and protect our people? The military system is so corrupt, and these soldiers have no discipline at all when not under watch!”
And guess what, the military training, though compulsory, is not free. It’s a RMB 2.8 billion industry, to say the least.