Zhao Sheng­nan

More col­lege stu­dents ap­ply­ing for en­try into the mil­i­tary, re­ports in Bei­jing.

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FO­CUS -

Ear­lier this sum­mer, Wang Guoben, a 22- year- old ju­nior at Pek­ing Univer­sity, made a de­ci­sion that sur­prised his parents and peers: To post­pone the last year of his stud­ies and join the Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army.

“I think a lot of young peo­ple don’t know what they re­ally want. I don’t ei­ther, but I don’t want to just fol­low the crowd. I hope to find the an­swers in the mil­i­tary be­fore I grad­u­ate,” said the in­ter­na­tional stud­ies student.

Wang, who achieved one of the high­est marks in the 2010 na­tional col­lege en­trance ex­am­i­na­tion among stu­dents in Wuhan, Hubei prov­ince, is also the co-founder of an ed­u­ca­tional or­ga­ni­za­tion, earn­ing a monthly salary of more than 6,000 yuan ($980).

“I don’t worry about my fu­ture at all, given that the pref­er­en­tial poli­cies for col­lege stu­dents that the mil­i­tary is pro­vid­ing this year are quite at­trac­tive and will ac­tu­ally di­ver­sify our op­tions af­ter grad­u­a­tion,” said the fash­ion- con­scious ap­pli­cant, who wore a sil­ver-se­quined emer­ald T-shirt, cut-off khaki pants and a pair of bright orange suede shoes, as he un­der­went the phys­i­cal checks re­quired for re­cruit­ment in early Au­gust.

He’s one of a ris­ing num­ber of col­lege stu­dents lured by China’s first sum­mer and au­tumn re­cruit­ment pro­gram, which has re­placed the win­ter re­cruit­ment cam­paign that had been in place for 23 years.

This year, na­tional re­cruit­ment has been in full swing since Au­gust 1, following hot on the heels of grad­u­a­tion in July, in a bid to en­tice more highly ed­u­cated stu­dents to join China’s in­creas­ingly mod­ern mil­i­tary.

Mod­ern­iza­tion drive

As the PLA ac­cel­er­ates its mod­ern­iza­tion drive, the use of tech­ni­cally so­phis­ti­cated weaponry — in­clud­ing China’s first air­craft car­rier, J-10 jet fight­ers, Z-10 at­tack he­li­copters and DF-21 mis­siles — means there’s a greater need for bet­ter-ed­u­cated re­cruits, ac­cord­ing to a se­nior of­fi­cer at the Na­tional Re­cruit­ment Of­fice of the Na­tional De­fense Min­istry, who de­clined to be named.

“Col­lege stu­dents are ex­pected to be­come a ma­jor force in the mil­i­tary,” he said. “They are quick learn­ers when it comes to op­er­at­ing mod­ern weaponry and un­der­stand­ing mod­ern tac­tics. As such, they will im­prove the over­all qual­ity of mil­i­tary per­son­nel.”

China started re­cruit­ing from col­leges in 2001 and around 100,000 stu­dents have joined the army ev­ery year since 2009.

Ma Gang, a pro­fes­sor of mil­i­tary his­tory with the PLA Na­tional De­fense Univer­sity, said the Chi­nese mil­i­tary still lags be­hind some other coun­tries be­cause of the lower level of ed­u­ca­tion among reg­u­lar sol­diers.

“How­ever, the dis­par­ity has nar­rowed dur­ing the past 10 years be­cause of the re­cruit­ment of col­lege stu­dents,” said Ma.

The ris­ing en­rol­ment rate from col­lege dur­ing the past decade means the PLA has be­come more ac­tive on cam­puses. Among the 50 mil­lion young Chi­nese el­i­gi­ble for re­cruit­ment ev­ery year, 20 mil­lion are col­lege or univer­sity stu­dents.

“Now, 80 per­cent of high school stu­dents can be ad­mit­ted to col­leges and universities, so the re­cruits must mainly be col­le­gians,” said the PLA of­fi­cer, who noted that 6.99 mil­lion stu­dents grad­u­ated this year.

The ad­just­ment to the re­cruit­ment sched­ule is de­signed to help the stu­dents adapt to mil­i­tary life as quickly as pos­si­ble, he said.

When re­cruit­ment was car­ried out in the win­ter, the bar­rack-yard train­ing was sim­ply too ar­du­ous for the new re­cruits, who were ill-pre­pared for the freez­ing weather. Many were also af­fected by home­sick­ness at the ap­proach of Chi­nese New Year, which al­ways falls in Jan­uary or Fe­bru­ary.

“Things are dif­fer­ent this year. The new re­cruits will be ac­cus­tomed to mil­i­tary life by the end of the year, so it will be much eas­ier for them to com­plete the switch from stu­dents to sol­diers,” he said.

New poli­cies

Only a small frac­tion of those el­i­gi­ble are re­cruited each year, but the Na­tional Re­cruit­ment Of­fice hopes to lure more col­le­gians with a num­ber of poli­cies de­signed to ap­peal to them.

“Col­lege re­cruit­ment is not easy and the rea­sons for that vary,” said the re­cruit­ing of­fi­cer.

“Some col­lege stu­dents are not crazy about mil­i­tary life, and many don’t un­der­stand what it means to be a sol­dier, but they have re­al­is­tic am­bi­tions, in­clud­ing a de­sire for sta­ble, well-paid jobs.

“We have tried al­most ev­ery means pos­si­ble to reach col­lege stu­dents, such as news­pa­per and tele­vi­sion ads, slo­gans, short mes­sage services, mi­croblog­ging and even tra­di­tional doorto-door vis­its,” he added.

The PLA has also in­tro­duced a slew of new poli­cies to at­tract ed­u­cated young peo­ple.

For in­stance, high school grad­u­ates who en­list hav­ing al­ready se­cured ad­mis­sion to a col­lege or univer­sity can re­sume their stud­ies within two years of leav­ing the army. They will pay re­duced tu­ition fees, just like col­le­gian sol­diers.

“More­over, the sub­si­dies for them are higher and much eas­ier to get than be­fore,” said the of­fi­cer. The gov­ern­ment pays col­lege re­cruits up to 6,000 yuan per year to help them with their ed­u­ca­tion and sub­sidy ap­pli­ca­tion pro­ce­dures have been sim­pli­fied this year.

For ex­am­ple, a sopho­more who joins the army this year can earn 12,000 yuan (6,000 for each year) on en­list­ment and another 12,000 on com­ple­tion of mil­i­tary ser­vice. The gov­ern­ment will also re­pay any loans they’ve taken out to pay for ed­u­ca­tion, the of­fi­cer ex­plained.

Col­lege re­cruits are also be­ing lured by the greater ease of en­try to further ed­u­ca­tion and the job mar­ket en­joyed by former sol­diers.

The PLA has for­mu­lated a se­ries of poli­cies for of­fi­cer pro­mo­tion, in­tended to per­suade more col­le­gians to stay in the army when their ini­tial two years are over. Ac­cord­ing to the re­cruit­ing of­fi­cer, col­lege grad­u­ates who meet the stan­dards will take fewer ex­ams when they ap­ply for pro­mo­tion.

Col­le­gian vet­er­ans will also enjoy pref­er­en­tial treat­ment when they ap­ply to en­ter na­tional de­fense universities or to be­come grass­roots civil ser­vants and mil­i­tary of­fi­cers.

Fa­vor­able poli­cies such as these have helped to ease ap­pli­cants’ con­cerns about their fu­ture ca­reers.

Zhang Yong, 22, a ju­nior at Cen­tral South Univer­sity of Forestry and Tech­nol­ogy in Hu­nan prov­ince, had started pre­par­ing for the grad­u­ate en­trance exam be­fore he learned about the pref­er­en­tial treat­ment for col­lege re­cruit­ment this July.

“I was puz­zled. I was afraid of fail­ing the test, but I knew it would not be easy to find a job this year. For me, the re­cruit­ment poli­cies were so at­trac­tive,” he said.

Another po­ten­tial sol­dier, Zhang Chenyu, a re­cent Pek­ing Univer­sity grad­u­ate, be­lieves the poli­cies will help re­duce the com­pe­ti­tion he will face.

“The thing is, I will be com­pet­ing against many other ap­pli­cants to be­come a civil ser­vant or a grad­u­ate student. How­ever, things will be eas­ier if I ap­ply as a vet­eran,” Zhang said, adding that two-thirds of his re­cent class­mates have cho­sen to ex­tend their stud­ies.

Five re­cent Pek­ing Univer­sity grad­u­ates, in­clud­ing Zhang, have ap­plied to en­list this year, ac­count­ing for 25 per­cent of ap­pli­cant num­bers at one of the China’s top schools, ac­cord­ing to a teacher sur­named Li, who is in charge of col­lege re­cruit­ment at Pek­ing Univer­sity.

“The grow­ing num­ber of re­cently grad­u­ated ap­pli­cants is re­lated to what has been called ‘the most dif­fi­cult year for grad­u­ates’, but as there are still many op­por­tu­ni­ties for Pek­ing Univer­sity grad­u­ates, I be­lieve they made their de­ci­sions for pa­tri­otic rea­sons,” he said.

An elite group

Un­der the re­cruit­ment pro­gram, an in­creas­ing num­ber of well-trained col­le­gian vet­er­ans are be­com­ing an elite group in lo­cal gov­ern­ment, the civil ser­vice, non-pub­lic en­ter­prises and other fields, ac­cord­ing to the re­cruit­ment of­fi­cer.

While many of the en­listed “post90s” gen­er­a­tion have de­cided to serve in the army for as long as pos­si­ble, they also ex­pect to gain more.

Zhang Chenyu wants to start a busi­ness serv­ing the agri­cul­tural sec­tor when he leaves the army. “I am not fully pre­pared for this un­der­tak­ing at present, so I hope to grow into a hard­work­ing and ma­ture man by serv­ing in the army,” said the bi­o­log­i­cal sciences ma­jor.

Tan Xiao­tong, 24, who joined up in 2008, ticked off a list of goals be­fore he left the army in 2010. “Col­le­gian sol­diers are ex­pected to at­tain higher stan­dards. Any fault can be at­trib­uted to your ‘ar­ro­gance’ as col­lege stu­dents,” said the re­cent Ren­min Univer­sity of China grad­u­ate.

Tan wanted to be a re­con­nais­sance scout, but was orig­i­nally as­signed to a com­mu­ni­ca­tions reg­i­ment. He won an op­por­tu­nity to trans­fer to the re­con­nais­sance reg­i­ment a year later, but the de­ci­sion wasn’t an easy one.

“My com­pan­ions didn’t un­der­stand my choice, since the awards I won in my first year of ser­vice might end up be­ing worth­less. I was also con­cerned about whether I could win the ‘Ex­cel­lent Sol­dier’ award, which would mean I would be ex­empt from the writ­ten ex­ams in the grad­u­ate en­trance tests,” he said, adding that he stuck with his orig­i­nal plan and be­came a re­con­nais­sance scout.

Mu­tual ben­e­fits

The grow­ing num­ber of en­listed col­lege stu­dents has set a higher bar for the mil­i­tary authorities.

Ac­cord­ing to the re­cruit­ment of­fi­cer, col­lege stu­dents like to chal­lenge author­ity oc­ca­sion­ally. “It’s not a fault to ex­press those ideas,” he said, “Be­cause col­le­gian sol­diers enjoy a higher level of ed­u­ca­tion than some of their su­per­vi­sors, they are help­ful in mak­ing the regime less harsh for reg­u­lar sol­diers.”

Tan men­tioned one of the changes he wit­nessed. “At one time, sol­diers who failed to cor­rectly fold their bed­clothes into a square were forced to prac­tice the pro­ce­dure on the floor. How­ever, the gov­ern­ment has now done away with pun­ish­ments of that sort,” he said.

The army also made it pos­si­ble for Tan to uti­lize the mil­i­tary knowl­edge he had gained as an ama­teur en­thu­si­ast. “Once I kit­ted my­self out as a mem­ber of the Navy Seals, the US Navy’s prin­ci­pal spe­cial op­er­a­tions force, dur­ing a field bat­tle game and I am well versed in the use of such equip­ment,” he said.

Tan also es­tab­lished di­rect com­mu­ni­ca­tion with ex­perts at mu­ni­tions fac­to­ries, some­thing the 30 ex­pe­ri­enced sol­diers in his unit failed to do. He was also des­ig­nated to in­struct an entire divi­sion in the op­er­a­tion of the lat­est weaponry and com­pile a se­ries of pam­phlets in­tro­duc­ing China’s most ad­vanced mil­i­tary equip­ment. Con­tact the writer at zhaosheng­nan @chi­nadaily.com.cn

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