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