Xi Jinping orders generals and senior PLA officers to serve as privates
In a morale-boosting manoeuvre, Xi Jinping orders officers to serve as low-ranking soldiers
Chinese generals and senior officers will have to serve as the lowest-ranking soldiers for at least two weeks under a measure by President Xi Jinping to shake up the military and boost morale.
Xi, as the nation's commander-in-chief, issued the order over the weekend, which the Ministry of National Defence publicised on its website.
It dictates that officers with the rank of lieutenant-colonel or above must serve as privates - the lowest-ranking soldier - for not less than 15 days. Generals and officers will have to live, eat and serve with junior soldiers during the period.
"They need to provide for themselves and pay for their own food. They must not accept any banquet invitation, join any sight-seeing tours, accept gifts or interfere with local affairs," said the directive, which covers both the People's Liberation Army and the People's Armed Police.
Leaders of regiment- and brigade-level units have to serve on the front line once every three years. Division- and army-level commanders must serve once every four years. Top leaders from army headquarters and military districts will do so once every five years.
The measure recalls a similar shake-up launched by Mao Zedong in 1958. Mao at the time famously said all military leaders should serve as foot soldiers for a month every year.
He used the chance to strengthen his control of the military and forced many powerful marshals and generals into retirement or exile.
Antony Wong Dong, a Macau-based veteran military expert, said although Xi's new measure bore some resemblance to Mao's directive, Xi seemed to be genuine in his wish to revamp the military.
"The lack of discipline, the rampant corruption and the gap between the officers and soldiers are so commonplace, it has compromised the battle-effectiveness of the PLA," Wong said. "Xi, like many other top leaders, is keenly aware of this and he is eager to address the problems."
Wong said people should not compare Xi's order with Mao's as they were made under "very different circumstances".
"During Mao's time, most of the PLA generals came from the front line and the grass roots. The commanders and common soldiers were very close and the generals knew what life on the front line was alike," he said,
"Many generals and senior officers today have never experienced hardship. They are promoted to their position because of their connections or other reasons. Xi understands he needs to change the mentality. Getting these people back to the front line can boost army morale and close the gap [between commanders and soldiers]."