Standing down 'literary soldiers' is a good move to combat graft

The pampered, and in some cases, corrupt entertainers have tarnished the PLA's name

PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 19 August, 2013, 5:21am

Perpetually glorified in the history of the People's Liberation Army is a narrative that says its soldiers, armed with millet plus rifles and running on two legs, were able to overcome the much more powerful troops of the Kuomintang equipped with tanks, cannons and motorised transport supplied by the United States, end the civil war and found the People's Republic.

Of all the important reasons behind the success, the contribution by the so-called literary soldiers - young people, mostly women, who sang, danced and performed dramas for soldiers on the front lines - cannot be underestimated. Their revolutionary songs and dramas reportedly played an important part in inspiring the soldiers to advance bravely.

Liu Yalou, one of China's most famous PLA generals, reportedly said he relied upon two groups to win battles - one was hundreds of thousands of combat troops and the other was a troupe of 500 entertainers, thereby demonstrating the weight he gave to literary soldiers.

From the civil war years until today, the PLA has tried to recruit the best and most talented entertainers, from singers, dancers and comedians to sportsmen and acrobats, with all major military units providing a song and dance troupe. Many of the entertainers become household names, frequently appearing on national television.

China's first lady, Peng Liyuan, joined the PLA at the age of 18 and became one of the country's most famous folk singers, much better known than her husband before Xi Jinping came to power late last year.

However, over the past few years, these literary soldiers, particularly the famous ones, have had very bad press.

Instead of performing for ordinary soldiers, they have jostled with pop singers for money and fame and flaunted their wealth by driving Mercedes and Maseratis. Some of them have become symbols of what's wrong' with the PLA - corruption, abuse of power and a decadent lifestyle for its elites.

Popular dissatisfaction is such that there have been growing calls inside and outside the PLA to get rid of the song and dance troupes.

It is about time. As President Xi takes steps to eradicate corruption and improve the PLA's combat readiness, it will help his cause if he forces the literary soldiers to retire from military service.

In this age of the internet, social media and television programmes catering to all tastes, the need to maintain such a large army of entertainers has become less apparent.

In addition, they are a big drag on military expenditure. The exact number of literary soldiers is unknown but it is estimated to be from 100,000 to 200,000.

More importantly, the wealthy celebrities have given the PLA a bad name. Although the PLA no longer awards military ranks to literary soldiers, small numbers of celebrities are given the treatment and privileges equal to those of division or even army corp commanders, prompting the media to dub them "generals" and proving a serious demoralising factor to the real soldiers seeking promotion.

Earlier this year, Li Shuangjiang, a famous singer who enjoyed the treatment of a major general, was implicated in a major national controversy after his 17-year-old son was detained along with several other youngsters on rape charges.

Meanwhile, another famous singer, Han Hong, deputy head of the dance troupe for the PLA Air Force, reportedly violated traffic regulations twice this month while driving a Ferrari and a Land Rover. Even worse, there has been rampant speculation that many female members of the song and troupes have become playmates of the top brass.