Students' brawl and suicide cast harsh light on China's school military training

Violence at a local high school and a girl's suicide case raise questions about China's military training programme for schools

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 August, 2014, 5:37pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 August, 2014, 6:06pm

China’s compulsory military training for students has come under the spotlight after brawl between Hunan students and their training officers left 42 people injured.

The suicide of a girl in another mainland province, blamed on the criticism she reportedly endured from military training, also added fuel to the debate.

The first-year high school students in Hunan fought with their training officers and head teacher after one of the officers hit a female student’s hand with a stick, authorities in Longshan county said on Tuesday.

Several military officers and students had a “physical confrontation”, and agitated students smashed the doors and windows of some classrooms.

The clash on Sunday left 40 students, a teacher and one officer injured, according to state news agency Xinhua. As of 5pm that day, Beijing time, 22 people were still being treated in hospital.

Pictures posted online of the students in military uniform, with bleeding heads and hands, went viral on Monday.

Compulsory military training for first-year high school and university students have been in practice for decades in China. Experts say military training is common practice for secondary school students as well.

However, some experts say military training, in its current form, has deteriorated in quality and relevance.

”From the selection of officers to [how it is conducted], military training has many problems and fell into the spell of serious formalism,” said Xiong Bingqi, deputy director of the 21st Century Education Research Institute in Beijing, told the South China Morning Post.

Xiong said military training for students was highly likely to become unnecessary in the current milieu. “The current military training is only nominal … and the training requires students to obey,” Xiong said.

Xiong suggested that training should be an elective rather than compulsory, and that the emphasis should be on building a strong will and body rather than obedience.

Xiong added that clashes between officers and students could happen very easily as the training is basic and violent.

Meanwhile, Xinhua also reported on Tuesday that a high school student in northeast Liaoning province committed suicide after she was punished for underperforming at a military training session.

She jumped off a building and died that same evening.

The student’s uncle told Xinhua that on August 19, that the girl was ordered to stand outside the classroom, in the corridor, as punishment for not having good posture when called to stand attention.

Her head teacher refused to let her join further training in the afternoon, the uncle said.

In 2007, the Ministry of Education and military authorities published a provision on student military training further regulating the practice.

The provision stated that the goals of military training include: to let students “master basic military skills, strengthen their concept of national defence”; to “promote patriotism, collectivism, and revolutionary heroism”; and to “temper [students’] willpower”.

Yin Jianli, an education expert, thinks that military training could turn into “a disaster” if the quality of officers could not be ensured.

Yin, who acknowledged that such training promoted “certain values”, said the rigid programme neglected to teach other important character traits.

“I think students should be groomed to embrace free and democratic spirit, but military training is very mechanical and superficial,” Yin told the Post.

She said the regimen had become perfunctory – “a procedure” for students before they start high school or university – and there is “too much” military training.