It did not matter if you had a master's degree in criminal investigation or if you were the chief of a district police station. When China's first batch of UN Police peacekeepers was posted to civil-war-torn East Timor in 2000, all 15 of them were assigned to patrol remote small towns. No one back then knew what Chinese police could do. But one of the 15, Lian Changgang from Shenyang , did not remain on patrol for long. Within 40 days, he proved a worthy chief of administration, the number three position in a company of 1,600 peacekeepers from 43 countries, and within a year he was acting commissioner. In the last two months of his unusually long 22-month posting, he was effectively the commissioner in charge of the entire peacekeeping police force in East Timor. Mr Lian, now a third-class police commissioner, became involved in peacekeeping by chance. In 2000, Mr Lian, then 42 years old, had just returned from the United States with his master's degree, and was looking for some on-the-ground experience at a district police station before going back to teaching in the police force. But a trip to the Ministry of Public Security's foreign affairs department changed all those plans. A mentor told him about China's decision to send its first police officers on peacekeeping missions - the country had been sending military personnel on such missions for about 10 years - and told him that the last position had yet to be be filled. Fourteen officers had been selected from 40 finalists after months of training, and now an officer-in-charge was needed. He did not know much about peacekeeping at the time, or the situation in East Timor. And, he had just returned to China and his ageing parents did not want him to leave again. His wife and daughter were more supportive, but ultimately it came down to a sense of mission. 'I thought that as China was sending its first peacekeeping police, it meant China had really become a strong country, and the symbolic significance of being one of the first batch was beyond words. I felt I ought to show the world how good Chinese police were,' said Mr Lian, a leading trainer at the China Criminal Police University. After passing exams in English, driving and international knowledge with flying colours, he arrived in East Timor within weeks. Despite their preparations, the Chinese police encountered an array of difficulties on the ground, from language to unfamiliar food and disease. He remembered in particular how they had to wear long sleeves every day in the extreme humidity for fear of mosquitoes. Some officers from a number of other countries had died soon after contracting dengue fever. Each officer was also assigned only two bottles of water each day, and the tap water was too polluted to be consumed. And unlike the peacekeeping military troops, who had everything provided for them, peacekeeping police were given stipends to rent their own accommodation and buy food. There were no Chinese restaurants when they first arrived and little of the food sold in the markets looked familiar. They kept themselves going with family-like dinners at home. Apart from the everyday challenges, the officers confronted danger in an alien and hostile terrain. The training for each peacekeeping mission was different, but driving was an essential skill for all, given that a major task for Chinese peacekeeping police was ferrying people and relief materials. 'The roads were slippery, they went up and down, and often ran along cliffs. It was important for us to know how to fix our cars in a very short time if they broke down. The guerilla-like pro-Indonesian opponents could easily ambush us if we were not quick enough,' Mr Lian said. 'One UN policeman had his ear severed.' 'Cold', or randomly-fired, bullets were also common. On his seventh day on East Timorese soil, Mr Lian was almost killed by a gunshot while driving a UN truck. Unlike some other Chinese peacekeepers, Mr Lian did not place a bottle of Chinese soil on his bedside, but he felt the need for a tiny Chinese flag on his UN uniform. 'Many people did not know that China was sending peacekeeping troops, and when they saw us in the first few months they often thought that we were representing other countries,' he said. 'A lot of people found it unbelievable that a communist country was sending police to do peacekeeping too.' One night, all of the Chinese police officers sewed the flags to their uniforms after a visiting Chinese official brought them over. 'A tiny Chinese flag added to our sense of mission - we were not only peacekeeping police, but also diplomats,' Mr Lian said. Nine months after the first batch was deployed, 40 more police arrived from China and Chinese police quickly became the seventh biggest UN police contingent in East Timor. 'We had very cordial relationships with the people. We were hardworking, and we respected representatives from both developed and developing countries. Latin American and African representatives were our friends. We won their support,' Mr Lian said. The police would take along small gifts like sweets and notebooks for people when out on a mission. 'We wanted to let them know that Chinese people were their friends and we would be there when their new country was established.' Eventually, increasingly more Chinese police moved up the ladder and become officers in charge of different departments. And Mr Lian personally won the respect of police from different countries who had initially looked down on him. An Australian superior he worked with when still a patrol officer gave him his police badge as a souvenir, and an American colleague gave him his police uniform. 'I treated police from different countries as my own staff. A Chinese captain is also the captain of 43 countries. I could be friends with Chinese police after work, but when at work I had to safeguard the image of the UN, and China.' Mr Lian is proud that, to date, Chinese police have not been involved in one disciplinary action. But he concluded that individual efforts were not enough. 'Without the growing strength of the country, no matter how capable you are, people will still look down on you.' Today, Mr Lian's daughter has followed in her father's footsteps. She is a police officer and speaks fluent English. She also would like to become a member of a UN peacekeeping force. 'It might be dangerous but I would encourage her to go. All young people should go through hardship,' Mr Lian said. 'A peacekeeping mission teaches one the importance of peace. Constant fighting and riots seriously affect the lives of the people. The stability we have now is precious.'