Chinese school sends its pupils to ‘hardship boot camp’ to teach them self-reliance

Annual rite of passage gives teenagers a taste of army life by sending them on marches and forcing them to endure cold showers and sleep on the floor

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 October, 2017, 2:25pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 October, 2017, 2:25pm

Pupils at a secondary school in central China have been forced to endure a five-day boot camp to learn “hardship lessons”, according to local media reports.

More than 1,200 16 and 17-year-olds from the No 1 High School Affiliated to Central China Normal University in Wuhan took part in the mandatory programme, which has been an annual “rite of passage” at the school since 1990.

The camp is intended to teach them self-reliance and other life skills, Chutian Metropolis Daily reported on Monday.

Students were ferried to a makeshift “army barracks” in the Jiangxia district of Wuhan city last Friday, where they would live and work until going home on Tuesday.

Activities include marching for 25km while carrying heavy loads in teams, agricultural work, icy cold showers at the crack of dawn and sleeping on mattresses on the floor of an unheated warehouse.

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“We have emergency vehicles on standby [for the long march], but only four out of 1,200 students had to use it for health reasons,” Liu Kang, the school’s Communist Youth League secretary, told the newspaper.

He added that many students got blisters on their feet since it was the first time they had walked such a long distance.

A hundred students were reported to have needed medical treatment in the barracks after the march.

Pupils sleeping in the warehouse would regularly wake up in the middle of the night feeling cold, according to the report. The lowest nighttime temperatures during the camp were around 12 Celsius.

“In the barracks you only get cold water, so we have to experience cold showers even in such cold weather,” said one of the teenagers, Shi Rui.

Another student, Liu Yifei, told reporters that nowadays a lot of people never get to experience this kind of hardship in their lifetime, so students normally do not shy away from the boot camp.

But not all of the activities were so arduous. Students were also expected to chat with local farmers, go to lectures at local companies and play basketball matches.

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Students must also write a report on their experiences, which is included in their academic credits.

“Hardship lessons help students to understand society better, learn to care for other people and improve their self-reliance,” said school principal Zhou Pengcheng.

“Every one of our alumni will remember what happened [during the boot camp] for the rest of their lives.”

The “hardship lessons” are reminiscent of the “Down to the Countryside” movement during the Cultural Revolution, when millions of urban, educated young people were forcibly sent into the countryside for “education” via manual labour alongside peasants and farmers.

Xi Jinping, who was sent to work in rural Shaanxi province during the Cultural Revolution, has overseen the widespread return of Communist Party ideological education into school curriculums nationwide since taking office in 2012.