"The financial support could be a relief for some students from
poverty-stricken areas who can't pay the tuition fees," said Yang Ping, director
of Shenzhen University's military affairs department.
But for most of the applicants, serving in the army is not money-driven;
rather, it is about accomplishing a childhood dream.
When Huang Wenchuan was a lad, he was fascinated by the war stories told by
his grandfather, a former soldier who served the People's Liberation War
"My grandpa managed to escape death through the bullets. I just love his
heroic stories," Huang said. "In peacetime, to become a soldier is still a man's
For the single-child generation, the military is a place to built characters
and temper wills, Huang said.
"I have lived a comfortable life for 19 years," he said, "and I want
something that is different, that tests the ability to endure hardship."
On campus, discipline, a quality emphasized by the army, is lacking, said
Wang Linfei, a Tsinghua University sophomore, who also applied this year.
"No one orders me when to study, where to go or when to go to sleep," Wang
said. "Day by day, I become too loose, undisciplined."
Sometimes Wang, who studies at the College of Software, plays computer games
into the night or plays basketball instead of studying.
"I want to steel my will and further discipline myself through military
training," Wang said. "When I came back, I will still be a student in Tsinghua.
I have nothing to lose, but I gain two years of experience in the army."
In fact, some student soldiers found being in the army a good way to escape
job-hunting pressures near graduation.
Zhang Feilong joined the military last November and was sent to the Tibet
Autonomous Region as a clergyman for a logistics troop.
"The last year at school, I felt there were just too many graduates but fewer
job vacancies," said Zhang, who studied psychology. "I thought the military
experience might make my resume look better."
Living and working in the army for two years broadens a student's horizons
and builds his character, said Zhang, 23. The military camp is so different from
"When the commander scolds you, whether he is right or wrong, it is the
order, and you have to obey," Zhang said. "Any opinionated person would become a
cobblestone in the army."
Zhang will finish his service and be back to school next October. He is
planning to be a civil servant, a position that receives special considerations
if they've served in the army.
"What I learnt here about dealing with things in the local administration
will be considered useful for a government position," Zhang said.
Chen Yiming, a Shenzhen University graduate who joined the army in 2001,
looks back at his military experience with appreciation.
"I've changed a lot," said Chen, now 24 and a teacher at Shenzhen University.
"I am more tolerant and open to different opinions and values in daily life. I
work as team player and know how to discipline myself."