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A soldier's life

By Sun Ye | China Daily | Updated: 2013-05-23 13:48

 A soldier's life

A competitor studies his sniping target.

It was late April and we were staying at a remote mountain village in Yunnan province with a small group of young soldiers.

Our group was made up of the camera crew from the TV show Soldiers' Sortie, media reporters, and about 20 cadets from the Armed Police Academy who were set to star in the show. Half of them were born after 1990.

For most of us, the village was like a private resort where daily activities included gazing at mountains and strolling up and down a small lane of closed shops.

A soldier's life
Action men

For the soldiers, it was a tough training camp. On the days that they were not taken to an even more remote spot, they were sent to nearby hills twice a day for drills.

We tried to follow their lead once, and made it back half paralyzed after four to five hours. The students did the workout in less than half that time.

We had to keep our distance, as academy regulations forbid private meetings with the opposite sex. But in the downtime after the evening news, we managed to chat in a group.

The soldiers from the academy are exceptional in their field. The students had either received high scores in their entrance exams or were promoted for their feats in local troops. In some regions, the selected ratio is one to several thousand. One young man, a national champion of martial arts, said his achievements failed to raise any eyebrows in the camp.

In their early 20s, most of them had already spent two to three years in the military. One soldier, slow-talking 22-year-old Chen Zhiwei, was in a squad for the 60th National Day Parade in 2009.

He says he trained 12 hours a day for 10 months to prepare for the walk past Tian'anmen Square. When the moment came, "I felt so solid in my heart and pledged to devote myself to my career, whatever comes".

He was also in the rescue team for the recent Ya'an earthquake. His job was evacuating villagers who refused to leave their damaged homes. "You are so torn because they are leaving all their life possessions, but you have to force them to safer ground," he says.

The members of the team were hungry, cold and without shelter during the rescue mission. But those who didn't get a chance to join in all envied him. "We wrote petition letters to go, but it's not up to us," says Liu Ke, from Chengdu. "Even if I could only clean bricks there, I wanted to go."

This kind of thinking might be what sets these soldiers apart from others.

In the academy they study the same subjects as average college students - calculus, CET-4 (College English Test Band 4), Internet skills and so on. They enjoy learning English, a class that often gives them the opportunity to watch foreign films. On top of this they have a whole other curriculum of military skills, from physical training, international relations to command tactics.

They have no time for entertainment. Mobile phones are not always allowed. The only breaks are the few minutes after each meal. They also have to endure unpredictable shifts, day and night.

"Our requirement for relaxation becomes doing nothing for a little while," Liu Ke says. Liu scored high in the entrance examination and enrolled to chase the "soldier's dream" that he believes every boy treasures. "You look back and see high school work as nothing but easy," he says.

They know what it is like to go to a normal college - chill out and "decide everything on your own". Sometimes, they envy their friends.

But they still think of life in the army as their top choice and don't look back. One reason, I suspect, is that they want to model themselves in the image of a strong, iron-willed man.

"I started military life in tears," says Zhang Baiyang, a tanned young man. "I'm away from home for the first time. I'm not used to the rice or the high altitude. I cried every three days and ate bread for a month."

But the army, where the key word is first and foremost "regulation", slowly straightened him out.

His mother still cries and begs him to come home from the hardships of the army, but he has resolved to stay for as long as he can. " I just want to add stars to my epaulet."

Ask an older soldier and their understanding of military life is much the same.

Academy instructor Zhang Kexue says the post-1990s generation is generally a little more indulgent and less willing to "eat bitter" before they start military life. When the regulated routine begins, however, they all grow to become qualified soldiers like any other.

I had a peek at their lodging and got a glimpse of this highly regulated life, how they folded their blankets into squares and put their sandals and boots in line.

When the instructor called them to assemble, they ceased talking, raced out and roared, "Yes!"

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