With the vast majority of Chinese
civilians preferring Western-style clothes and trendy urbanites on the lookout
for cool trendy items, the 2.3 million people serving in the country's military,
too, have got a sartorial rethink. And what better day to unveil their new
outfits than the 10th anniversary of Hong Kong's reunification with the
PLA garrison troops in
Hong Kong in the new "07 Style" ceremonial uniforms at a march past to
mark the 10th anniversary of Hong Kong's return to the motherland. [China
The brand new ceremonial and casual uniforms - and new battle fatigues - went
on display in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) on Sunday,
drawing a loud hurrah from the mainland's enlisted men. Different from the "97
Style" uniforms issued to garrison troops in Hong Kong and Macao SARs, the new
uniforms will allow the enlisted men to cast off the baggy outfits designed
about 20 years ago to look sharper.
Dubbed "07 Style", the new ceremonial uniforms for the first time will have
chest insignia, a must with most Western military uniforms, to reveal a wearer's
rank and length of service. Berets have been introduced as standard-issue summer
headgear, reminiscent of the NATO look. And Navy rank badges move down from the
shoulders to the sleeves in line with international practice.
Years of peacekeeping operations with other international forces have
influenced the new Chinese designers. "Increasing global military exchanges have
upped the requirements for uniforms of the People's Liberation Army (PLA). The
new outfits fuse global trends with Chinese characteristics," says General Liao
Xilong, chief of PLA's General Logistics Department.
The existing outfits are not very stylish, he says. Often the colors are
mismatched. Rising living standards, modernization of the country's armed forces
and its growing presence in international peacekeeping operations, too, have
prompted the change.
Working on the "97 Style", designers refined the cut and the sizing of the
uniforms to enhance the appearance of the wearers. The new casual uniform for
spring and autumn fit more tightly, and servicewomen will find their shoe heels
a cm higher from the earlier 4 cm.
The designers have focused mainly on improving the aesthetics, the quality
and functionality of the outfits, says senior engineer and president of the
Quartermaster Equipment Institute (QEI) Yang Tingxin, who was responsible for
the uniforms' designs. "It would have been impossible to carry out such a major
upgrade if the country's economy hadn't grown so rapidly," he says.
Technological and financial constraints meant Chinese forces were issued only
one uniform for working, field surveys and training till 1987, when casual
uniforms were first introduced.
"H-shaped uniforms have been bid goodbye once and for all; they're a thing of
the past," says Wu Yu, another QEI senior engineer. "Now we have T-uniforms for
men and X-shaped outfits for women". Compared to military uniforms of other
countries, the H-uniforms appear baggy and dull. Men in T-shaped outfits, which
highlight the shoulder width, look taller and stronger, and women appear sassier
in the X-shaped uniforms that give the waists a contracted look, she says.
Ceremonial uniforms, reserved for military attaches when they were first
employed in 1987, are now available to all officers. Tailor-made, they come
complete with special shoes and shirts.
After three years of study, designers made more than a hundred refinements to
the "97 Style" and introduced 365 new items, including sweaters, training boots,
gloves, socks, training overcoats and apparel such as arm badges, name patches
and service insignia. "My impression is that the top military leaders really
want to make the rank and file look smarter and feel comfortable. They are very
open-minded," says Yang.
The red band, a feature of the big-brimmed green Army hats for decades, has
disappeared from the new outfits. Some critics opposed the change, saying the
color red was the main symbol of the Communist Party of China. But aesthetics
prevailed. The blaze of red didn't match the green hat and green uniforms.
Instead designers have come up with an enlarged peach-shaped badge on the
hats for all enlisted personnel bearing the insignia of the PLA Army, Air Force
and Navy. A red relief features a star and the Chinese characters ba-yi, or
eight-one, commemorating the beginning of the Nanchang Uprising on August 1,
1927, to which the origin of the PLA has been officially traced.
But despite the changes, the uniforms retain "key PLA elements and icons"
under the command of the Communist Party of China, Liao says. A dozen
traditional icons appear on the new uniforms, including the national flag, the
PLA flag, the Great Wall, Tian'anmen Square, as well as ears of wheat and cog
wheels representing the alliance of farmers and workers which 80 years ago led
to the foundation of New China.
To commemorate the history of the PLA, historic gray - the color worn by the
Red Army (1927 to 1937) and the Balujun, or the Eighth Route Army (1937-1949)
from which the PLA evolved - was fused with the existing colors, providing a new
pine green for the Army, dark blue for the Navy and deep grayish-blue for the
Air Force. "The three colors mesh well and go with the global trend of using
cold colors for military uniforms," says Yang.
"Our focus will now shift to improving the functionality, quality and
recognizability and enriching standard issues for each category", he says.
"Training and tactical uniforms need more work."
The upgrade will cost China 6 billion yuan ($789 million) by 2009. The per
capita bedding and clothing expenses of the Chinese armed forces, however,
remain low compared to the world average, Liao says.
"The expenditure cannot be avoided. But we must budget strictly. By spreading
the upgrade process over three years, we can make full use of the existing
inventory and avoid waste."
Carefully folded uniforms usually arrive in the barracks from military
warehouses. This year, many ceremonial uniforms have come directly from factory
production lines. Delivered on hangers, they are without a single wrinkle and
have the name labels of the wearers stitched on them. "This uniform upgrade is a
stride forward for the PLA's logistics management," says Wang Zongxi, a PLA
Logistics Command Institute professor.
The PLA has wanted to provide servicemen and women with tailor-made
ceremonial uniforms for a long time, Liao says. "The upgrade will take us a long
way towards achieving that goal."
Companies that have won the contracts to make the new ceremonial uniforms
will not have to take the measurements of the country's 2.3 million armed forces
personnel because every individual will get a tailor-made outfit. Liao says the
Army will no longer keep inventories and won't be involved in inventory
management for ceremonial uniforms. "The idea is to outsource inventory
management of these uniforms to private firms and slash our storage costs."
Technological innovation, industrial advances and armed forces reforms are
blurring the divide between defense and civil industries. Many countries use
resources from the private sector to reduce the size of their armed forces and
improve their combat effectiveness. The PLA is focusing on that to modernize its
logistics, Liao says.
In February, the Chinese authorities urged military areas and units to
strengthen their collaboration with civil enterprises in order to improve their
logistics management. In June, the government said it was encouraging
weapon-makers in less sensitive sectors to attract private and overseas
investors and increase innovation.
Thanks to the largest-ever uniform upgrade in China's history, quartermasters
have been able to update measurement statistics and data on bedding and
clothing. They say they will be able to reduce the cost of uniform and equipment
issue errors significantly. "Uniforms are an excellent point of departure to
experiment with the outsourcing of military logistics," says