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Post-90s 'strawberry' generation is in the army now

2012-03-06 14:23     Web Editor: Wang Fan comment

( – According to a survey released by China Youth Daily, nearly 90 percent of China's new People's Liberation Army (PLA) recruits were born in the 1990s, and in 2009 the army enrolled nearly 130,000 servicemen that were either college students or fresh graduates.

But even as an increasing number of "post-90s" born citizens are opting for life in the Chinese military, their motives for enlistment are far more various than the enlistees of the past, says the Southern Weekend.

The new generation is more open-minded and learns faster, and the PLA considers them the "new blood" for its ongoing build-up to increased modernization and higher quality personnel.

The new recruits are also impacting the existing model of military management. Born into the Internet age, with its abundant supply of information, the post-90s are to some extent China's new wild card generation, whose members tend to be more aggressive, outward looking and confident.

Different motives

In the 1960s, Chinese youth all rushed to join the army for the same purpose: to protect their homes and defend the motherland.

In the case of Lei Feng, China's legendary altruistic icon of model behavior, the story goes that in December of 1959 he took the health checkup for conscription into the PLA, but at that time he was only 1.54 meters tall, weighed 54.5 kilograms and was diagnosed with sinusitis, which immediately disqualified him for recruitment.

Yet Lei didn't give up. Instead, he went to the home of Yu Xinyuan, the head of recruiting, and used his insistent charm to bargain his way in. After 58 days, Yu was finally moved by Lei's unremitting efforts, and gave him special permission to join the army, noted the Southern Weekend.

Fifty years later, Zheng Puren, the son of a billionaire, arrived at the same regiment where Lei Feng had worked. Although Zheng received an admission letter from Dalian University of Foreign Languages, he had made the decision to become a soldier after watching a Chinese TV show called "Soldiers Sortie."

Such cases are not rare, experts say. According to Wang Honggang, political commissar of the regiment, post-90s kids sometimes decide to join the army impulsively. Meanwhile, other recruits admit to becoming soldiers only to benefit from preferential policies in finance, study and employment.

Natural instincts

In the 1960s, soldiers were praised as the simplest and most unsophisticated people in China, honorable traits represented by Lei Feng's worn out socks, for example, which had been mended many times over.

But after several decades, when Lei's Enicar watch (a Swiss brand), leather shoes, jacket and trendy trousers were displayed at an exhibition in 2006, his mythical heroic image was further humanized – particularly for fashion-conscious youngsters.

For the post-90s, a report released by the PLA Daily noted that about 58 percent of new recruits were frequent Web users before enlistment, 28 percent were out-and-out Web "geeks," and over 90 percent had visited nightclubs, said the Southern Weekend.

Most of them claimed that such entertainment was the best way to release their "natural instincts." In military encampments, strict discipline and hierarchy are two important issues they must adapt to; but there is also time to squeeze in a little entertainment, which doesn't mean that we are careless or don't take our training seriously, said Chen Qiang (alias), a post-90s private.

Officers have also recognized this trend in the "new blood," and have decided that guidance works better than preaching in most cases. Generally, the young recruits understand that although rules may sometimes seem inhuman, they are not unreasonable, since great discipline is required for the protection of the country.

Too soft for service?

Although other countries sometimes mock Chinese troops as being "strawberry soldiers" (a take on the "strawberry generation," a term first used to describe Taiwanese people as being less able to withstand pressure and unable to work very hard), the PLA has a different view.

Instead, the army claims that the post-90s are more independent thinkers and have more social experience than veterans. According to an internal survey, 33 percent of new recruits had experience with part-time jobs, trading and full-time work, and 30 percent had worked in at least two professional fields.

Meanwhile, despite their own unique characteristics, they are hardworking, punctual, fearless and rational, said the survey.


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