An ugly melee this week between People’s Liberation Army training officers and their high school trainees at a high school in central China sent dozens of students and teachers to the hospital with injuries, some serious.
The incident occurred Aug. 25 in Huangcang High School in Hunan province when the officer in charge of mandatory military training physically abused male students for suspected disrespect of military instructors.
After the young male students were severely beaten and kicked by the military officers, the class’ civilian teacher tried to summon emergency help. Enraged by the teacher’s act, the officer in charge ordered the military instructors to beat the teacher. That prompted the male students to charge the officers in an effort to rescue their teacher, who had passed out. In the melee, the students suffered severe injuries, including broken bones and profuse bleeding.
When all was over, 42 people were taken to the hospital, including 40 students, one teacher and one officer.
Fearing the incident could ignite wider social unrest, Communist Party officials promised a swift investigation. In a rare move, they lifted a ban on news reports about the melee, fearing that hiding information could further worsen civilian-military relations amid the recent exposure of widespread military corruption.
Nothing would pose a worse nightmare for the Communist Party if the PLA once again were to become the enemy of the Chinese people in the public’s perception.
All 28 PLA training officers detailed to the Huangcang High School were redeployed, pending the outcome of the investigation by the Public Security Bureau, China’s main internal security authority.
Yet the degree to which communist authorities could punish rogue PLA elements is seriously limited. The reason: The PLA has been dutifully performing what the Party has asked it to do in implementing a nationwide military indoctrination program for the last quarter of a century, which is instrumental in ensuring the longevity of one-party rule.
Nationwide annual mandatory military training for college and high school students was implemented in the immediate aftermath of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. Its express purposes are to toughen up the nation’s youth, who are believed to be vulnerable to what authorities dub “bourgeois spiritual pollution,” and to inculcate military discipline and respect for the Party and the PLA.
While mandatory military training has been mainly successful for the Party to create a nation of indoctrinated super patriots and a youth culture of obsession with warfare and military hardware, it also has generated much more relevance for the PLA within civilian life.
The military’s prominence has become even more evident since Xi Jinping became China’s supreme leader in November 2012.
Under Mr. Xi’s leadership, the military agenda has overtaken many of the nation’s key priority orientations established by former Chinese strongman Deng Xiaoping.
Military exercises in July paralyzed half of China’s commercial aviation sector for weeks and affected the nation’s economic development, as the PLA was given the monopoly over 80 percent of Chinese airspace. China’s diplomacy with many of its 14 neighbors also has become exclusively military, marked by encounters of hostility and chest-thumping hubris with little, if any, participation by diplomats.
But the Party-run newspaper Global Times sees something dangerous brewing after the melee in Hunan. In an Aug. 27 editorial, the newspaper recognized the fact that “at present, there has been a virtual all-people online protest against the PLA beating in Hunan.” Another article said that such military training “may lead to our youths’ revulsion with our military, even strengthening the popular perception that ‘good men should not join the military.”
In that same article, however, the Global Times also accused those who condemned the PLA savagery in the incident as harboring ulterior motives of using the case to tarnish the military’s good image in order to minimize the awareness of national defense.