Last week a nine year-old girl from New Jersey shot and killed her firearms’ instructor. He was teaching her how to use an Uzi submachine gun.
The footage of the accident, which was recorded on a smartphone, prompted widespread astonishment outside the US gunbelt as to why any parent would put a submachine gun in the hands of their child. (As a result of the incident, the range has upped its minimum age for parentally-supervised shooting to 12 years-old from eight.)
In China last week another training session went so badly that it also became headline news. Fortunately there were no fatalities, although the incident at a drill in Hunan province soon had netizens debating the purpose of China’s military training systems.
The brawl broke out at Huangcang Secondary School in Longshan. It began during military training, which is compulsory for high school students. During the drill, a female student got into an argument with a military instructor from a local regiment. According to a statement released by the Longshan County Propaganda Department, the instructor threatened to punish her by beating her palms with a stick. The teacher of the class, Liu Yunjie, and other students then intervened, tackling the instructor and restraining him. The students later apologised, and the drill instructor and the teacher shook hands.
A few hours later other military instructors turned up, having heard about the fracas. They got physically aggressive, making the students do push-ups and kicking them when they stopped from exhaustion.
Their teacher Liu tried to intervene again and then called the local police for help. Reportedly he was beaten up for intervening. By the time the melee had ended, 40 students (all of them aged 16 or so), one instructor and Liu were injured.
Mandatory military training was established in China under the Military Service Law of 1955, and intensified after the Cultural Revolution. In high schools, the training usually lasts about seven days. In colleges, the instruction ranges from 15 days to a month, says the Shanghai Daily.
But the incident in Hunan isn’t the only instance of military discipline gone awry. Last week a girl in Liaoning was reprimanded by training officers for an inability to stand properly. She committed suicide that evening, says China Youth Daily. In 2011, a 19 year-old college student also died during training, sparking debate about the intensity of the military drills. Another high school student from Shenzhen also died during army training a year later.
The brawl in Hunan brought the issue back to the fore. Parents and students have long complained that the training programmes are outdated and a waste of time. Government guidelines say that students should learn the fundamentals of map reading, shooting and battle tactics, although most of those who have been through the courses say they pick up few practical skills. The most useful thing learned from the programme according to some wags? How to make their beds…
“Honestly, other than helping new students get to know each other quickly, military training is pointless,” one netizen wrote on weibo.
But others have argued that it would be a mistake to abolish the training system on the basis of a few isolated incidents. The Global Times quoted a former military officer saying that the programmes are “an important part of national defence education” in which students “get to know the military and are encouraged to serve their country”. Similarly, an editorial in China Youth Daily argued that so many children in China are overindulged that there is more need than ever for young people to learn about discipline and teamwork.
Critics say there’s another reason why Beijing has been pushing for military training for teenagers. During the sessions, students are taught about collective action, obedience and selfless devotion.
“Let’s be honest, the real purpose of military training is to control and restrain a child’s thinking and personality. In the military, there is a lot of emphasis on respect and obeying authority without questioning whether it is right or wrong. And that’s what the government wants. For many young children, however, this is very bad for their development,” one opponent of the training wrote.
Another concurred: “The purpose of military training is to instill in children the concept of absolute obedience – it has no other use.”
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