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Published: October 7th 2008
Obligatory Freshmen Military Training for the 2008-2009 School Year begins at Taizhou Teachers College.
For all Chinese college and university freshmen, the beginning of their new school year begins with mandatory military training, lasting some 2-3 weeks. The commander of the PLA regulars at TTC, who train our new students, was happy to pose with me, and explained much of the process. I must thank him for his time and efforts.
One of the most surprising experiences for a first year student during college and university life in China has little to do with academic endeavor or performance. The Chinese college freshmen, who usually arrive 2 weeks after the classes for the upper classmen have already begun, must first participate in compulsory and strenuous two to three week "military training". That national practice will end a few days before China's National Holiday, October 1st. This military training is obligatory for all entering students to any college or university, anywhere in China. In other words, it is a nationwide experience, without any exceptions, where males and females are treated as equals.
Arriving at their respective college, at which point parents turn over the responsibility for educating, safety, and raising their "child" to the college authorities, all entering freshmen are immediately issued supplies in a military duffle-bag, including a military fatigue-uniform.
They will be assigned to their group, studying for the same college major, with whom they will associate throughout their college years. They will attend the same classes and occupy the same dormitories. In my school, Taizhou Teachers College, the freshmen will be assigned to a class consisting of some 45
The Chinese Flag is raised and opens the ceremony for the military training ceremony.
When graduation after the two weeks of training arrives, all freshmen, in their uniform, assemble on the sports field, and will march past the college administration and invited guests in a military style parade.
to 50 students.
That same weekend, a troop of young People's Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers will also have taken up residence at our campus. To each of these soldiers will be assigned one of these groups of students. It will be their duty to shape and mold their assigned freshmen group into a cohesive and disciplined and proud class-unit.
The freshmen arrive on a Sunday, and by Monday morning, they will be in their issued, fatigue-military-uniforms and report to the campus sports-field. Here they will receive training not so different from the basic military training that I had received at Ft. Benning, Ga. before my military service.
They will learn to march as a unit, learn how to take care of their field equipment, learn the basics of the martial arts, and are trained in the handling and shooting of a rifle. They will bond as friends through group conversations and songs, encourage each others strengths, and support each other in moments of weakness. They will learn, that as a unit, "they are only as strong as their weakest link".
They do this with the kind and compassionate support and guidance of their PLA leader, whom
The college permits me to sit with the administration and civic leaders on the review platform.
Each year the college has a seat reserved for me on the review stand, to witness this unique Chinese tradion.
they truly learn to love and to respect. (At graduation time, these you PLA regulars are showered with gifts from the students, whom they have disciplined into a proud unit over these past 2-3 weeks.)
Few students I have spoken with do not support this early military style training, and for some of them, these activities are rather strenuous. What I do see, is that young men and women, (sorry! "boys and girls"), who have arrived as strangers to each other, after their training, have become more like sisters and brothers.
It is not my role to question the reasons and motives for a goverment to mandate such nation-wide training for all its students, though it has not gone unnoticed, that even in my school in the Florida, C.G.Sr.H.S., and many schools in the USA, conformity and greater discipline is being encouraged through a common dress-uniform or dress-code, to give just one example.
Most students, including the freshmen, will take the opportunity of the Chinese National Holiday on Oct. 1st to return home, to visit with family and friends. It is a holiday, when the whole Chinese nation is on the move, when trains and busses and
Mr. Xu is the respected President of Taizhou Teachers College.
Mr. Xu is a kind and gentle man, always ready with a quick and disarming smile. He is respected for his leadership abilities not only at our college, but also in the city of Taizhou. Here, he just finished the review of the new freshmen, as they now become official members of our college family.
planes are over-crowded, and those, who had been able to get tickets for transportation home, will count themselves as lucky.
It is difficult for any Western person to imagine the immense and massive lines at ticket counters before the Chinese holidays, where patience is tested to the limits, and when tempers can explode at any moment. I have been witness to some of these less than attractive incidents.
It should be remembered, that tickets are only available for one way travel! The same stress will be encountered once again, when the return trips are being planned.
For the National Holiday, one week is usually set aside to travel or to spend time with family and friends. When they return after that one week, the freshmen will then begin their academic pursuits, as full and disciplined members of the Taizhou Teachers College family.
Because Taizhou Teachers College is a Foreign Language School and a college, that will graduate predominantly teachers, most of our students will be "females". In other words, in any class of 45, only about 3-5 students will be young men (boys). When I ask students, parents and teachers for the reasons, their answer is
There is great camaraderie among the PLA regulars.
The commander is proud of his young group of soldiers, who have been responsible for training our freshmen. They are not shy to show their affection for him.
simple: " Males are more adept to technology, math and science. Females are more suited for the arts and languages."
**(It is interesting to note, that parents, teachers, and staff at a Chinese college or Chinese university will "call" the students "boys and girls", though these may be as old as twenty three. They will do so until they graduate and officially enter "society". My own students object strenously to being called "young ladies" and "gentlemen" by me; and of course, they also refer to each other as "boys and girls".)**
Any further discussion on male and female academic ability, and who is suited best for which subject becomes a fruitless effort. For the moment there is little chance of changing minds, especially those of parents, who influence the educational direction of their child profoundly and often emphatically. With the respect children have for their parents in China, a family debate on that subject seems unlikely, as sons and daughters acquiesce quickly to the demands of their parents.
The ratio of male to female, (about 1 :10), is quite a challenge for the "boys" on our campus, who feel overwhelmed by the "girls", as they encircle them
These young PLA regulars take great pride in their 2 week assignment at Taizhou Teachers College.
This group of young PLA regulars (People's Liberation Army) spent 2 weeks at our campus at TTC, training our "green" crop of new freshmen.
everywhere they go. The boys will remain shy, and will stay close to each other for "protection", their arms often around each others shoulders. The girls too are shy and will walk in groups, clasping each others hands even tighter when they see me approaching.
On every campus in the USA, such a ratio of males to females would be envied by the men, but in China the separation of the sexes is still enforced not by the college, but by tradition, customs and the culture. I believe, that relationship between the sexes on a college campus in China will take many more generations to tame, especially in the "smaller" cities of 5 million or less. But the behavior is more and more affected and influenced by what they see on the internet, from Western TV shows and Western movies, all of which are greatly enjoyed and appreciated by my students.
I do see more amorous explorations on our Chinese college campus than in my first year, but these seem to develop more in the second or third year of college life. Holding hands is less the exception now, though any type of kissing or other body contact
One of the PLA soldiers poses with great pride.
A PLA regular is surrounded by admirers, our new students at TTC. The freshmen grow very fond of their group leader, who trains them with successful patience.
in public is rare. Evening darkness does provide the opportunity for less conspicuous encounters, which must end by 10:30pm to make curfew at their dormitories.
My students also tell me, often with a nervous smile, that hotels within the campus area do a more brisk business during the weekends. I assume, it is because Taizhou is receiving more tourism these past years, they make it known, it may be for "other" reasons. I do see many students smile much more on Mondays, when they return to classes, some with serious "battle scars" on their necks.
The new Freshmen arrive at our campus anxious, timid, overwhelmed, insecure, and will begin to acquire self-confidence, each at various speeds throughout the semesters. Most of them come from smaller towns of Jiangsu Province, and have had only limited exposure to a more developed city such as Taizhou; some have had no exposure at all, never having left their small village or home-town until now.
Any college in China, which hosts "native Western teachers" gains "face", academic respectability and admiration by the parents.
Yet meeting a Western teacher, such as myself, for the first time is momentous event for almost all
What does each think of this obligatory military training?
The look on two faces is telling. What might be on the minds of these two ladies, as they reflect on strenuous 2 weeks of the freshmen military training at TTC?
of the new arrivals including the parents, who accompany their "child", and is sure to become a topic of conversation. Most have never seen or experienced a "living" Western face outside of TV or the movies.
Walking past me at any time of the day, I am stared at in disbelieve. (It is how I have acquired my "Panda Bear Complex"!). To achieve some eye contact with them is an accomplishment, and responding with their first "hello" to me is like "pulling teeth". With time, most students become more open, and I have noticed, that this year's new arrivals seem more responsive, than those of my first year here at Taizhou Teachers College.
Still, if they pass me in pairs or in a group, they will huddle closer to each other, grasp each others arms even more tightly, stare first and then look away, begin to a teenager-like giggle, and begin to push each other to the other side to a "safer" distance, as they speed up their stride, and my "Panda Bear Complex" begins to kick in.
If a student walks alone and sees me coming, some seem frightened or too nervous to look at me,
The banner of Taizhou Teachers College
These four proud freshmen have been selected to carry the banner for Taizhou Teachers College and will open the military parade on graduation day.
some will pretend not to notice me, and some will begin to veer and move to the other side of the path.
They will "pretend" to be astonished that I would notice them, and when I greet them with some English and a smile. Some will stop in their tracks, while others will turn around and walk another direction, so they would not have to pass me.
For most Westerners, this type of behavior would be somewhat unsettling. For me it has become something I expect anywhere I walk, be it on campus or in the city of Taizhou itself. I remind myself that I am not only big, but also handsome! Now, I would be surprised if I were no longer subjected to such curiosity.
**(Let me just interject are recent event on the streets of Taizhou: I usually do much walking in my city, and during one of these strolls this past week, a man on an electric bike passed me. He noticed me. How could he not? In disbelief he turned his head to stare at me. In the process, he neglected to keep his eyes on the road in front of him, something
The new students are very eager for a photo.
Our new students at Taizhou Teachers College are the friendliest, and are so eager to make a foreign teacher feel welcome and at home.
you simply don't do in Taizhou trafffic. It only took a second, before he crashed in to the back of a taxi, that had stopped to drop off its passenger. Thankfully he was not hurt, though his bike sustained severe damage. I am not sure how much that event may have improved Chinese - American relations with this gentleman. It did not help to improve my "Panda Bear Complex)**
Expecting this kind of star-quality attention, I have learned to "... grab the bull by its horns"! Now, if some student(s) on campus pretend not to notice me, I make it a point of walking directly toward them, even as they try to veer and escape. Then I offer them an extra friendly and hearty day's greeting, solicit a firm handshake, and focus a direct, blue-eyed look into their distraught, dark eyes. I can almost hear their heart beating, as they gasp for air.
For most, their first encounter with me comes as a shock, from which they will not recover for some time, and which they will probably remember a life-time. I look forward to seeing many of them in my oral English classes, as they return from
Our group of freshmen English-majors in their uniforms.
Resting, before graduating with a military parade, the English-majors at Taizhou Teachers College seem happy, that they have finally and successfully completed their two weeks of training.
the October 1st Chinese National Holiday. For over two weeks I have admired them in their military fatigues, now I will be able to share time with them as "civilians", in their first year of college, determined to work toward a successful future for not only themselves, but also for their families, without whose sacrifice and help they would not be able to be here with me.
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Learning how to handle and shoot a rifle is part of the training for all freshmen.
In the final days of the freshmen military training, all students, males and females, learn how to handle a rifle. A PLA regular shows the students how it is done.
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