Our Freshmen Military Training About to Begin

Quite a few teachers in China enjoy teaching freshmen.  Whether high school or college, there are always  perks to having 1st year students when they arrive at their schools for the first time.  Everything is new for them:  classes, teachers, friends, the educational environment.  Their excited attitude of a fresh start makes teaching these young people so much fun.

But there’s yet another bonus for teachers:  Freshmen start 2 weeks later than upper classmen, meaning teachers of these students won’t have a full teaching load quite yet.

Why the 2-week late start?

China’s Mandatory Basic Military Training Course

In China, a 2-week military training period is required of all incoming freshmen, both high school and college.

While upper classmen are busy at work with regular classes, the freshmen are dressed in their spanking new camouflage uniforms, marching about campus in careful formations and learning how to work together as a unit.  Their instructors are soldiers from the area’s local army base, which sends representatives to lead the students in their daily drills.

Aside from correct marching techniques, soldiers give lectures on proper upkeep of dorm rooms (spick and span!), daily life expectations, love-of-country  and how to get along with one another.

The content of the basic training depends on the instructors and their base criteria for a civilian student training course.  A few training courses even teach students how to shoot rifles, but for the most part, it’s just a lot of marching about while chanting drill slogans all day in the hot sun.

What’s the Purpose?

            These mandatory courses began for college freshmen in the mid-1980s, followed as a requirement for high school freshmen in the 1990s.   Most foreigners look at this as a means of controlling students, instilling a strong sense of patriotism for school and country with a lot of fervent, gung-ho army chants and strict disciplinary measures.

My take is that it was meant to instill a sense of unity and camaraderie among students who, for the first time, are far from home and in need of guidance. Independence and individual resourcefulness are not traits found in most Chinese young teenagers or college students.  They need help in dealing with upheavals and sudden changes in their lives, such as moving to a new school where dialects are different and surroundings very unfamiliar.

To maintain some sort of stability, a military training course keeps them busy for the first 2 weeks.  They have no time to think about family or how lonely they are.  They can’t go away and hide in the library or their dormitory rooms, feeling sorry for themselves.  They have to complete the course, meaning being surrounded by classmates all day and bonding in a way which otherwise wouldn’t take place if they were just left alone.

Quite a majority of Chinese students I’ve talked to say that the freshman basic training course was tiring and  tedious, but they were glad they had to do it. It brought them closer together as classmates and helped them adjust to a new family life, that of their school.

Our School’s Training Delay

Here at Guangxi Normal University for Nationalities, incoming freshmen are also required to do their military training course at the beginning of the school year.  After arriving in late August, they usually begin their 2-week requirement before even stepping into the classroom as a college student.

But Longzhou is so far south, with the weather in the high 90s (even 100s) in September, that the school officials decided to postpone the course until the spring semester, when it’s much cooler.  Their idea was to have the training course in March, as soon as the students returned after their winter holiday break.

Unfortunately for us, the nearby army base was training its new recruits in March.  They had no spare instructors to send over until they finished with their own soldiers.

With that announcement, we have all been waiting impatiently to hear when exactly our 1st years will be able to complete their mandatory requirements.

Since a majority of my students are freshmen, I’ve especially been anxious about when I’ll lose my classes for 2 weeks.  Every week, I’ve been told it’ll be next week.  And yet next week arrives, and I’m still teaching everyone.

I did scramble successfully to complete all my Easter lessons, and even managed to set up my Easter displays in my home.  We missed out on classroom egg-coloring, however.  I just didn’t know when to schedule those in, which is a shame as I’m sure everyone would have enjoyed it.

Uniforms Arrive!  Maybe Next Week?

           This past week, there’s been a lot of buzz around the campus and among the offices that perhaps the freshmen are ready to begin their basic training course, starting Monday.  No official word has come down yet from the higher-ups but students did get their uniforms 2 days ago.

When I entered the classroom to begin my 10:30 a.m. lesson, my freshmen English Education majors were hyped.  They all had their crisply folded, camouflaged uniforms and were trying them on.  Cap, pants, jacket shirt and plastic belt were included in the set.  In other schools I’ve been in, flimsy, thin-soled, green canvas shoes were thrown in but not here.  Students had to wear their own tennis shoes, which is just as well.  Those cheap training shoes wore out in a hurry.

Everyone was pretty much in an uproar as it seems one size fits all.  The uniforms were humongous!  The pants were 2 or 3 sizes too big around the waist, thus the absolute need for the belt.  Otherwise, you’d be losing your trousers.

Yet another rather annoying fact was that they stunk.

My entire room reeked of pesticide-sprayed, factory clothes that came fresh off the assembly lines.   The stench was awful and about made us all sick.

“I bet I know what you’re all doing after class today,” I announced to the group.

Not missing a beat, everyone said, “Go back to the dorms and wash our uniforms!”

It wouldn’t be so bad except these things cost money.  Each student was required to pay 150 yuan ($23) for their military training attire.  They’ll most likely use the clothes for 2 weeks and then discard them.  Not only are they too big, but the material is sticky, stiff and very hot.  I’m not sure what they were made out of but it certainly wasn’t a very nice weave of comfortable cotton.  Even after washing, I’m not sure they’d be very desirable or pleasant to wear.

Connie’s Plans for the Military Training Course

For myself, once the freshmen begin their training, I won’t be having their classes.  I do have the 2nd years, but in between, I’ll have nothing to do.  With that I mind, I decided to get some necessary business done.

Since all foreigners are required to have an annual physical to extend their visas for a year,  I’ll be doing that in Nanning.  The process is 3 days, with the physical taken one morning and the results picked up 2 days later.

My plan is to leave with the dog to Nanning and have that done, once the official announcement comes down from above that the freshmen are, indeed, starting their basic training course next week.

Until then, it’s still wait and see.

Here’s wishing you Ping An ( peace), and blessings, for your weekend!

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About connieinchina

I have been in the Asia region for 18 years as an English language teacher. 13 of those have been spent with the Amity Foundation, a Chinese NGO that works in all areas of development for the Chinese people. Amity teachers are placed at small colleges throughout China as instructors of English language majors in the education field. In other words, my students will one day be English teachers themselves in their small villages or towns once they graduate. Currently, this is my second year in Guangxi Province at the 3-year college, Guangxi Normal University for Nationalities. The college is located in smalltown longzhou, 1 hour from the Vietnam border.
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