Tuesday, August 09, 2016

How Chinese Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Their Military Again

The following excerpts are taken from the Foreign Policy "How Chinese Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Their Military Again" (August 05, 2016)



>> BEIJING — Every evening, as regular and obstreperous as a rooster, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers sing from the barracks outside my Beijing home, a chorus of teenage troops reminding the neighborhood when it’s dinner time:
“Unity is strength, unity is strength,
The strength is iron, the strength is steel,
It’s harder than iron, stronger than steel.
Open fire at Fascism and Imperialism
And eliminate all undemocratic systems!”
[...] This week’s Chinese Workers and Farmers Red Army Day marks the 89th anniversary of the founding of the PLA, originally envisaged by Communist strongman and People’s Republic founder Mao Zedong as a military Party wing “for carrying out the political tasks of the revolution.” Mao’s volunteer guerrillas spent as much time digging wells, building dams, or bringing in harvests as they did governing newly captured territories or, later, defending the fledgling republic ...

The broad support that the military now enjoys among ordinary Chinese is something few would have predicted after the PLA’s notorious crackdowns on protesters near Beijing’s Tienanmen Square. Much of the genuine good will that existed between the people and their army ended almost overnight on June 4, 1989, when the ruling Politburo ordered generals to end months of peaceful pro-democracy protests by sending in troops with tanks, machine guns, and flamethrowers...

The PLA never wished to see its role switch from patriotic protectors to butchers. Resistance toward the use of force against the 1989 protesters was stiff: Deng Xiaoping, China’s then-paramount leader, is said to have personally lobbied commanders from all seven military regions, some of whose misgivings were personal — their children were among the demonstrators — as well as political. Few soldiers relish having to suppress their own people. And many feared the damage the PLA’s standing would suffer.

Even before the order to impose martial law, locals units had tactically withdrawn from Beijing, after meeting mild resistance and persuasion tactics from ordinary residents. Thousands of soldiers were then forced to undergo “re-education” ... other local units, such as the 28th Army and 116th division, simply refused to comply with the order to retake the square “at any cost.” One senior leader, the 38th Group’s Major-General Xu Qinxian, said he “would rather be beheaded than be a criminal in the eyes of history.” A petition circulating in May 1989, signed by senior commanders, stated plainly: “The people’s military belongs to the people, and cannot oppose the people,” echoing the late Mao’s remarks that “Without a people’s army, the people have nothing.”

[...] “I was raised to believe that the PLA serves to defend my homeland and people,” Guo, a 29-year-old translator and soldier’s daughter who would only share her surname, told Foreign Policy. “My first impression of them, besides my father, came during the 1998 flood when soldiers were deployed by the central government to rescue people in Wuhan,” she said. Thousands of soldiers rushed to assist with the rescue and reconstruction, recalling the aftermath of the 1976 Tangshan earthquake, which left nearly a quarter-million dead and a city effectively leveled, but with no professional rescue force to call upon. But in the giant industrial city of Wuhan, 100,000 troops, reportedly marching 24 hours a day in blazing heat across country, converged on the stricken city to coordinate the rescue. Even though the catastrophe left about 4,000 dead and 6.9 million homes in the Yangtze basin destroyed, it proved a seminal moment in the PLA’s ongoing rehabilitation, raising its members’ status to national heroes ...

Similar scenes repeated this summer, as the worst floods since 1998 swept through Wuhan, leaving death and destruction in their wake, and the PLA again mobilized for round-the-clock rescue work. “Our truck had just left,” a soldier wrote about similar floods on a top-rated answer for question-and-answer site Zhihu, to the query, “What has a stranger ever done that touched you deeply?” “The civilians started chasing [us], throwing baskets full of steamed buns… crying ‘Where will we meet you again?’ I can vividly remember them saying: ‘You’re are just as young as our own children; how could we ask you to sacrifice your lives for us?’ As I stood watching them, there was only one thought on my mind: I would gladly sacrifice my life for them, and it would be worth the price.”

Efforts like these “have helped greatly to restore the PLA’s image,” according to Dennis Blasko, author of The Chinese Army Today. “Probably more people have been helped by disaster relief efforts than remember or were affected by Tiananmen.” ...

[...] Not every bit of PLA propaganda is successful. A traditional-style campaign encouraging ordinary women to “wash soldiers’ clothes” recently irked feminists ...

Overall, however, the barrage of propaganda has seemed to work...

[...] The PLA’s need for respect and adoration also reflects constant anxiety among China’s elites about their own standing. The Party’s contemporary fear is less of another Tiananmen than of being hollowed out by its own internal problems...

[...] Bit by bit, the relentless image-making seems to work. “The songs stuck,” [26-year-old accountancy major] Jingjing recalled of her mandatory college-training days. “They connect the dots of our training to our lives today.” For a foreigner, nighttime chants from a hidden army base are just another part of an often-mystifying daily routine. To Chinese people like Jingjing, they’re something more: “A reminder that the country I live in is, after all, a Communist one.” It will be up to Xi and the generals to ensure the army doesn’t betray the patriotism it once again inspires. <<

(source: http://foreignpolicy.com/2016/08/05/how-chinese-learned-to-stop-worrying-and-love-their-military-again-pla-tiananmen-comeback-china)

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