Stuart Beaton is back on campus in Tianjin and has this eye-opening report on what back to school means for Chinese university students. Catch Stuart’s fabulous author podcast interviews on his website, http://rastous.podomatic.com. Here’s Stu!
This week has seen a marked increase in activity around campus, as the majority of students return here to continue their studies.
This has led to a large number of tents popping up all over the campus, as rival telephone companies compete to sell them overpriced mobile handsets, with contract plans they can’t afford, and functions they’ll never need – or at least that’s what my wife, who works for China Mobile, tells me.
As the Uni is basically a small, self-contained city (there are several thousand students crammed into high-rise dorm blocks a stone’s throw away from our apartment), the phone companies grab every patch of spare footpath, unused road and even teaching buildings’ doorways from which to ply their wares. With the already narrow streets heaving with students, it can make just getting about pretty hard.
And that’s not taking into account the electric shuttle buses (silent until they’re a few feet away, and then sound a horn), bicycles, and cars being driven by parents eager to deposit their offspring into the waiting arms of the education system.
So, at times, it’s downright bloody dangerous to be on foot around here.
Students are trickling in, burdened down with quilts (there doesn’t seem to be a lot of heating about for them in Winter), food (suitcases filled with instant noodles and junk food snacks), and a not a lot else – certainly not text books or study material.
After all, the prevailing mentality is that anything they need to know for the final exams will be taught to them directly – they don’t need to learn anything else.
Which fills me with utter despair.
First Year Students, however, have already been at the campus for the best part of two weeks. Why?
Because they’re all doing their Basic Military Training.
Theoretically, it’s so that The Party can say that every adult in China is fit to fight, and if push comes to shove, they can have a mighty Army to call upon.
The dorm buildings have been decorated with fiercely patriotic murals by the doors (this is one of the milder ones, which didn’t feature figures being bayonetted, or variations on that theme), and every student has been issued one (and one only) set of truly awful camouflage fatigues (some kind of marine pattern, sod all use in an urban environment), a leatherette belt, and a pair of green canvas tennis shoes (of a circa 1950 design).
Young PLA troops have been brought in to try and build a cohesive unit from this poor raw material, and they are truly doing a magnificent job of failing to do so spectacularly.
In a week and a half, these students still can’t manage to march in step, let alone master static drill – despite eight hours or more a day trying to do so. It seems that the ability to shout slogans loudly is far more useful instead. Preferably while everyone else is trying to sleep/eat/concentrate on something else…
I’ve watched a gaggle of students “marching” down the main street of the Uni, arms flailing like a windmill, all in a different cadence, unable to maintain even the simple spacing between ranks and files – and this is supposed to instill fear into the hearts of an enemy?
The smell of thirty odd unwashed uniforms is enough to gag a maggot though.
The worst transgression I’ve seen though is a group of three students following behind their “platoon”, carrying PLA QBZ-95 weapons (the current issue PLA “assault rifle”). Two had the weapons slung haphazardly across their bodies, allowing the muzzle of the weapon to hang down at their sides, pointing towards the ground, but the third had had the weapon in his hands, master hand on the pistol grip and his finger INSIDE the trigger guard – as well as a magazine on the weapon.
They’re not bloody toys. They’re not playthings, they’re weapons designed to kill or incapacitate. It’s absolutely piss poor weapons handling and safety, and it’s the first and most important thing anyone who ever handles a firearm is taught – don’t do it.
What really burns me – and I mean really burns me – is that my Chinese teaching assistant keeps telling me that these students are “the future leaders of China”.
Now, if that’s the case, we’re all in big trouble.