Undergraduates in China grumble about compulsory boot camp

A new form of water torture

IN A concrete stadium in the north of Beijing, some 2,000 men and women are rehearsing a military tattoo. They march in a circle to music pumped from loudspeakers, while footage of tanks and helicopters plays on a screen above their heads. One group armed with rifles heads to the middle of the arena to practise basic drill. After some square-bashing, they lower their barrels and charge, bellowing, “kill, kill, kill!”

These are not soldiers but students: teenagers about to begin their courses at Tsinghua, one of China’s most prestigious universities. Their rifles are wooden replicas, capped with rubber for safety; their uniforms are ill-fitting. Military training is compulsory for first-year students at universities in China, as well as for entrants to senior high schools. It is also commonly given to students at junior high schools. Courses are usually between two and three weeks long.

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