It's September again, and that means the start of a brand new school year. In China, the new school year for college freshmen means more than just moving out of house and partying; it means compulsory military training. But it seems there is some fun to be had despite the training's harsh nature.
Attending university in China is similar to attending university in the US, but at the same time, it's vastly different. Chinese students, like their western counterparts, leave their homes to attend institutions of higher learning. Some are the first in their families to attend university. Some even travel far away from home to attend prestigious schools in big cities. And that's probably where the similarities end.
Apart from being crammed into tiny dorms with upwards of 6 other people and not having co-ed dorms, Chinese universities also have mandatory military training for new freshmen. This training starts at the very beginning of the fall semester and is only held during freshman year.
Keep in mind that Chinese students have mandatory military training throughout their educational career. However, the training received during grade school is more akin to walking in formation than actual training.
According to my colleagues at the China Daily, many of whom had to undergo compulsory military training when they attended university, the training lasts anywhere from a week to two weeks with men's training lasting longer than the women's. The training usually takes place on campus. For students of smaller, usually inner city universities, it takes place on military training grounds.
During the training, students sit through lectures and go through drills. Most of the drills involve emergency response techniques, such as responding to a fire or a natural disaster. I go through similar drills once a year at work. It's nothing terrible.
"Training is terrible, the first thing you need during training is to procure a lot of sunscreen," said Li, the owner of a cupcake shop in Beijing. "It's hell on girls because you're under the sun for so long, and college is a time for romance."
According to Li and some of my colleagues, there is a lighter side to the harsh training. The fine folks over at Tencent have gathered the various photos peppered throughout this article: photos that, of course, also involve Chinese people doing fun things with watermelons.
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