A Chinese Soldier’s Divided Duty: Defending Home From Being Demolished
Posted by Author on November 17, 2011
Soldiers fight to defend home and country, but what happens when those two motives contradict one another? The slaughter last week of four deserters from the People’s Liberation Army, apparently on their way to their squad leader’s home, may have been ordered to prevent the Chinese people from asking that question.
On Nov. 9, the local police station at Shulan City in Jilin Province issued an alert. Four soldiers, all from a military base at Shulan, had escaped from the base between 4:30 and 6:00 a.m. They carried with them one model 95 automatic rifle (QBZ-95) and 795 bullets.
That afternoon, rumors started circulating on the Internet that four soldiers had been caught in Liaoning Province, which lies just southwest of Jilin Province. Some said that three of them had been killed on site and one seriously injured.
At 4:30 p.m., the Traffic Control Unit of the Jilin Public Security Bureau (the police), replying to requests by netizens on Weibo, the Chinese microblog, confirmed that three were dead and one was captured alive.
This information soon disappeared from the Public Security website, and news about the four suddenly became hard to obtain. The official media didn’t report the incident, and the Internet was relatively quiet. Many sites that had discussed the issue now displayed error messages.
When some reporters went to the deserters’ hometowns, the solders’ family members were found already to be under the control of authorities and unavailable for comment.
Reasons for Deserting
On social networks and blogs, the most discussed topic has been why they deserted. Three of the deserters were newly recruited last year. But one of them, Yang Fan, was a squad leader. Neither Public Security nor the military has released any details about them.
Most desertions happen in the first several months for new recruits. In the training centers, when the new recruits can’t take the training and the harshness of the trainers, they try to flee. That’s not what happened in the Jilin incident. These three new recruits had finished training and were already in their unit; the squad leader has been in the army for six years.
Another possible motive for desertion would be a conflict with commanding officers. This is also not likely. Usually, such conflicts end up with a fight or even a gunfight within the military base. In some cases, such conflicts have spilled to the outside.
In 1994, 1st Lt. Tian Mingjian killed or injured several of his commanding officers at his military base in Tongxian County, in Beijing. He then drove to Jianguomen, which is not far from Tiananmen Square, and continued his shooting spree. Tian was finally shot dead by a police sniper.
In the Jilin incident, the four solders left the base quietly and didn’t cause any trouble until they were intercepted by the Special Police Task Force about 10 hours later.
A third possibility makes more sense to most Chinese people. Someone posted unconfirmed information online, stating that back in their hometowns, the homes of three of the solders had been demolished, and the sister of one of them had been raped.
One of the unconfirmed reports said the home of the squad leader Yang Fan had been demolished and his sister raped. According to this account, he wanted to take revenge on the local authorities, and the other three solders volunteered to help him.
This assumption doesn’t exclude the possibility that the other three had also suffered having their family homes demolished and helped Yang because of their own deep feelings of grievance.
The possibility that the three recruits were helping Yang is supported by their travel route. They were stopped and shot in Qingyuan County, on State Highway G202. From the map and the time, it’s clear that after they left the base at Shulan City, they merged into G202, then went southwest, passed Jilin City, continued southwest on G202, and then were intercepted at Qingyuan County.
At this point, if they had exited on G202, going due south, they would have arrived after about 50 kilometers (30 miles) at Yang Fan’s hometown in Xinbin County.
This route would not have been relevant to the other soldiers. One of them is from Heilongjiang Province, which is in the opposite direction. Another one is from Hunan Province, which is thousands of miles away and almost impossible to reach, with or without a gun.
If the four of them deserted because of Yang’s family having been victimized, the authorities would have had no problem finding out the reason immediately after their desertion. In both his military unit and his hometown, the situation with his family would be well-known.
The authorities obviously assumed Yang had business at home because they deployed a heavy ambush on G202, just before the exit to Yang’s hometown. A witness said that the armed force that shot at the deserters consisted of neither regular police nor military personnel. They were from the Special Police Task Force.
Many veterans have raised the question, why did the police kill those kids?
Everybody knows that in the military, people follow orders from their superiors. You don’t question orders. For these new recruits, the squad leader is their direct superior. If the soldiers were asked by the squad leader to go with him, they couldn’t say no even if they knew this was not a military errand. In the Chinese military, to run errands for the superior officers is very common, and this work can be both inside and outside the base.
There could have been so many ways to solve the crisis. The authorities already knew everything about the deserters, and three of them were unarmed. The situation should have been under control, yet overwhelming force was used.
The decision to gun them down was made at a high level. At the provincial or regional level, the army does not have jurisdiction to order the Special Police Task Force. The Special Police Task Force is part of the Armed Police, which is also under the Central Military Commission. The decision was likely made at the Central Military Commission or even the Central CCP itself.
The regime acted because it could not afford Yang Fan and his fellow soldiers confronting the local officials with a gun.
In almost all of the home-demolition cases, the two sides are in a totally unbalanced situation. The most violent actions taken by the victims are that they set fire to themselves. The builders and local officials use hooligans to beat up the victims and back the thugs up with armed police.
The impact of Yang Fan redressing this imbalance with his automatic weapon would have been like an atomic bomb.
State-initiated construction has become the main driving force of the Chinese economy, and the land acquisition and subsequent demolition of housing that make this construction possible are the main sources of social unrest and conflict.
Most soldiers and low-ranking officers are from the countryside or are ordinary urban residents; their families easily become the victims of housing demolition and suffer from other conflicts with the officials. The impact of these social conflicts on the army may not be so obvious during peacetime, but the effect will be amplified when the military is called to fight against “enemies” at home or abroad.
Twenty-two years ago, when the military was called upon to crack down on the Tiananmen Square student movement, most solders didn’t share the same feelings as the students. The army units involved had been isolated from the outside world for one month and were then told to suppress the counter-revolutionaries. Even though some of them were confused or distressed, they followed orders.
Now the situation is totally different. If there is a war, the soldiers need to be given a reason to fight, a cause to sacrifice for.
During the Korean War, the slogan was “Protect your family and defend your country.” In Chinese, the word for “country” is also the word for “state.”
What if the country that needs to be defended is the state that destroys your home? Can the state still expect the solders to fight to defend the country, when that country doesn’t belong to the soldiers but to the state that destroyed their homes?
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This entry was posted on November 17, 2011 at 6:00 am and is filed under China, Jilin, NE China, News, People, Politics, Social, Soldier, World. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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