SOLO: A cadet from the Academy of Armored Forces Engineering (AAFE) performs at a drill class in the training group on campus (WEI YAO)
IN FORMATION: Journalists watch AAFE students' training on July 22 (WEI YAO)
CLOSE WATCH: A demonstration of tanks currently in service (WEI YAO)
China's military schools, once shrouded in mystery and hidden from the view of outsiders, were unveiled to global media in the run-up to the anniversary of the founding of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) on August 1.
The Academy of Armored Forces Engineering (AAFE) welcomed 112 journalists from 61 media organizations around the globe on July 22. It is the first time a Chinese military school had allowed reporters within its walls.
Beginning from 2008, China has invited journalists from home and abroad to military camps to help the world come to understand more about the country's military.
The Beijing-based AAFE was established in 1953 and it is China's foremost venue for cultivating its armored forces. Some of the students are enrolled nationwide through the national college entrance exam while others are transferred from the army.
During their visit, reporters were given a close look at robots developed at the academy, as well as a demonstration of all-terrain vehicles, tanks and military drills—all of which were given by the academy's students.
"Students here are trained to advanced military standards, both academically and physically," said Xu Hang, Commandant of the AAFE. "We have foreign military students come here every year on exchanges."
Chen Hao, a junior at the AAFE, is from central China's Hunan Province. "I had dreamt of being a military student since my childhood," Chen said. "I enjoy my life here very much and hope I can serve the military as long as I can."
This hope was echoed by 20-year-old Wang Tao, a sophomore student from Hubei Province. "For me, being a soldier is the best choice."
Wang shared the daily schedule in the school, which includes rising at 6 a.m. for physical training. The students have four academic lessons in the morning, as well as two optional lessons—which can be physical or academic—and two compulsory drills on training ground in the afternoon. In the evening, they are free to arrange their own studies or training plan.
Xu Jianjun, another junior student at the school, made his decision to join the army in 2008, when a catastrophic earthquake hit his hometown in southwest China's Sichuan Province on May 12 of the year. "The PLA soldiers gave their all to rescue and help the affected people, some even sacrificed their lives," said Xu, who was impressed and moved by their efforts. "I wanted to be one of them."
Xu Jianjun is from a rural family. His parents have wanted him to be a soldier since he was born. "You can tell from my name Jianjun, which means the founding of army," he said. "My parents are very happy that I finally came here to be a military student."
"Military students in the schools are the future of our military power," said Geng Yansheng, a spokesman for the Ministry of National Defense. "[Press events like these] can help the outside know more about the Chinese military. More military units will open their doors to the media in the future."
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