Winning: Things Chinese Soldiers Are Not Allowed To Do


June 8, 2011: The Chinese military high command recently issued a list of 70 things the troops should not do. Called the 70 Forbiddens, they represent a common cultural method, in China, for getting the message out, as in "the four goals" or the "five good habits." A list of 70 items is kind of on the high side. These lists are usually kept short, so they are easier to mention, if only in speeches.

But the list put out for military personnel was long because it dealt with corruption and abuse of authority. This is still a big problem in the military, more so the higher up the chain-of-command you go. Many of the 70 Forbiddens talked about not stealing. Not just items (like military vehicles, or just the license plates, which allow you to get past checkpoints and avoid fees), but also information (as in insider stuff on corporations, the sort of thing intelligence personnel can obtain) that can be used to make a lot of money. Many of the 70 Forbiddens are about not using your military rank and power to bully civilians, or even lower ranking troops, to do something for you. 

The 70 Forbiddens also go after the lower ranking troops, by telling them to stay away from social networks (like Facebook), to prevent being corrupted, or letting slip any military secrets. But mostly, this is all about widespread corruption in the military. For the Chinese military, misbehaving troops are an ancient, and seemingly intractable, tradition.

The government knows that, until it cleans up military corruption, China will never have a truly modern and effective force. The 70 Forbiddens are just the latest of many recent attempts.  Four years ago, the government began yet another major effort to find and eliminate the military corruption. At that time, the government was in the midst of cracking down on medical clinics pretending to be part of the military medical system. Why was that? It was because the Chinese armed forces are the last vestige of the old communist social system. That is, the army had its own factories, farms and medical system back in the day. Like all organizations in a communist nation, the organization tried to be self-sufficient. Two decades ago, the government forced the generals to sell off the farms and factories (because the officers were spending too much time getting rich, and not enough time being soldiers.) But the military health network is still one of the best sources of medical care in the country, and companies have been pretending to be military medical clinics, and offering to sell, via mail, miracle cures. People are inclined to believe that, not only does the military have this extensive medical system that is open to civilians, but special drugs and miracle cures as well. The use of email spam, some print ads, a public desperate for cheaper medicines, and the too many crooks out there eager for a fast buck, keeps bringing these scams back stronger than ever. The government has been moving quickly to shut these swindles down, partly because the military already has a reputation for being corrupt and inefficient.

Most of the time, the government will leave military corruption alone, as long as the corrupt troops don't get any publicity. But with the proliferation of cell phones and Internet access, these corrupt practices rarely stay out of the public eye very long. So the government is accepting the shame of exposing these embarrassing practices. But the 70 Forbiddens is doubly embarrassing because it lists so many things the troops are being ordered to stop doing. The list also is an admission that, despite decades of efforts to curb corruption in the military, the bad guys are still winning.





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