Forces: The Princes Of China


March 24, 2013: The kind of man serving in the Chinese armed forces is changing, more so than at any time in the past. What is driving this change is the unique nature of recruits over the last decade. Most of these troops are from families where they were the only child. On the surface, this is good news. Because of the one child policy more is spent on educating and raising these children. Now most of the troops are not only better educated they are more experienced at dealing with adults and largely from urban areas.

Officially introduced in 1978, the one child policy was a draconian solution to population growth. The program did not really get going until the 1980s. In the last decade nearly all the new recruits came from single child families. Often called "little princes", they were lavished with all the attention usually spread among many more kids. Often described as spoiled, these kids did get more adult attention and more of everything. They enter the military with a lot of skills (computer, driving, learning new stuff in a hurry). But recent research has confirmed the popular opinion that the little princes are all more selfish, less competitive, and more risk-averse than children from families with more than one child. In the military these kids are moving up the ranks, and that will mean a significant change as time goes by and these troops assume control of the military. All this comes as a surprise to Westerners because similar research in the West has found no significant difference between single children and those who had siblings.  But East Asia psychology is different in many ways, largely because of the different (more collectivist than in the more individualistic West).

As recently as the 1990s, a lot of the troops were farmer's sons who needed work and didn't have many non-agricultural skills. It was, as the Chinese like to say, a "peasant army." There were many shortcomings, the main one being that none of the officers or NCOs had any combat experience and the troops had to be taught a lot of new skills. The last of the Korean War vets were gone and the few veterans of the 1979 war with Vietnam were still trying to forget that disaster. The army was still largely unmechanized, with primitive weapons and equipment. So it all, sort of, worked but was still essentially the same kind of “peasant army” China had been using for thousands of years.

Today, most of the troops are better educated, more experienced, and largely from urban areas. The army has found that this new generation is much more capable and quick to learn. Senior commanders welcome this because it's the kind of manpower Western forces use to achieve very impressive results on the battlefield. Chinese NCOs and officers have learned how to work around the bad habits (selfishness, insubordination, stubbornness) of some little princes and make the most of the talents these troops bring with them. The few incorrigible little princes are just tossed out of the military. But as labor shortages (because of the one child policy) in the economy increase, the military will be unable to just dismiss troublesome little princes. The military will have to get accustomed to a growing number of officers and troops who are more selfish, less competitive, and more risk-averse.

The mighty Chinese economic growth engine is slowing down because of the one child policy. Economic growth last year (7.8 percent) was the lowest in over a decade and appears to be part of a trend. China is suffering a labor shortage, which is getting worse because of the “one child” policy imposed over three decades ago. This also leads to growing inflation as firms bid for the shrinking number of workers.

The newly affluent Chinese are proving to be much more outspoken and demanding than previous generations, again because of the different characteristics of the little princes. The national leadership is alarmed at this. The Communist Party faced the prospect of losing control of the military because the little princes are unwilling to put the power of the Communist Party before everything else. Russia invented the concept of a Communist Party cementing its rule by demanding the loyalty of the military. This concept had the troops swearing an oath to defend the authority of the Communist Party first and everything else second. Soldiers who are more selfish, less competitive, and more risk-averse do not automatically agree with that and opinion surveys of officers and troops confirm that. Communist Party leaders have no solution for this problem, aside from reminding the troops of their first loyalty. Some Communist Party also worry about adverse public opinion if there is a war, even a little one, and there are a lot of casualties. This will impact more families so you will have more parents and grandparents alarmed at how all of their next generation has been wiped out.




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