China’s prestigious Tsinghua University will require first-year students from Hong Kong and Macau to go through a mandatory three-week military training programme that was previously only compulsory for mainland students, the South China Morning Post has learned.
Two worried Hong Kong teenagers admitted to the top Beijing university told the Post on Sunday that the training would begin this Friday at the university’s campus but they still did not know details of the programme.
“As a girl, I am afraid that I am not physically strong enough,” said Carrie Li, 17, who was admitted to Tsinghua’s law school and only found out about the military training requirement from an information booklet they received from the university.
Another teenager, Leung Kwok-sum, 18, enrolled in the economic and management school, was also anxious.
“I am worried that I will become a burden to my classmates because I have never tried any military training and I may not be strong enough,” said Leung, who also got the message from the school.
Both of them said they should be given the choice whether to take part or not.
It is believed that it is the first time Tsinghua University has required Hong Kong and Macau students to go through mandatory military training. It remains unclear if any other top mainland universities have adopted the same policy.
Calls to the admission offices of Tsinghua University, Peking University and Fudan University went unanswered on Sunday.
The two Hong Kong teenagers told the Post of their concerns after the Beijing Youth Daily, affiliated with the Communist Youth League, reported on Sunday that Tsinghua freshmen from Hong Kong and Macau must go through the military training this summer, while it remains optional to those from Taiwan.
The point of military training across the whole world is to teach people a sense of responsibility to their countries, and to strengthen their love for their countries
Lau Siu-kai, think tank vice-chairman
Professor Lau Siu-kai, vice-chairman of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, a semi-official think tank, believed that the university imposed the new requirement to instil a sense of patriotism in the students.
“The point of military training across the whole world is to teach people a sense of responsibility to their countries, and to strengthen their love for their countries,” he said.
He did not think that the central government made the decision to impose the requirement. It was more likely the university’s own decision, he said.
Under Chinese law, mandatory military training is required for high school and university students.
According to Tsinghua University’s website, as of the end of last year, there were 645 students from Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan enrolled. It remains unclear how many were from Hong Kong alone.
The website said the three-week training last year contained two parts – military techniques and theories. Students were taught to march, shoot live rounds and perform first aid.
Tsinghua freshman Li, who was admitted to the law school, said she could not find any useful advice except from what she found online about what the training in previous years was like.
She said she would bring three bottles of sunscreen with her to the training as she could be required to stand under the sun for a long time.
On how she plans to handle the theory classes during the training, she made it clear she would not accept everything taught in class in full.
“I have been taught to value freedom and democracy since I was a child,” Li said. “I can only say that the best I can do is to remain open-minded.”
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Leung, the other student, wished Hong Kong students could be given the option to decide whether they wanted to continue with the training after the first week.
She learned from those in senior years in mainland universities that military training for freshmen across the border usually included marching for as long as 10km, military boxing and live round shooting.
Hongkonger Kiki Cheng Wun-man, 24, voluntarily signed up for the military training when she was a student at the Remin University of China in Beijing.
“I decided to take part because I was curious what it was,” said Cheng, who is now pursuing a master’s degree at Tsinghua University.
She said she would wake up at around 6am and was taught how to patrol. Sometimes the practise would continue after dinner but the exercises were not exhausting, she said.
The training was like an orientation camp that allows students to make friends with each other, she added.
“The school knew we were students and so the exercises were not very physically demanding. It was acceptable,” she said.
Open University of Hong Kong president Wong Yuk-shan, who is also the deputy convenor of the city’s 36-member delegation to China’s legislature, the National People’s Congress, said it was reasonable to require Hong Kong students to undergo military training.
“There is military training for young people in Singapore and Taiwan, and it is very good for their personal growth,” he said.
“In the past, [mainland authorities] might be worried that under the ‘one country, two systems’ principle, Hong Kong people are not comfortable with some practises in the mainland. But now the sense of national identity is very important in Beijing’s eyes, especially for Hong Kong Chinese nationals.”
He was referring to the principle under which Hong Kong enjoys a high degree of autonomy from Chinese rule.
Additional reporting by Tony Cheung
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