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November 18, 2009

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Wanted: A few good women soldiers for armed police

WHILE most college juniors are slogging through class and expecting one more year of the same, Niu Yingying packs her duffel bags, bids farewell to her boyfriend and parents, and joins the army.

The 22-year-old education major is among thousands of young men and women recruited by the Shanghai armed police. They will begin three months of rigorous training in the army.

They will also receive training as security guards for the six-month World Expo 2010 Shanghai, according to the Xinmin Evening News. They will serve for two years.

This is the first time the Shanghai armed police has recruited female university graduates in an effort to build a better-educated force.

The size of the force and number of women are not disclosed.

This year's recruitment began on September 1 and was wrapped up on November 7. On November 9, the first batch of 1,700 recruits arrived at the armed police garrison in Shanghai, ready for boot camp, according to the Xinmin Evening News.

University students are given incentives to join: reimbursement of tuition, help in resuming studies after service and priority in higher education, among other benefits. Those who come from outside Shanghai, like Niu who comes from Shandong Province, may receive highly desirable Shanghai hukou or permanent residence, entitling them to city residents' benefits.

Every year thousands of students from Shanghai universities are recruited by the army in the national annual winter intake.

Compared with last year, this year's crop of recruits have higher academic qualifications. More than half are university seniors or fresh graduates. They come from more than 60 colleges and universities.

"I've always dreamed of being a woman soldier," says Niu who studied education in the Shanghai University of Sport. She is among 26 females and three males at the university heading to the Shanghai armed police.

"Everyone has the duty to join the army and protect the country. We probably won't be on the front lines, but the experience of serving in the army is one of life's treasures, cherished forever."

In September Niu applied to join the army and passed the physical exam last month. In her third year in high school she had tried to get into a military college.

"But my scores were not high enough in the national college entrance exam," she says.

"My parents are very supportive. They just want me to perform well in the military," she says.

Niu hasn't given much thought to what she will do after her military service ends in two years.

"We've been told that some can stay in Shanghai and work in security in the Expo site, and others will have to find jobs. I'll try to stay in the army or apply to a military college."

Another recruit, junior Jin Xiaochen from Shanghai Normal University, wants to become more self-disciplined through rigorous training.

"I'm the only child in the family and I have been spoiled by my parents," she says.

The day after she got her notice of recruitment, Jin had her long hair cut and took all her jewelry and stylish accessories.

"I want to be a real soldier," she says.

At East China Normal University, 209 young women applied to join the army, but only 46 were recruited.

"I was deeply touched by the soldiers who sacrificed, even their lives, to rescue victims of the Sichuan earthquake last year," says Deng Yulan from Sichuan Province, one of the 46 recruited this year.

She says she had not considered the army but when she watched television and saw heroic soldiers pulling survivors from the rubble, she had a change of heart.

"I want to be part of them and do my part for my country and people," she says.

To make army life more attractive to well-educated young women, the army reimburses new recruits (men and women) for their tuition - up to 6,000 yuan (US$877) per student for each academic year.

The age limit for female recruitment has also been raised to 24 years, from 22 years, thus increasing the applicant pool.

More than 650 students at Shanghai University have sought to enlist in the army this year; around 95 women and three men have met the requirements and joined up.

"This year's enlistment is much more welcomed by students than ever, probably due to the preferential policies," says Zhu Jianzhong, a teacher in charge of military recruitment in Shanghai University.

Wang Ping, fourth-year student majoring in English, enrolled this year.

"I am glad to become a soldier," Wang says. "It's a good chance for me because the army didn't recruit women from universities before."

Wang says she never imagined she would actually become a soldier. She got the good news a few days ago.

"I have been busy preparing all kinds of things," Wang says in a farewell party for the new recruits.

She is thrilled as well as anxious about her new life.

"I was told not to take any cosmetics or digital gadgets with me, not even a mobile phone," she says. "But I am still thinking about whether it is possible to bring them secretly with me."

Wang first heard about recruitment from teachers in the university.

"The policies are very attractive. In addition to tuition reimbursement, two years of service can help me avoid a hard time finding jobs."

She says her family was supportive.

"I will return to school after serving," Wang says. "I hope it will not be so difficult to find a job at that time."


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