China has started training children for military service, drilling “good fighting spirit” into them starting as early as the age of 7 to create an “iron army,” according to a report.
Hundreds of young athletes will “deeply study” the military’s “sense of standards” and “combat spirit,” the Sports Bureau of Shanghai said. The program is to occur in Shanghai, a bustling metropolis known as the Paris of the East and home to more than 26 million people.
The move supports Chinese President Xi Jinping’s pledge for China to enhance its readiness for “actual combat,” the AFP reported. The government last month adopted a new education law that seeks to instill “patriotic spirit” in children.
“No matter how old or young, everybody deeply cherishes this opportunity,” He Youxiao, the head coach of a men’s gymnastics team, said in a report published by the Sports Bureau.
The pilot program started this week, with the first training session on Monday and lasting until next Tuesday. Around 930 athletes at 11 sports centers across the city will train and develop stronger “organizational discipline and teamwork” as a means of helping Shanghai “create an iron army.”
“From dawn until broad daylight, the athletes move neatly and in unison, their youth military uniforms showing off a young and elegant manner,” He said.
Xi’s address last year urged the People’s Liberation Army to “focus all its energy on fighting” and prepare for war. Above all else, he said the army must “comprehensively strengthen military training” ahead of “dangerous storms” that the country might face in coming years, The Guardian reported.
“Focus all [your] energy on fighting, work hard on fighting and improve [your] capability to win,” Xi said.
A video surfaced on social media earlier this year, purporting to show children at a summer camp in Hunan province stabbing mock soldiers with bayonets and throwing mock grenades.
Children can also learn how to identify gun parts, assemble mortar shells or even pretend to sweep for mines in nearby forests.
The camp, called Red Sun, is a “military-themed” camp for children found around China, similarly offering team-building and physical activity for children from ages 6 to 16, according to Business Insider.
While no reaction to the sports program has yet been found, the clips from the Red Sun camp drew very mixed reactions on Chinese social media platform Weibo and a far less supportive reaction on the social media platform X, formerly Twitter.
State-owned English-language Chinese outlet Sixth Tone reported that these “extreme boot camps” for children have continued to multiply across the country and often result in injuries that require hospitalization.