November 29, 2011

Chinese Military Relaxes Rules on Tattooed Recruits

China’s People’s Liberation Army has changed the rules on who may apply to join its ranks.  Previously, people were not allowed to sign up if they had tattoos on their face or neck, however this rule has been changed in a bid to attract different sorts of people into military service.  Recruits to the People’s Liberation Army are now allowed to have facial or neck tattoos, as long as they do not exceed 2cm in width.  Although this is pretty small, it is a big step from the past where tattoos were regarded as highly undesirable.

In addition to this change in policy, they are also now accepting individuals who are thinner or fatter than before, opening up military service as an option for many more young Chinese people, and they are offering grants to university students who choose to take a break from their studies to serve.

The reasons for these changes are interesting.  China is one of the few countries that does not have any trouble recruiting young people into the military, and in fact, although from a technical perspective national military service exists in China and is compulsory, it is almost never used because the People’s Liberation Army is able to find enough voluntary recruits to keep their 2.3 million strong military forces going.  So, why relax the rules on who can enlist?

It is believed that the changing of these rules is a strategy to attract better educated young people into the People’s Liberation Army.  With modern warfare being ever more technological, they believe they need to attract the most intelligent, educated people rather than just produce masses of well trained bodies.  Tattoos are popular among hip young people in China, particularly university students, and these are exactly the kind of people the People’s Liberation Army want to bring in, which is probably the reasoning behind the relaxation of the rules about visible tattoos.

It is interesting to note that one of the most famous stories in Chinese military folklore actually involves a tattoo.  In the 12th century, a young general by the name of Yui Fei deserted the army because his field marshal had left, and he felt the battle was unwinnable.  On returning home, his mother was outraged and punished him by tattooing on his back the words “loyalty to the nation”.

Suitably berated, Yui Fei went back to the battleground and ended up becoming one of the most famous and revered Chinese warriors.  Sadly, he was later set up by an enemy and executed, but still, it was his tattoo that inspired him to greatness.

It is unlikely the People’s Liberation Army is expecting swarms of potential generals, all with tattoos done by their mothers to apply, but it is still interesting that a nation, and particularly an army, once known for discouraging individuality is now accepting that it could in fact be of benefit to them to have it within their ranks, and is yet another sign of the way China is adapting.

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