PLA: Back to brawn over beauty

08:32, October 15, 2010      

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It appears as if a People's Liberation Army recruitment move in 2009 - one that emphasized a potential recruit's beauty over ability - may have backfired.

A silky soft voice, refined dance moves, or other signs of talent under the spotlights will not give potential female recruits that extra edge this year. The move appears to have had a boomerang effect after stirring public controversy last year.

One recruiter at a Sichuan recruitment office explained on Wednesday to the local news portal Sichuan Online that the Ministry of National Defense had decided that a show of talent will no longer be part of the recruitment process.

The controversial policy started in October 2009 - not long after female soldiers, looking smart in their special military skirts and boots, joined the 60th anniversary parade - when the ministry rolled out a trial recruitment practice for females.

As such, the interview evaluation process was based on the person's character, language skills and special talent, which were placed on a par with her health and education.

China Central Television's military channel sent reporters to Beijing's Haidian district during a recruitment drive in 2009 to sample the competitive talent on display among the female recruits, all below the age of 24.

Its report showed that the evaluation panel was a mixture comprised of a PLA marching band and members of art and film academies.

The large number of journalists lugging their heavy lenses around to catch the girls' performances joined the crowd containing hundreds of ordinary onlookers as well as officials.

And it was a show: gymnastics, fan dancing, folk dances in ethnic dress and taekwondo, all on display to help the girls bring out their tough and tender sides at the same time.

The experts judged each candidate and then gave them a score, which was displayed on a large screen to the accompaniment of upbeat music.

This talent show and interview process was quietly dropped this year, according to a recruiter at the Beijing recruitment office, who spoke to China Daily on Thursday on condition of anonymity.

"We did not receive any instruction from higher-ups (on the change)," he said. Defending the original idea, he added: "The media in 2009 misled the public about the interview, making them think it was a beauty pageant. That's not what we had originally planned. A show of talent was just a part of the assessment process, not the sole criterion. It helped us pick the best of the best."

But some recruits disagreed. Jia Na, a Tsinghua University student who joined the navy as a telecommunications specialist during her third year at college in 2007, told China Daily that "health and combat ability are more important than beauty for a soldier".

"From my experience in service, it only makes sense to single out someone with an outstanding figure and charisma when they are needed for a special assignment, such as a military parade."

Although the talent show has been dropped this year, it's still not an easy path. Sichuan province literally raised the recruitment bar this year, by requiring female candidates to be 1.62 meters tall or above - 2 cm taller than in 2009, Sichuan Online reported.

Cao Yin contributed to this story.

By Wang Huazhong, China Daily

(Editor:梁军)

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