"Trials and tribulations regenerate a nation," is a very popular Chinese saying. In fact, much trials and distress also regenerates an army. The exemplary vanguard role of leadership displayed by the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) in the earthquake rescue and relief operation has been known to all both in China and overseas. Media abroad have reappraised not only the contemporary China but also its armed forces.
Last week, I was availed of an ideal opportunity for a directly coverage of some army units who partook in the quake relief, including the frontline quake relief headquarters of the PLA Ji'nan Military Area Command, and the headquarters of the PLA Air Force Logistics Department and the PLA Second Artillery Corps (SAC), or a PLA strategic missile forces. Direct talks and on-site interviews with commanders, officers and men acquainted me with more quake relief deeds and their hallmarks. I also noticed a lot of positive Western media reports about the heroism of the Chinese army during the quake relief.
Overseas media, and the Western media in particular, often has biased views on the Chinese army. It teems with varied reasons but, general speaking, they have been looking at the Chinese army from a static, fixed angle. PLA, which did not fight any war with a power overseas in the past three decades or so, held only several military drills by the Taiwan Strait and attracted attention of the international community. The Western media, which could not make any field studies of PLA, used to base their reports on China's increased military spending and a pile of materials with both true and fake data. On the whole, they are hostile to the PLA led by the Chinese Communist Party.
Those Western media, nevertheless, made a positive and prompt reportage of the PLA's quake relief effort and began to acquire the related knowledge on what is the Chinese people's own army. A large number of alien reporters and cameramen came swarming to the quake areas to report: How PLA men and officers plunged themselves in their efforts to rescue survivors; how they rushed to the quake areas in the prime time to save human lives and transferred those wounded despite incessant aftershooks and with the suspension of transport and telecommunication; they also recorded how they have been rebuilding or rush-repairing roads and bridges, power grids and water supply facilities, how they cleaned ruins and did work with regard to plague prevention; and how they put up tents or makeshifts for victimized locals, set up temporary schools for kids and assign soldiers to teach.
All this is not for the aim of "making shows". In the teeth of such a disaster and crisis, what PLA men did has reflect their glorious tradition and the progress they scored in the course of the modernization program.
The quake relief has put the PLA to the severe test in coping with crises at the time of peace, and it has succeeded in passing this test. The quake area of 100,000 square kilometers in Sichuan and other western neighboring provinces is three times the size of Taiwan province. Most parts of it are mountainous regions with a steep terrain, volatile climate and suspension of transport and telecommunication. The situation very much resembles the situation on the outbreak of any war.
Therefore, as soon as they received orders from the central military commission, various arms and services as well as PLA units across the nation rushed to assemble or build up at the quake areas and the requirements for their mobilization, communication, telecommunication, logistics and medical service were the same as in war battles, and difficulties far exceeded those for military drills, and there are much more significance for actual combat.
Other big nations, and especially the United States, have waged wars every year, and so the capacity of its army in war operation has kept upgrading. The Chinese army, however, did not engage in any war operation for years. Therefore, how to keep up its combat effectiveness at the time of peace and in a new era when all out efforts are made to develop economy and advance social progress poses a major, vital issue of national security and also an exhibition of the national spirit.
Quake relief in Sichuan has enabled PLA to pass the test of crisis with flying colors. The uplifting of China's overall national strength has raised the "hard power" of the PLA, thus providing the fast, effective material base for the army's quake relief endeavor. Meanwhile, the undaunted spirit of the Chinese nation and an unique ideological education in the army represents a strong proof and embodiment of the Chinese army as the people's own army.
PLA represents a powerful force either in resisting foreign intrusion and defending peace or in making rescue or relief operations. So whenever confronted with natural calamities, the Chinese army is truly a worthy pillar of the nation as well as a mighty and well-disciplined army.
By People's Daily Online, and its author is He Liangliang, an ace political commentator of the Hong Kong-based Phoenix Televison