Tea Leaf Nation

Good Soldiers No More

Will a viral video of brutal hazing undermine domestic trust in China's military?

Shocking violence, caught on tape, has shown many Chinese a darker side of their peacetime military. On Dec. 9, the website of liberal outlet Beijing News posted a video of violent hazing among soldiers based in the small inland city of Wuhai in Inner Mongolia. As the clip spread online and climbed to become the top search item on Baidu, China's largest search engine, many viewers remarked that the men caught on camera belied the protective, even benevolent image of the armed forces so often promoted in official media.

In the 15-minute video, shirtless soldiers in camouflage pants assault young men who stand at attention until they are knocked down -- then resume their position to endure more beatings as soon as their attackers retreat. At different points in the troubling clip, one aggressor repeatedly bangs a new soldier's head against a wall; another hits a recruit with a wooden stick until it breaks; several soldiers whip the men with belts. Interspersed with the abuse are eerily tender moments: One assailant dabs blood from a victim's face with a handkerchief, while another pats the man he has beaten reassuringly on the shoulder before resuming his attacks. Through its verified account on Sina Weibo, China's Twitter, the Wuhai Municipal Firefighters Division confirmed the veracity of the video, which it dated to June 2012, and announced that those responsible for the beatings had been suspended and awaited investigation. 

The video went viral online partly because the soldiers shown were part of a firefighting branch of the People's Armed Police, China's domestic military. One Weibo user lamented that "we are relying on this group of hooligans to protect our homes and country." Another asked, "What use is it to have people who are this cruel to their own compatriots?" State media has long described military personnel as "the most lovable people." But after watching the video, one viewer wrote that the clip "has made me see these 'most loveable people' in a completely new light." Likely because of the vociferous online reaction, the clip disappeared from Sina, a major Internet portal, and Weibo users complained that many of their comments about the video, which numbered in the tens of thousands, had met the same fate.  

A handful of web commenters users defended the breaking in of new soldiers as "an open secret" in militaries around the world, including U.S. forces, where hazing has survived under the moniker "corrective training." One Chinese web commenter echoed that rhetoric, labeling the Wuhai abuse a form of "training," while another called hazing a "longstanding" practice in the armed services. But most Chinese commenters felt that the violence in Inner Mongolia had crossed the line. One Weibo user wrote that hazing might make the soldiers tougher, but it would not make them better: "If this is how they learn, they'll end up bullying ordinary people in the same way."

Fair Use/Youtube

Tea Leaf Nation

Hazed and Confused

Meme watch: Citizens gird up as China endures severe smog.

Don't use cigarette filters to plug your nostrils -- do invest in a pair of night-vision goggles. This and other wisdom comes courtesy of smog-strangled Chinese netizens, who have been forced to contend with a recent bout of pollution in major Chinese cities like Nanjing and Shanghai serious enough to close schools and ground flights. Although by Dec. 10 the pollution in the two cities had started to abate, air quality in both remains officially "unhealthy." It's been so bad that women, such as the one above, who modeled gold jewelry at a Dec. 7 outdoor event in Nanjing were compelled to don face masks. Online, the ubiquitous use of these masks, and related riffs, have become something of an obsession. Below are some of the most vivid examples from around the Chinese web.

This image from Sina Weibo, China's Twitter, depicts a (surprisingly fashionable) jerry-rigged fresh air device, but one unlikely to be effective with pollution in cities like Shanghai reaching levels that even local authorities have declared "severe."  

Liu Xiangnan, formerly a reporter at the liberal Economic Observer, modified his Weibo profile to capture the Zeitgeist. In Liu's remix, the qilin, a mythical and auspicious beast, which often stands sentry outside of Chinese buddhist temples, seems to have fallen on hard times.

Some citizens claim they have found success removing the filters from cigarettes and stuffing them up their noses. One Weibo user wrote that the method helped forfend fine particulate matter, but cautioned that "the nostrils must be sufficiently large." The practice is sufficiently popular that widely-read state-run paper Beijing Youth Daily felt compelled to consult an expert, who declared it "unreliable."

The original of this photoshopped painting, dating to the Song dynasty  (1127 A.D. - 1279 A.D.), depicts the Guanyin, a bodhisattva generally thought to be compassionate -- but apparently not immune to unfiltered smog, which raises the risk of asthma and other respiratory illnesses for those who inhale it. 

This sketch depicts "essential equipment" for contending with Chinese haze. In addition to a gas mask, requirements include military-grade night vision goggles and a chest-mounted searchlight for visibility.

Rachel Lu contributed research. 

AFP/Getty Images