China may have the world’s largest military in numbers, but many doubt this translates to real combat strength. With more than 70 percent of soldiers born under the one-child policy, some question how well prepared troops are for battle.
Children born and raised during the 30-year-old population control system of the one-child policy, who are disproportionately male, are stereotypically thought to display certain character traits known as “Little Emperor” personalities. The term, coined by a study from Australia’s Monash University and the Australian National University, covers traits including being spoiled, less trusting, and less trustworthy.
“I was a spoiled boy as I am an only child. In my first year in the army, after a hard day’s training I’d hide under my blanket and cry every night because I missed home and my girlfriend,” Sun Youpeng told the South China Morning Post. He joined the People’s Liberation Army in 2010 after graduating from university at the age of 22. Other reports in the military’s official PLA Daily, the Morning Post notes, describe recruits feigning illness to skip out on tough training days.
China, being steeped in a traditional culture of filial piety in which children provide and care for their parents in old age, will be deeply shaken if one-child offspring are ever sent to combat in the event of war. “Under China’s strict military rules, deserters are shot on the spot, and even if only-child soldiers are not afraid to fight, who will be responsible for their families if they die in battle or are severely wounded?” asked Antony Wong Dong, a Macau-based military expert. Since 1993, Dong has been vocal about his concerns on how the one-child policy would affect the nation's security.
Some measures have been taken to help ready the troops and mitigate the effects of being raised as an only child in China. Speaking to a local newspaper, the Nanfang Weekly, Liu Mingfu, a professor at the PLA National Defense University, said the army has developed special training and programs designed for “spoiled boys and girls” to adjust to military life and no longer being the focus of attention.
This year, President Xi Jinping announced the relaxation of the long-standing policy, allowing couples of only-child households to have two children.