At this military camp, young boys learn to become more masculine through exercise, marching, anthems, and singing.
Many people in China believe they are facing a masculinity crisis of sorts, where young boys are considered weak, introverted, emotionally fragile, effeminate, and in poor physical shape. To put an end to the crisis, week-long training camps have popped up all over the Asian country to, as they say in their own words, “transform them into the masculine men that Chinese society expects them to be.”
This is due to the belief that boys who can’t defend themselves, face their problems, or who don’t have a father figure in their family, won’t be able to grow into responsible adults who contribute to society.
The camp’s seven days are marked by rigorous military-style training. There, not only are they taught the skills to be self-sufficient (like doing laundry and folding clothes), but also how to fight, defend themselves, be more active, and do sports. Outdoor activities (like American football and sumo wrestling) are also important, given that in the last few years, children have been forced to take part in many extracurricular activities that don’t leave them with enough free time.
According to Tang Haiyan, the camp’s founder, Chinese children don’t have any responsibilities because they don’t have the time nor the obligation to do household chores, and since they don’t play outside, they don’t learn how to socialize or solve their own problems either. From Tang’s perspective, the military-style training teaches them that they can accomplish more and be more resourceful than the average citizen.
“The army is the best place to teach boys to be determined, brave, and well-behaved. Everybody knows that the army is a place that teaches men to be better people.”
This has certainly led to controversy, especially because the boys are so young. At the same time, it’s interesting to think about how much they can really learn -for life- in just seven days.
Some Chinese activists argue that there is no such thing as a masculinity crisis, and that the real problem is exacerbated sexism, since they keep repeating the fact that girls are performing better than boys, and that their superior performance is a problem, given that Chinese society isn’t used to it.
However, this new mission to transform boys into masculine men stands in stark contrast with the new ideas coming from the West, where men aren’t subjected to these standards anymore; meaning, that being a “man” doesn’t mean being a macho man who never cries and is always strong.
“If you depend on your mother doing everything for you, then, when you grow up, you won’t even know how to rinse your vegetables. That’s why we have to learn to do things for ourselves from an early age.”
These are the words of Tao Youqui, 9 years old, who wrote on his diary while staying at this camp. Now, despite the fact that he shows that the camp achieved its objective to teach young boys to be responsible and disciplined, he still says he wouldn’t go back.
It begs the question whether teaching children to be self-sufficient and disciplined is worth accepting a discourse that views masculinity through the lens of sexist and outdated stereotypes.
Translated by Zoralis Pérez
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