In 1976, Chinese soldiers dug the earth with their hands to free victims of the Tangshan Earthquake when their only tool, a small shovel, was destroyed in the day-and-night digging. They were part of an army of 240,000 soldiers trying to rescue 100,000 people buried underground. In 1998, when a dyke breach in Jiujiang City led to an uncontrollable flood into which cars and trucks disappeared, members of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) jumped into the water and formed a wall of people arm in arm, shoulder to shoulder. In 2008, in the wake of the Wenchuan Earthquake, paratroopers landed at high altitude in difficult terrain in extremely bad weather with neither meteorological nor ground information.
Why could these men throw themselves into the rescue as soon as they arrived at the earthquake-hit area after a forced march more than 90 kilometres in heavy rain, sludge and aftershock in 21 hours? What motivates this army?
I think I have some answers. The incentive system in the Chinese army, which I experienced both as an ordinary soldier and as a commander, is highly effective and efficient. Over my 40 years in the service, I learned that the incentive system of the Chinese army can be characterized as taking in four forms.
1. Flag — defining goals.
The army flag is the logo of the army as well as the symbol of the honour, bravery, and goal of the soldier. Every Chinese soldier, from the day he joins the army, receives traditional education and mission education under the army flag. Gradually, the flag instils the idea of task priority, responsibility for the people, and the belief to win honour for the army. Under the long-term influence, the soldiers and officers get excited at the sight of an army flag and strive for the goal. During the 1998 Yangtze River flood, the day after dyke breach in Jiujiang City, I was engaged in rescue and relief work there with my troops. There was water leakage in many spots of the dyke. All troops engaged were holding high the red flag and hurried to the most dangerous places. The troops followed wherever the flag went as if they were on a battlefield. We could see flying red flags and soldiers carrying sandbags everywhere.
2. Role model — defining correct direction.
There is a Chinese song, “Learn from Lei Feng, Who is A Good Example,” that has been popular for nearly half a century. It encourages people to be grateful, to care for others, to be brave in face of injustice, and to be devoted to their work. Role models and heroic groups have been set and promoted at different times, in different scopes and under different circumstances. When I inspected troops, I noticed that many of them exhibited heroes’ photos. Troops at all levels often set new examples so that all soldiers have the chance to be new role models.
3. Award — promoting incentive.
In the Chinese army, all kinds of appraisals and awards have been carefully designed in the daily activities. For example, the personnel or teams that do interior service best can get a red flag and keep it for a week until the next weekly appraisal is done; soldiers and officials who do well in the training can win the title of excellent model; teams that fulfill their tasks outstandingly may be awarded special honorary titles. In addition, for those heroes who have made extraordinary contributions, their names may be used to name their company, which is an honorary inheritance. The superordinate’s respect, care and trust, though intangible, are a highest spiritual award for the subordinates.
4. Culture — creating a good atmosphere for the incentive.
Twenty years ago, I went to an air depot for an inspection. One night, I saw the head of the depot doing a security check. When I asked him why he worked at the off-duty time, he told me that the depot had kept a safety record of 40 years. At that time, depot management had not modernized yet. There were no computers or video supervision. To ensure safety, every morning and night the leaders of the depot would check each door and each window of the several dozens of warehouses to make sure all were closed and locked. It took two hours every time. Their behaviour made me aware of their culture and value, namely, high loyalty and high respect for group honour.
Culture is invisible and intangible, but it exists in every troop and exerts great influence. The Chinese army places great importance on culture because it is the tradition and soul of each troop. When a subpar soldier joins the troop with good culture, he performs better under the influence and with the incentive; if a good soldier joins a troop with bad culture, he will go adrift or even become backward. This is the power of culture. If a troop wants to create good incentive atmosphere, it should build a good culture. Culture is the most important of the four forms.
Qiao Taiyang is a retired Major-General of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force.
Picture Source: http://youthcarnival.org/video/think-different-military-motivation/