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English language training: PLA style

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BEIJING – After SARS derailed my planned summer study abroad in Beijing a few years back, I decided instead to study Mandarin at the Monterey Institute for International Studies, a short walk away from the U.S. military’s Defense Language Institute.

As their students tended to come down to our school to look for language partners, I frequently had the opportunity to see the Chinese textbooks they were working with.

They were nothing like this People Liberation Army’s English primer from around the same time period I stumbled across the other day.

Comprising over 40 learning capsules ranging from “Common Orders” to “Ordering Enemy to Surrender,” the lessons are mostly short articles and dialogues on relevant subjects translated sentence-by-sentence into Chinese characters.

Most of the subject matter is innocuous enough, dealing with everyday life in the military. However, some of the lessons provided a fascinating look at the PLA indoctrination process that goes on even in foreign language study.

A section on “Military Communication” included this tacit warning that mass media required regulation and control [Note: Your computer may require Chinese language support to read characters]:

780. The mass media are developing in a daunting speed.


781. Newly developed computer and digital communication technologies enable any one to communication freely.


782. You cannot control their free communications in a traditional way.

In another lesson on “UN Peace-Keeping Operations,” the lesson takes a poke at American indolence in regards to payment of UN dues:

845. Peace-keeping operations most of the times are faced with the problems of insufficient funds.


846. It happens because a majority of the 182 UN members do not pay their dues. The largest defaulter has been the United States.


While a third module entitled “The Developing Strategy and Military Theories” reminded PLA soldiers of China’s position on missile defense:

513. We are against the systems of the TMD [Theater Missile Defense] and NMD [National Missile Defense].


514. We'd like to cooperate with the U.S. in other fields.


Sadly, the sections for “The Question of Taiwan” and “Space War” were unavailable.

Again, this material seems to date back to 2003, and it is likely that the English language program at the PLA has undergone dramatic changes over the last few years. It is nevertheless, an interesting peek at the past of one of the most mysterious militaries in the world.