The Plight of Chinese Military Veterans Highlights Xi Jinping’s Political Dilemma

March 16, 2021 Updated: March 16, 2021


On Jan. 1, China’s first Veterans Protection Law came into effect, 72 years after the Communist Party seized power in the country. But can the current plight of Chinese veterans be reversed by this law?

The number of retired military personnel has reached 57 million in China as of 2018, according to the Ministry of Civil Affairs. The number increases at a rate of hundreds of thousands per year.

Let’s take a look at a scene in Qingdao, Shandong Province on the same day the new law was passed. Gao Hongyi, a 76-year-old veteran, spoke with Chinese media and complained about not receiving his benefits despite serving in the military when he was 18 years old. In 2017, Gao was sentenced to two years in prison for “disturbing social order” by a local court for participating in a protest in central Beijing. Military veterans demanded unpaid retirement benefits at the time. At present, Gao is unable to petition in Beijing because he is being monitored by authorities through his smartphone QR-based health code.

The lack of rights and protection for military veterans gave rise to the Veterans Protection Law, which was drafted in 2018, and was quickly adopted after three deliberations by China’s rubber-stamp legislature, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, on June 18, Oct. 13, and Nov. 11, 2020.

However, even after the Veterans Protection Law was being reviewed in 2020, the suffering among veterans continued.

In October 2020, a video went viral and was praised by netizens. It showed a veteran from Hunan who went to the local Veterans Affairs Bureau, tore off the sign on the building that read, “Anren County Veterans Affairs Bureau,” and threw it on the ground. Then he held it up as a sign of protest.

On June 11, 2020, nearly 100 veterans gathered outside a train station in Changsha, the capital city of Hunan Province. It was the first large-scale assembly of veterans after the regime loosened COVID-19 restrictions. This gathering was in response to economist Wang Fuzhong’s recent comment in a show: “The soldiers’ fight against the enemy in the rain of bullets is just for vanity.” To protest against the remarks, Changsha veterans decided to appeal to Beijing. But the authorities dispatched police at the scene and dispersed the crowd.

Epoch Times Photo
Veterans in Kunming appealed in front of a provincial office on June 28, 2015. (Civil Rights and Livelihood Watch)

On May 10, another video went viral on Chinese social media. Zhang Tengyue, a native of Hebei Province and an ex-serviceman of the Chengdu Military Region, revealed that he was being persecuted by the authorities. Zhang said that the local officials were after him and quoted them as saying, “Catch the petitioner and beat him hard as long as he’s not beaten to death.”

From these cases, what we have seen are the CCP’s cruel tactics of maintaining stability. Maintaining stability does not only take the form of on-site violent suppression, but also includes high-tech monitoring such as the implantation of a chip card by the public security on a mobile phone, and an intrusion of personal social media accounts.

The severe measures for maintaining stability has not only exacerbated the plight of veterans who defend their rights, but also induced an unhealthy social ethos of disrespect for veterans. For example, on May 4, 2020, a bus ticket vendor in Jilin city, Jilin Province refused to give a discount to a disabled veteran. Instead, he mocked the veteran and said, “Don’t live if you can’t afford it.”

Xi Imposes Draconian Measures to Maintain Stability

Many protests have occurred, from Inner Mongolia to Sichuan, since Xi Jinping came to power in 2012.

On Oct. 11, 2016, around 10,000 veterans surrounded the Bayi Building of the Central Military Commission in Beijing. This was a serious shock to CCP officials, and thus a few institutions were formed and policies were proposed to prevent large-scale protests.

In April 2018, the Department of Veterans Affairs was established.

On Feb. 26, 2019, the National Service Center for Veterans was created, which is mainly responsible for employment and entrepreneurship support, special care assistance, and protection of rights and interests for veterans.

In 2020, the Veterans Protection Law was promulgated.

Despite these institutions and policies, the veterans continue to struggle. Xi took up this mess and his government has not broken through the mentality of maintaining stability through draconian measures. The Ministry of Veterans Affairs is more like a stability maintenance organization—the veterans’ demands have not been met and petitioners are being persecuted. Veteran protesters are placed under house arrest, imprisoned or censored on social media platforms.

Epoch Times Photo
In this undated photo, the veterans of the 1979 China-Vietnam War hold banners in Beijing as they petition the communist regime for the benefits they were promised when they enlisted. The left banner reads: “In times past we brought great glory to our country. Now the harsh pressure of our life brings us suffering and tears.” Right: “We veteran soldiers want to see Chairman Xi. We want to say some heartfelt words to him and the Communist Party.” (Civil Rights and Livelihood Watch)

Xi’s Political Dilemma

According to official statistics from China’s People’s Liberation Army, there are more than 57 million veterans in China, and they are increasing at a rate of hundreds of thousands every year. In 2018, the Ministry of Veterans Affairs said that there were more than 400,000 retired soldiers and around 82,000 cadres were transferred to local jobs.

It is generally believed that veterans are a special group of people because of their relationship with the military. However, the CCP is quite troubled because it doesn’t know how to appease them.

The following are five points regarding the predicament of the Xi administration.

First, as China’s economy continues to deteriorate, the veterans are affected by it. At the same time, demolitions are rampant across the country, and there are many examples of veterans becoming petitioners because their homes were forcibly demolished.

Second, the resettlement of veterans is based on the principle of “localization.” The economic imbalance between east, middle, and west of China is quite serious, and thus the corresponding resettlement conditions and treatment vary greatly. This virtually creates countless contradictions, and the central control is not effective when settling the disagreements between the central and local governments.

Third, there is corruption at all levels of government. The relevant regulations are “selectively enforced.” This is a form of constitutional corruption, forcing veterans to collectively petition and defend their rights when relief channels are lacking.

Fourth, the institutional unfairness in classifying veterans into different groups affects their rights. Differences exist between soldiers and officers, between rural and urban, between the high-ranking officers, middle-ranking officers, and low-ranking officers. These bizarre “multi-track systems” have enabled a small number of privileged classes to grab the largest share of benefits.

Fifth, after Xi came to power, the “fighting tigers” (high-level officials who fight each other) and “military reforms” had a serious impact on the entire military. Some China observers believe the political factions that oppose Xi are behind the large-scale veteran protests.

In summary, the plight of veterans has highlighted Xi’s political dilemma: the CCP system is extremely corrupt and hopeless and Xi has no way out of this mess.

Wang He has master’s degrees in law and history, and has studied the international communist movement. He was a university lecturer and an executive of a large private firm in China. Wang now lives in North America and has published commentaries on China’s current affairs and politics since 2017.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.