This screen capture of the video below shows a fireman kicking a new recruit in the stomach.
Two amateur videos showing the mistreatment of new recruits by firefighters in Wuhai, Inner Mongolia, have been posted online in recent days. It is very rare for such images to be leaked, but according to our Observer, a lawyer in Beijing, these incidents are very common among certain branches of China’s People’s Armed Police Force.
The videos, entitled “Recruits of Wuhai firefighters detachment no.2 beaten by veterans”, last for 15 minutes. Eight veterans beat five young recruits lined up along a wall. Some of them receive kicks to the chest; others are struck in the knees with batons. The perpetrators repeatedly shout: “Join the ranks!” and “Stand to attention!”
The original video, published on Chinese video-sharing site Youku, disappeared within a few hours of being posted, but not before being watched three million times. Here is an excerpt from the video.
In China, firefighters are part of the Chinese People’s Armed Police, a paramilitary structure operating under the orders of the ministry for public security and the central military commission.

“Under the guise of conflict between recruits and veteran firefighters, people from different communities often settle scores in the barracks”

Chung Xu (not his real name) was a firefighter for six years with a brigade in the city of Yan’an, central China. He says violence is not just limited to hazing.
In Chinese barracks, clans are often formed according to place of birth. If, for example, a person from one area offends someone from another community, the latter group may organise reprisal attacks. Under the guise of conflict between recruits and veteran firefighters, people from different communities often settle scores in the barracks.

Violence has always existed in army or military police barracks; it was even worse a few years ago, however, the administration is more strict today. However, severe sanctions are rare, and the hierarchies usually end up blaming each other. The culprits are almost never expelled.

“It’s unacceptable for the authorities to deny their responsibility in this”

For Wang Xing, a lawyer and member of the Beijing bar who has taken part in a number of online debates sparked by these images, the video is a rare opportunity to speak out about the behaviour of certain branches of the People’s Liberation Army.
There is no tradition of hazing in Chinese universities, in contrast to what sometimes happens in Western countries. However, it’s a different thing altogether in the barracks; this is not the first time we've heard of mistreatment towards new recruits. It has happened before in Wuhai and in the rest of the country. But it’s the first time that we can see this abuse so clearly.

There was a similar case in May 2013, although it wasn’t widely known. A web user, who also lived in Wuhai, was looking for advice on forums because his 18-year old son was beaten by a brigade of the city’s firefighters [Editor’s note: the web user didn’t specify which brigade]. His son had to have his spleen removed, and he suffered a collapsed lung. Today, he is severely handicapped.
“I don’t think this video will change much”
His parents took legal action but the police defended themselves by saying it was an isolated incident, so they can’t be held responsible. According to my lawyer friends who have handled similar cases, families are often offered rather generous compensation to settle, and the public never hears about it. It’s unacceptable for the authorities to deny their responsibility in this and do nothing to prevent further incidents.
The heart of the problem is that anything to do with the armed forces is considered untouchable in China. Citizens are very poorly informed because after an incident, only the official version of events is relayed. In the end, there is very little follow up with the victims of these hazing rituals. This video could have been a good way to help change things, but since it has been censored I’m quite pessimistic about its real impact.
On Monday, the video received more than three million views and generated lots of online debate, before being deleted. On the same day, Wuhai firefighting officials published a press release on their Sina Weibo page – the Chinese version of Twitter – explaining that the incident did take place in their brigade, but back in June 2012.
The brigade gave its “apologies to the families” and stressed that the officials involved had been immediately suspended from duty. The statement ended by saying a police investigation had been launched “with the aim of severely punishing the perpetrators of these acts”.