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On-board with Chinese Aircraft Carrier's 1st Female Sergeant Major

Viewed 359 times 2017-8-10 09:43 |System category:News

China's first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, came under the spotlight as it set sail for Hong Kong last month to join activities celebrating the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong's return to China.

Before departing, a reporter from Women of China Chinese Edition boarded the craft to interview Wu Dongyan, the Liaoning's first woman sergeant major.

Here is an account of the reporter's voyage.

Visiting the Living Quarter of Female Soldiers

At the first sight of the Liaoning docked at a pier, I was shocked by its gigantic shape. The twilight added some liveliness to its solemn gray body which towered up into the sky.

After being shown inside, I felt my eyes became too busy to look at everything. It was all new to me.

Cabins are built in layers, linked by iron ladders. I clung to the rails but I still worried that I might miss my step.

On each layer, there are countless long aisles that are only wide enough for one person to pass. When crew members meet face to face, they turn sideways to give way.

After making some turns and going through several cabins, which had no windows at all, I lost my bearings.

Finally, I reached the living quarters of the female soldiers. An officer in blue training uniform walked out, impressing me with her powerful physique.

This woman is Wu Dongyan who had just returned to the ship earlier this afternoon after a short leave. Young soldiers passed by constantly, standing to attention and saying hello to her.

Almost all crew members on the vessel knew that she had been on leave and were glad to see her back.

The walls inside the quarter are pasted with pictures, assessment results and honor rolls as well as various hand-painted decorations which add much color to the ship.

The quarters are equipped with washrooms, shower rooms, laundry rooms and shoe-airing rooms.

Every two to 10 soldiers share a cabin dormitory. Due to limited space, bunk beds, closets, desks and chairs, all made of metal, are the only furniture. The walls and the roof are full of pipes, wires and equipment which are simply covered by wallpaper.

As I sat down, I found the chair was much heavier than ordinary. Wu explained that all the chairs on the vessel were like that, lest that they might wobble with the ship when encountering strong winds and big waves.

Interviewing Wu

Wu, a National March 8th Red-Banner Pacesetter, said the first time she saw the vessel was in Dalian, a coastal city in northeast China's Liaoning Province, before it was delivered to the PLA Navy in September 2012 after years of refitting and sea trials.

Although she had already performed many tasks at sea, Wu was also shocked by its size.

"I didn't expect it was such a huge creature!" she added.

"But when I regained my wits, I found the ship was not a beautiful one. There was no decoration at all. Scaffolding, exposed pipes and dust were everywhere inside it. Welding was being done everywhere.

"Time never waits for anyone, so all the work was being carried out simultaneously at that time."

Wu, 31, has lived on the Liaoning for seven years.

"I have, as it were, grown with the vessel and witnessed every bit of its changes. How good it is now!" she added.

Each time when new recruits come, Wu tells them the history of the aircraft carrier and show them its old photos and videos.

"I want to let them know how happy it is to live and work on today's Liaoning!" she explained.

Female soldiers on the Liaoning hail from over 10 ethnic groups and have taken up posts in almost all departments.

"In the beginning, there were concerns that women were too squeamish to overcome difficulties and hardships. But it has been proved that they are as good as male crew members, and at many posts they can play a more important role," Wu said.

As a sergeant major, Wu positions herself as "a bridge between the lower and the higher ranks." Female soldiers are all willing to tell ideas and difficulties to her, and when necessary, she will report their requests to her leaders.

Once when a female soldier from northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region was performing a task on the sea, her father passed away.

Being afraid of affecting her work, the soldier's relatives concealed the truth from her. But when reaching home after her retirement, she was overwhelmed by the news.

"She was my soldier and relied on me very much. I must let her know that although she had left the army, we didn't forget her," said Wu.

Wu asked for leave and went to Xinjiang where she solaced the grieving daughter for two days. Wu finally persuaded the retiree to accept the reality and understand her family members. She gave her a sum of money raised by female soldiers on the Liaoning, to help her tide over financial difficulties.

Meanwhile, Wu is a strict officer. The Navy has rigorous rules on soldiers' appearance and clothing, which require them to wear sailors' striped shirts inside their training uniform in summer.

"When I see soldiers wear other shirts inside, I will get quite angry because that affects the overall reputation and image of female soldiers," Wu said.

"We're female soldiers on China's first aircraft carrier, so every act and move of ours draws attention. We must be strict with ourselves."

Unregretful Youth, Endless Family Support

So far, the first batch of female soldiers on the Liaoning have all left apart from Wu. Each time when facing the choice of retirement, she chose to stay. 

The first time she made "the choice of all female soldiers." "At that time, the ship had not been handed over. Without boarding it, we would by no means leave," she said.

When Wu made her second choice two years later, she was bombarded with many questions such as marriage issues and future work arrangements. 

"Before joining the army, I worked in a private company. At that time, although I wanted to learn something, no one wanted to teach me," she said.

"But in the troops, everyone was studying and working hard to make progress. I was reluctant to leave such an atmosphere."

Fortunately, her choice got strong support from her parents. In fact, the elderly couple could see their daughter only once a year and when Wu was engaged in a task, they could not hear from her for months. Nevertheless, they thought their daughter made faster and bigger progress in the army.

On the ship's open day, relatives of its crew are allowed to board. Wu hopes that her parents can walk on the vessel's spacious flight deck and have a look at the environment where she works and lives some day. But, worrying about affecting her work, they have never come in the past seven years.

Wu's marriage issue has been a headache for her parents and her leaders for a long time. "Actually, I went back home to get married during this leave. I haven't told my comrades-in-arm and this was explosive news!" she said.

Wu's husband works at a military college in Shenyang in northeast China's Liaoning Province. They got to know each other last year when Wu took part in a communication activity among young soldiers in his school. Hailing from a soldiers' family, he said he is ready to play the role of both a father and a mother.

Wu is going to choose whether to retire for the third time by the end of this year. But she already has her answer.

"If the army needs me, I will stay without any hesitation," she concluded.


On-board with Chinese Aircraft Carrier's 1st Female Sergeant Major

Female soldiers on the Liaoning [Women Voice]

On-board with Chinese Aircraft Carrier's 1st Female Sergeant Major

Wu (L) and a soldier on the Liaoning [Women Voice]

On-board with Chinese Aircraft Carrier's 1st Female Sergeant Major

Wu (back) and her soldiers on the Liaoning [Women Voice]

On-board with Chinese Aircraft Carrier's 1st Female Sergeant Major

Female soldiers on the Liaoning [Women Voice]

On-board with Chinese Aircraft Carrier's 1st Female Sergeant Major

Wu Dongyan solutes in front of the flag of PLA Navy. [Women Voice]

On-board with Chinese Aircraft Carrier's 1st Female Sergeant Major

Wu Dongyan on the Liaoning [Women Voice]

On-board with Chinese Aircraft Carrier's 1st Female Sergeant Major

Wu Dongyan [Women Voice]

On-board with Chinese Aircraft Carrier's 1st Female Sergeant Major

Wu Dongyan and her husband [Women Voice]


(Source: Women Voice/Translated and edited by Women of China)

(Opinions of the writer in this blog don't represent those of China Daily.)




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Official English version website of the All-China Women's Federation.


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