Chinese military march with style

Hong Kong handover
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The Independent Online
Gone are the plain egalitarian olive-green suits of the Maoist era, with four pockets for officers and two for other ranks. Gone, too, is the 1988 redesign, which introduced rank insignia.

As seen in these photographs, the Chinese Armed Forces have been showing off new uniforms designed to present a friendlier image in the run-up to the handover of Hong Kong next month. The photographs were taken in Peking. But, for the moment, the new uniforms are likely to be restricted to those in high-profile jobs in Hong Kong or abroad.

"If we are going to change all the uniforms it's going to be a very big job for us", a Chinese military spokesman said. At the last count, there were more than 2 million in the Chinese forces.

The new outfits, with Russian-style shoulder boards indicating rank, are designed to make Chinese soldiers, sailors and airmen and women easier to equate with those of other countries.

The army has chosen a shade closer to the British khaki than the olive- green of the past; the air force, blue; and the navy is wearing white, in common with the summer uniforms of other navies around the world. The officers leading the parade in the photograph are zhongwei - lieutenants - one vertical stripe and two stars. The commander of the Chinese People's Liberation Army contingent which arrived in Hong Kong last week, Major- General Zhou Borong, wears all-gold shoulder straps with a single star.

The uniforms owe a lot to the influence of Russia and the Soviet union. The idea of silver or gold braid on the shoulders started in the Crimean war, when Russian officers removed it from their cuffs because it was too conspicuous to Turkish, French and British snipers.

So that officers could still be distinguished by their own men, they sewed the braid on to their shoulder straps instead.