Brothers in arms on a spiritual quest

Updated: 2015-09-04 07:10

By Li Yang(China Daily USA)

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The soldiers I met in Gamba are of a similar age to me, and the question that filled my head, along with the inevitable altitude headache, was how they achieved the transformation from single child to soldier in one of the most inhospitable places in the world.

After interviewing dozens of them, I discovered the answer: Brotherhood. It's an old-fashioned expression that seems incompatible with these modern times when people pay more attention to money and comfort than they do to honor won on the battlefield.

Living in a peaceful time, I rarely get the opportunity to observe the extent to which emotional attachment, mutual trust and interdependence can influence people's relations. The interviews in Gamba provided me with that opportunity.

Were it not for that feeling of brotherhood, the young men would not have overcome their self-confessed fearfulness, inertia and greed in such a harsh natural environment.

What they did not say in the interview, but managed to convey fully in other ways, is that although they are struggling physically, their mental states and spirits are calm, peaceful. Their attitudes are diametrically opposed to those of urban residents, who are physically comfortable, but often struggle mentally.

Brothers in arms on a spiritual quest

When the soldiers spoke about the changes many new recruits undergo as a result of their two years in Gamba, I felt strongly that they had experienced a kind of spiritual revolution, one that has entered deep into their souls. Many urbanites constantly talk about soul mates, but never find one. That's not the case with these men.

There's an old Chinese saying: "Good men should not join the army and good iron should not be made into nails." Maybe these young men were not good before - in fact many of them underachieved academically and were also rebellious - but I'm sure they will be good men by the time they leave the army.

Through a cycle of pain and gain they have learned what really counts in life: Brotherhood, which is life itself.