Senior PLA officers serving as privates--morale booster?
Xi Jinping is following Mao's 1958 tactic of sending senior military officers to the front lines to live among the people and get a sense of what it's like. Xi's marching orders are meant to curb corruption and boost morale and discipline. South China Morning Post summarizes it this way:
It [the directive] dictates that officers with the rank of lieutenant-colonel or above must serve as privates - the lowest-ranking soldier - for not less than 15 days. Generals and officers will have to live, eat and serve with junior soldiers during the period.
I will have to defer to military experts on this, but does this kind of thing actually work? Understandably, many senior officers in the PLA may have skipped the grueling task of earning their bars and stars through proven leadership by drawing on political connections. Yet the discipline in the military is based on the hierarchical structure of the institution and the respect that comes with higher rank.
This is a direct extension of Xi's anti-corruption (or at least against blatant splurging of money) policy for the CCP. And like the anti-corruption campaign for the CCP, words are easy and cosmetic treatments can be taken care of, but true solutions are hard to come by. The effects of this are likely negligible. Zachary Zeck has come to similar conclusions. Symbolism seems to be the thrust of Xi's moves (think additionally of the First Lady's debut on the world stage) and we should expect several more to come.