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China's Chubbier Soldiers Need Bigger Tanks

Chinese tanks take part in a training excercise

Photograph by ImagineChina via AP Photo

Chinese tanks take part in a training excercise

After two decades of more meat and dairy, China’s soldiers are getting heftier.

A new study finds China’s soldiers are, on average, two centimeters taller and have waistlines five centimeters broader than their counterparts 20 years ago, according to a report in the PLA Daily. The official paper of China’s 2.3 million-strong People’s Liberation Army cited a survey of 20,000 soldiers that started in 2009 by a research institute under the General Armament Department. The survey looked at 28 different features of the human body, not just height and girth.

China’s bulkier servicemen will need roomier equipment and particularly bigger tanks; those now in use were designed to suit the punier soldiers of three decades ago. A “tank designed and manufactured according to the human body parameters 30 years ago will make normal people seated in the steering cabin feel restrained,” the website China Military Online noted, “and the short rifle stock will affect the precision of shooting.”

“Larger military equipment is urgently needed,” said the official China Daily, citing researchers. “Armaments and military personnel’s physiques should be matched, because that is the only way to ensure proper use of the equipment,” said Ding Songtao, who led the research.

Bigger soldiers are a boon for the army, too. “The improvement of Chinese people’s physical condition makes it easier to recruit military personnel,” Wang Ya’nan, a military expert in Beijing, told the English-language paper. “Although soldiers do not have to do much manual labor requiring physical strength, unlike their predecessors, many jobs in the military and especially the army still require strong soldiers.”

Roberts is Bloomberg Businessweek's Asia News Editor and China bureau chief. Follow him on Twitter @dtiffroberts.

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