s the daughter of a senior colonel in China’s People’s Liberation Army, Ren Futong has lived all 17 years of her life in a high-walled military compound in northern Beijing. No foreigners are allowed inside the gates; the vast encampment, with its own bank, grocery store and laundromat, is patrolled by armed guards and goose-stepping soldiers.
Growing up in this enclave, Ren – also known as Monica, the English name she has adopted – imbibed the lessons of conformity and obedience, loyalty and patriotism, in their purest form. At her school, independent thought that deviated from the reams of right answers the students needed to memorise for the next exam was suppressed. The purpose of it all, Monica told me, was “to make everybody the same”.