Mo Yan in the NYRB blog:
Getting into the People’s Liberation Army was hard, but not as hard as getting into college. So, starting in 1973, I sent in my application and took a physical exam at the commune every year, and every year I was rejected. But then, in February 1976, with the help of some important people, my persistence paid off—I received my enlistment notice. Soon after that, on a cold, snowy day, I walked some fifteen miles to the county town. There I put on an army uniform and climbed into the back of a military truck for the trip to Huang County, where I moved into the famous “Ding Family Compound” barracks and began basic training. (I would not revisit the site until the fall of 1999, after Huang County had evolved into the city of Longkou and Ding Family Compound had been converted into a museum. What had originally impressed me as the magnificent home of a wealthy landlord I now saw was little more than a squat building, proof that my horizons had broadened.)
After getting through basic training, I was sent, along with three other recruits, to a so-called Intelligence Unit of the Ministry of Defense. People back home complimented me on my good luck of having been assigned to such a fine unit, but it actually turned out to be a major disappointment—it was only a radio-monitoring station that was about to be phased out.