A group of former soldiers from Changhua County visited Matsu earlier this month for a tour of their former duty posts and were surprised to learn that there was a woman among them who also served in the military in the late 1990s, when the nation’s service was the exclusive domain of men.
According to a report in the Matsu Daily, people were staggered to find out that the woman, surnamed Wei (魏), was a bona fide “male” soldier, and served her national compulsory military service for more than a year in Matsu, before her honorable discharge.
The newspaper said Wei presented a most unusual case, which began when a Changhua government employee made an error by registering her as male, instead of as female, on her birth certificate.
Wei told the newspaper that she and her family did not get around to fixing the clerical mistake.
Years later, the clerical error became life-changing, when she found a central government notification to report for mandatory military service in the mail.
She said that at that time, she filed an appeal with her local government office, pointing out her gender and the original error on her birth registry. However, bureaucratic inefficiency meant that the case took many months for the local and central governments to resolve.
Wei said that as she waited for a decision on her appeal, she had no choice other than to obey the requirement defined in the military service notification, to avoid breaking the law.
So she reported to a military training center at Guangdong Bridge (關東橋) Garrison Camp in Hsinchu County, in October 1999.
Wei said she was the only female soldier there, and was treated the same as the rest, with her head shaved bald, as with the young men.
After basic training, Wei was sent to serve at the Matsu Defense Command on Matsu, and was stationed there until the end of 2000. After her appeal plodded through red tape, she received the government’s decision toward the end of that year.
The decision verified Wei’s gender and rectified the error on the registry, but by then her military service was finished and she had already earned an honorable discharge.
Wei said she did not have many complaints about her service in Matsu, as commanders and soldiers in her unit understood her special circumstances and they treated her as a fellow soldier.
After Wei’s story was reported, netizens expressed amazement and some disbelief.
One person wrote: “During the physical examination for new reporting recruits, the medical officers examined each man’s private parts by hand. It’s beyond me how she still got a pass there.”
Others commented that the case demonstrated that officials at the Ministry of National Defense are imbeciles, being unable to adjust to new situations, and this was a serious case of administrative bungling.