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China's army schools training the next generation of devoted communist followers

I knew the result I was looking for before I even did it but when I took these pictures in black and white the result felt almost too striking, as I stood among the pupils of the Mao Zedong Primary School.

From the moment we arrived it had felt like we had stepped back in time.

Only the branded trainers, a hint of a football shirt beneath their blue Mao-era uniforms and the older children who had changed to play basketball, gave away that we hadn’t been transported back to the 1950s.

Getting permission to film at one of China’s Red Army schools can be difficult but ahead of the country’s 70th Anniversary, we were granted permission to visit one of the most famous of these cultural revolution inspired institutions.

The schools teach children to be devoted to their country. Credit: ITV News

The school we went to is in Jinggangshan; a place known as the "cradle of the cultural revolution," the first revolutionary base created by Chairman Mao.

The first thing we saw when we got out of the car was a huge mural of China’s famous leader presiding over the school grounds.

The students had been told about our visit, and the sight of foreigners in their playground generated a lot of excitement. We are used to that in most parts of China but in Jinggangshan they don’t get many outside visitors.

The school teaches children lessons based on China's history. Credit: ITV News

In character the children appeared like any others; making faces, giggling, and curious about the camera. But when we spoke to the three pupils singled out to talk to us, what they had to say struck a very different tone.

When I asked 12-year-old Shi Jingxuan about the 70th anniversary she started to refer to China as her mother.

"Happy Birthday Mother," she said.

She talked of "reviving the revolutionary spirit" and of a "splendid tomorrow".

She spoke with passion and conviction. However, she also talked of China having democracy and freedom. Words rather out of place in a conversation (and a country) where Mao-era values are still given such prominence.

Children at the school wear overall-style uniforms and hats. Credit: ITV News

All of those we spoke to were unerring in their love for the nation, they wanted the world to know that China is strong and getting stronger, it is prosperous and will become even more so.

The eldest pupil we spoke to, 13-year-old Lu Chen, summed up how children are brought up to think when she told us her aim is to become a pillar of society. The children here, and across the country for that matter, are inspired to be the good, loyal communists of tomorrow.

Red Army schools offer the most extreme form of patriotic education but they have been hailed by the current president, Xi Jingping, as a model for the nation. There are currently 300 such schools across the country and the plan is to treble that number in the coming years.

The school does offer a full curriculum to its pupils but everything is taught through the prism of the past. Students learn that China has struggled to become the country it is today and they should never forget the difficulties as they devote themselves to ensuring it has a stable and successful future.

Devotion, discipline, and loyalty are instilled as the keys to success, their own, and above all, China's.