Thu, Apr 09, 2015 - Page 6 News List

China ‘rehabilitates’ Nationalist veterans from outcasts into heroes for propaganda

‘PILLAR OF THE NATION’:World War II veterans persecuted under Mao Zedong are being called heroes as part of Beijing’s ‘united front’ policy and anti-Japanese propaganda

AFP, MANGSHI, China

A former Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) soldier and World War II veteran, 101-year-old Zeng Hui, is pictured at his home in Mangshi, China, on March 20.

Photo: AFP

For decades after World War II, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) soldier Zeng Hui was ostracized by Chinese Communist Party authorities, despite having fought against archenemy Japan.

However, at more than 100 years old, he has been brought back into the fold as Beijing seeks unity against Tokyo.

In a wheelchair, military decorations pinned to his chest, the centenarian struggles to list the battles in which he fought against the Japanese in the 1940s.

“Songshan,” he enunciates at one point.

After World War II, the KMT army lost China’s brutal civil war to Mao Zedong’s (毛澤東) Communists in 1949.

Its leader, Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石), fled to Taiwan, along with most of the leadership, but many rank and file, such as Zeng, stayed behind.

He spent years being persecuted under the Maoist regime, when those declared class enemies faced confinement, beatings and worse. Even now, he will not speak of what happened to him.

“My father was a member of the KMT,” his son, Zeng Longxiang, 63, said. “Because of the Cultural Revolution, he dares not speak too much of the battles in which he participated. And we, the children, we never dared to broach the subject.”

However, in a new era — Chiang died 40 years ago at the weekend — Beijing is promoting the KMT veterans as a symbol of the struggles against Japan.

A gold-fringed banner in Zeng’s home in Mangshi, deep in the southwestern province of Yunnan, declares him a “pillar of the nation” and a medal pinned to his overcoat is emblazoned: “Hero of the War of Resistance Against Japanese Occupation.”

Japan controlled vast swathes of China, from Manchuria to Indochina, during World War II. By 1938, Chiang’s KMT government had retreated inland to set up a provisional capital in Chongqing.

With the KMT dependent on Allied resupply along the Burma Road, or by air over the “Hump” of the Himalayas, Yunnan became a vital strategic lifeline.

The China-Burma-India theater saw desperate, bloody combat when the Imperial Japanese Army tried to force its way into India, the jewel of the British Empire in Asia.

Conscripted into the KMT army in 1942, Xiang Xueyun was sent to join the Allied efforts.

“India was occupied by the Japanese and we fought tooth and nail against them in the jungle,” he said.

In Yunnan, it was mainly KMT forces who confronted the Japanese, veterans and historians say.

“The KMT were fighting a real war, while the Communists were more like guerrillas,” said Xiang, now 90.

However, after the communist civil war victory, history was rewritten and the role played by the KMT army obscured.

Chiang was the first target for vilification.

In his Selected Works, Mao argues that communist fighters were “facing enemy lines,” while Chiang fled to the remote southwest.

At the end of the war, “he descended from his mountain to reap the fruits of victory,” Mao wrote.

However, in recent years, the propaganda machine has changed course, and at the KMT war cemetery in Yunnan’s Tengchong, the headstones of thousands of KMT “martyrs” have been restored after being ruined by Mao’s Red Guards.

“The city of Tengchong was liberated by KMT troops,” guide Yang Shuangjiao said. “The communists also contributed, but to a lesser extent.”

Large photographs of Chiang hang in a nearby museum, including an image of the “generalissimo” toasting with Mao.

China’s main state television channel, CCTV, broadcast a report praising KMT General Tai An-lan last week.

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