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.
“Today the Communist Party highlights the united front policy towards the KMT and Taiwan,” said Jean-Pierre Cabestan, head of the political science department at Hong Kong Baptist University. “Now there is a new amnesia when talking about the fierce struggle Mao led against Chiang between 1927 and 1937, and especially between 1946 and 1949 to establish his dictatorship over the country.”
Beijing regularly accuses Tokyo and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of refusing to own up to its wartime past.
One English exhibit in the Tengchong museum reads: “The Japanese right wing forces are expanding rapidly in Japan. They visit Yasukuni Shrine and keep challenging the international order established after World War II. They even want to have a finger on Diaoyu Islands [Diaoyutais, 釣魚台], belonging to China. Therefore it is quite necessary to alert the revival of the Japanese militarism.”
China is to hold a rare major military parade this year, with one objective being to “impress Japan,” according an editorial in the People’s Daily, the official mouthpiece.
The Chinese government is trying to “reactivate and strengthen the anti-Japanese sentiments across Asia and among ordinary Chinese,” Cabestan said.
However, the one place the message might not resonate is Taiwan itself, he added.
The anniversary of Chiang’s death passed in Taiwan with barely a ripple.
President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) visited his mausoleum, but media attention was limited and the Beijing-skeptic opposition is pushing for the statues that marked his authoritarian rule to be taken down.
Most Taiwanese “have feelings of friendship and closeness with contemporary Japanese society,” Cabestan said. “The old Nationalist fighters belong to a bygone era.”
FRENCH AID: Paris has sent a navy ship and aircraft from Reunion Island with some pollution control equipment, but rough seas are spreading the oil spill The operator of a Japanese bulk carrier which ran aground off Mauritius in the Indian Ocean yesterday apologized for a major oil spill, which officials and environmentalists say is creating an ecological disaster, as police prepared to board the ship. The MV Wakashio, operated by Mitsui OSK Lines, struck the reef on Mauritius’ southeast coast on July 25. “We apologize profusely and deeply for the great trouble we have caused,” Mitsui OSK Lines executive vice president Akihiko Ono said at a news conference in Tokyo. The company would “do everything in their power to resolve the issue,” he said. At least 1,000 tonnes of
They stand as eyesores to most passers-by and potential public health risks to authorities, decaying buildings wrapped in tangles of exposed wire, studded with protruding leaky plastic pipes, vegetation billowing from cracks and terraces where particulates from polluted air have accumulated over time. With skyscrapers and ultramodern developments on every side, some of these “nail houses” are also sitting on land worth millions of dollars in Shenzhen’s inferno of a property market, where new-unit and second-hand home prices rival London. In battles over land and development, the nail house phenomenon has become widespread throughout China over the past two decades, with owners
A cat that went missing on a family holiday on the shores of Loch Lomond, Scotland, has been identified 12 years later. Tortoiseshell-and-white Georgie spent October half term in 2008 with her owners at the Rowardennan campsite, but vanished as they were due to return home to Greater Manchester, England. After a search of the site the Davies family departed without Georgie, hoping the three-year-old microchipped feline would be located by someone. Over the intervening 12 years, she remained close to the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park site, being fed and cared for by campsite staff and holidaymakers. After the COVID-19 pandemic hit and lockdown
An Italian alpine resort on Friday remained on high alert over fears that a vast chunk of a glacier on the slopes of the Mont Blanc massif could plummet in high temperatures. “No one gets through! No cars, bikes or pedestrians,” was the message at a checkpoint where an automatic barrier and two guards blocked the small road snaking up into a lush valley below the Planpincieux glacier, near the town of Courmayeur and the Italian-French border. The blockade has largely been greeted with contempt by the locals, one of whom said: “It’s a joke.” The huge ice block measuring around 500,000 cubic