Honoring the remains of fallen heroes
The Laboratory of Contemporary Anthropology at Fudan University in Shanghai is currently on a quest to find the descendants of 347 soldiers from the Chinese expeditionary force that fought against the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II.
Earlier in May, the remains of these soldiers were unearthed from a cemetery near a school in the Burmese city of Myitkyina, according to Chen Liang, an archaeologist from Northwest University in Xi’an, Shaanxi province. Chen was one of the volunteers on this project to bring the remains of Chinese soldiers back home.
“While the mission to look for descendants of these fallen heroes, who died while defending the motherland in a foreign land, is like looking for a needle in a haystack, it is very meaningful. The best way to honor their contributions is to bring them back home,” Chen said.
Between 1942 and 1945, a total of 300,000 Chinese soldiers were sent to Myanmar after British authorities had requested for China’s assistance in preventing the Japanese troops from capturing a vital road that linked Yunnan to Myanmar.
These expeditionary soldiers spent half a year in Myanmar and their efforts have been recognized as being an important chapter in the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression (1937-45). Most of the soldiers who died during the battles were buried in this region between the two countries.
Finding the identities of these soldiers has proved to be challenging as the remains were poorly preserved due to the acidity levels in the soil, as well as the climate in the tropical rainforest area, said Li Hui, a professor from the laboratory. However, the laboratory has managed to ascertain that some of these soldiers came from provinces such as Guangdong, Hunan, and Shandong. Scientists at the lab now need to find genetic matches to the remains.
“We cannot determine which family the soldiers come from so we’re looking for their descendants. For soldiers who did not have descendants at that time, we can compare the genes from the remains with those of their sibling’s offspring to determine their identity,” said Li.
He also added that from an academic viewpoint, being able to identify the native homes of these fallen soldiers can help contribute to a more complete understanding of conscription during that period.
This is not the first time that the remains of soldiers from this expeditionary force have made the journey back to China. In 2011, the remains of 19 soldiers were returned and buried in a cemetery in Tengchong city. In June 2014, more than 600 remains were brought home by the Yunnan Provincial Federation of Returned Overseas Chinese and buried in the same cemetery.