In mem­ory of un­named war he­roes

Repa­tri­a­tion of the re­mains of Korean War sol­diers will bring at­ten­tion to the vet­er­ans, re­port Dong Fangyu in Bei­jing and Liu Ce in Shenyang.

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE - Con­tact the au­thors at dong­fangyu@chi­ cn and li­uce@chi­ cn

Sixty years af­ter an ar­mistice agree­ment was signed, the re­mains of more than 400 Chi­nese sol­diers killed in the Korean War (1950-53) are set to fi­nally head home. When Repub­lic of Korea’s Pres­i­dent Park Ge­un­hye vis­ited China in June, she of­fered to repa­tri­ate 360 sets of re­mains buried in a ceme­tery in the city of Paju, but in the in­ter­ven­ing months, ROK au­thor­i­ties in­creased the num­ber to 425. Ac­cord­ing to the ROK De­fense Min­istry, ex­ca­va­tion work started on Dec 19, and, in ad­di­tion to the bod­ies, the re­mains in­clude seals, pens, badges and uni­forms. Ex­perts said the of­fer will not only im­prove Sino-ROK re­la­tions but also have a rip­ple ef­fect stretch­ing far be­yond pol­i­tics, in­clud­ing height­en­ing pub­lic aware­ness about those who fought in what is of­ten seen as a for­got­ten war.

“The news that the re­mains will be re­turned has evoked great emo­tion in many Chi­nese peo­ple,” said Jin Qiangyi, a Korean stud­ies pro­fes­sor at Yan­bian Univer­sity in Jilin prov­ince.

Liu Guizhi, an 82- yearold Korean War vet­eran, was ex­cited. Even though he didn’t know any of the sol­diers buried in Paju he re­gards them as his com­rades-in-arms. “Fi­nally, they can come home, like fall­ing leaves re­turn­ing to the roots. It’s a great com­fort to know that,” he said.

Liu, from Shenyang, the cap­i­tal of Liaon­ing prov­ince, joined the army in 1948. When the war broke out in 1950, he ar­rived at the front as a 19-yearold ar­tillery­man. The con­stant roar of the guns left him deaf in the left ear, so he of­ten shouts in­stead of talk­ing, even when his hear­ing aid is switched on.

“I of­ten re­call the war in Korea be­cause it was re­ally a hard time. I was lucky enough to sur­vive, but count­less com­rades died in that for­eign land. I re­ally hope they can come home and then at least we can all be buried to­gether in China.”

Dur­ing the past two years, Zhang Wei, a pub­lic wel­fare un­der­taker from Dan­dong — a city on the Yalu River in Liaon­ing, which forms China’s bor­der with the Demo­cratic Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of Korea — has or­ga­nized and led at least 10 groups of rel­a­tives to pay their re­spects at the ceme­tery in Paju.

“When I heard the news, I took the ferry from Dan­dong to In­cheon so I could fol­low the ex­ca­va­tion work on the spot,” said Zhang, speak­ing on the phone from the ROK.

“I am rep­re­sent­ing my fel­low Chi­nese, those peo­ple whose loved ones were killed in ac­tion some­where in the ROK. I went to the ceme­tery in Paju last week, but it was Christ­mas Day, which is a pub­lic hol­i­day in the ROK, so the ex­ca­va­tion teams weren’t work­ing,” he said. “How­ever, things look to be in good or­der. Sev­eral large tents are pitched at the site, prob­a­bly as rest­ing places for the work­ers, and I saw ex­ca­va­tion tools, desks and heaters.”

‘ Mar­tyr’s Cer­tifi­cates’

Zhang said that ac­cord­ing to the “Mar­tyr’s Cer­tifi­cates” the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment sent to the fam­i­lies of the war dead, the places the sol­diers fell are marked, but the lo­ca­tions of most of the graves are un­known. The names of the dead sol­diers in Paju are also un­known.

“The fam­i­lies re­gard all th­ese mar­tyrs as their ‘fa­thers’. They re­ally hope they can join the process and wit­ness or ac­com­pany their ‘fa­thers’ on their re­turn jour­ney home,’ he said.

Peng Guangqian, a Bei­jing­based mil­i­tary strate­gist and a ma­jor gen­eral in the Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army, said China should not sim­ply sit back and wait for the repa­tri­a­tion to hap­pen. In­stead, the gov­ern­ment should ac­tively co­op­er­ate with the ROK and en­gage in the process.

Be­cause the ex­ca­va­tion work — in­clud­ing wash­ing and dry­ing the re­mains, and then plac­ing them in coffins — is likely to take sev­eral months, de­tails about when and where they will be in­terred have not yet been re­leased. How­ever, some ex­perts have spec­u­lated that a war ceme­tery in Shenyang will house the re­mains.

As far as Liu is con­cerned the lo­ca­tion is unim­por­tant, what re­ally mat­ters is bring­ing the bod­ies back to home soil. “Any­where is OK, as long as it’s in China. The mar­tyrs’ ceme­tery should not just serve as a burial ground, but also as place to wit­ness his­tory, so later gen­er­a­tions will never for­get.”

The Chi­nese Peo­ple’s Vol­un­teers en­tered the con­flict — known in China as The War to Re­sist US Ag­gres­sion and Aid Korea — in Oc­to­ber 1950, but it wasn’t un­til 2010 that the death toll among CPV troops was con­firmed at 183,108. The de­tails cover both sides of a me­mo­rial wall at the Korean War Me­mo­rial

The fam­i­lies re­gard all th­ese mar­tyrs as their ‘fa­thers’. They re­ally hope they can join the process and wit­ness or ac­com­pany their ‘fa­thers’ on their re­turn jour­ney home.”




“I of­ten re­call the war in Korea be­cause it was

re­ally a hard time. I was lucky enough to sur­vive,

but count­less com­rades died in that for­eign land. I re­ally hope they can come home and then at least

we can all be buried to­gether in




Mu­seum in Dan­dong.

The mu­seum has been col­lect­ing data on CPV ca­su­al­ties and deaths since the late 1990s. Re­searchers have trav­eled to 2,670 coun­ties and dis­tricts across all the prov­inces, re­gions and mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties on the Chi­nese main­land ex­cept the Ti­bet au­ton­o­mous re­gion, ac­cord­ing to Xin­hua News Agency.

Xia Wen­tai, an ex­pert in Korean War stud­ies at the Liaon­ing Pro­vin­cial Pa­tri­otic Ed­u­ca­tion Base, said that the death toll may be not ex­act, but it ac­cords with the re­al­ity of the sit­u­a­tion as viewed by Chi­nese mil­i­tary his­to­ri­ans and vet­er­ans.

Vir­tual grave­yard

Xia, 75, par­tic­i­pated in the ren­o­va­tion of the mu­seum in Dan­dong. He has de­voted more than 30 years to projects to honor vet­er­ans of the war across Liaon­ing and, de­spite his ad­vanced years, his en­thu­si­asm re­mains undimmed. He re­cently set up a vir­tual grave­yard online to al­low peo­ple to pay trib­ute to the sol­diers that died.

More than 2.9 mil­lion CPV sol­diers were in­volved in the war, ac­cord­ing to Xiao Yusheng, an ex­pert in mil­i­tary his­tory at the Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army’s Academy of Mil­i­tary Sci­ence, the News of the Com­mu­nist Party of China quoted as say­ing.

Ac­cord­ing to Xia, only 2 or 3 per­cent of the vol­un­teers are buried in China. Al­though many of the dead were in­terred in of­fi­cial ceme­ter­ies in the DPRK, oth­ers lie in un­marked graves scat­tered across the Korean penin­sula.

“Most of them were killed in ac­tion and buried near the bat­tle­fields. Be­cause of trans­port dif­fi­cul­ties and the po­lit­i­cal re­straints at the time, only the bod­ies of model com­rades, of­fi­cers above reg­i­men­tal level, or well- known he­roes were trans­ported back to China. Many re­spected he­roes and cadres are buried in the CPV Mar­tyrs’ Ceme­tery in Shenyang,” he said.

China has three big­gest ceme­ter­ies for those who died in the Korean War — in Shenyang, Dan­dong and Chibi in Hubei prov­ince.

Many of the wounded were trans­ported to Dan­dong, where ap­prox­i­mately 3,000 CPV sol­diers are buried. Nearly 1,900 of the bod­ies have been iden­ti­fied, ac­cord­ing to sta­tis­tics from the ceme­tery man­age­ment of­fice.

A com­mit­tee to su­per­vise the con­struc­tion of the ceme­ter­ies was es­tab­lished in 1954. Us­ing spe­cially al­lo­cated funds, it sent con­struc­tion teams, in­clud­ing engi­neers, de­sign­ers, and stone­ma­sons, to the DPRK to build eight ceme­ter­ies to house the re­mains of dead Chi­nese sol­diers. Later, the DPRK built more than 200 tombs, each of which con­tains sev­eral bod­ies.

Zhang Lian­gui, an ex­pert in Korean stud­ies at the Party School of the CPC Cen­tral Com­mit­tee, said greater ef­forts should be made to honor those who died in the war.

“The coun­try has an obli­ga­tion to honor those sol­diers, but the Chi­nese me­dia have only given lim­ited cov­er­age to the fallen,” he said. “It was only when our lead­ers vis­ited the DPRK and went to the ceme­ter­ies for Chi­nese sol­diers, that they sud­denly be­came head­line news.”

Zhang said that some­times the com­mem­o­ra­tions are more about “Sino-DPRK re­la­tions”, and the coun­try owes a great debt to all the troops, in­clud­ing the vet­er­ans and pris­on­ers of war who un­der­went tremen­dous suf­fer­ing.

Portraits and prose

In July, Shi Rongfeng, who grad­u­ated from the China Cen­tral Academy of Fine Arts in 2011, be­gan in­ter­view­ing vet­er­ans from north­east­ern China. So far, the 27-year-old has vis­ited 18 for­mer com­bat­ants and painted their portraits.

“Peo­ple usu­ally pay more at­ten­tion to the War of Re­sis­tance against Ja­panese Ag­gres­sion (1937-45) than the Korean War. It seems that so­ci­ety is grad­u­ally for­get­ting about the vet­er­ans of the Korean War, and that makes them very sad,” he said.

He hopes that the repa­tri­a­tion of the re­mains will at­tract greater at­ten­tion to the vet­er­ans, be­cause they are “liv­ing memo­ri­als”.

“Vis­it­ing those old sol­diers is an ur­gent task, be­cause they are now very old men. If we don’t lis­ten to them, their heroic sto­ries will grad­u­ally be for­got­ten with the pas­sage of time,” he said.

Shi quit his job in Bei­jing, and be­gan trav­el­ing to meet vet­er­ans and col­lect their sto­ries. He wants to record his­tory with his paint­brush and learn more about the con­di­tions the men en­dured.

“I was deeply touched by them. Their sto­ries stirred my pa­tri­o­tism. They de­voted their lives to serv­ing the coun­try bravely and hon­or­ably. Many of their com­rades died, but many sur­vived, al­beit car­ry­ing in­juries and dis­abil­i­ties sus­tained in the fight­ing. They don’t re­gret the part they played, though — their pa­tri­o­tism is unswerv­ing.”

How­ever, Shi’s ini­tial ex­cite­ment has grad­u­ally turned to dis­may. Dur­ing his vis­its to Dan­dong, Shi asked the lo­cal civil af­fairs bureau, news­pa­pers and com­mu­ni­ties to pro­vide him with a list of names and ad­dresses of sur­viv­ing vet­er­ans, but his ap­proaches were re­buffed. “They pre­ferred to give the in­for­ma­tion to an of­fi­cial or­ga­ni­za­tion rather than an in­di­vid­ual,” he said.

In the face of in­dif­fer­ence and bu­reau­cracy, he adopted a new ap­proach — ev­ery time he vis­its a vet­eran he asks for names and ad­dresses of their for­mer col­leagues and then vis­its them.

But the more vet­er­ans he vis­ited, the more wor­ried he be­came. “Most of them are not treated with the re­spect that should be given to he­roes, and their liv­ing con­di­tions are not good.”

Al­though many vet­er­ans are still trou­bled by the in­juries and dis­abil­i­ties they sus­tained in com­bat, their army pen­sions are so low that they strug­gle to pay their med­i­cal bills. In ad­di­tion to their war wounds, they also have ail­ments that com­monly af­flict the el­derly, and those with­out well-off chil­dren are of­ten re­duced to poverty.

Shi said he plans to com­plete his vis­its to the vet­er­ans in six months or so. Af­ter that, he’ll be­gin work on a book.

“I will write down all my ex­pe­ri­ences and thoughts in an al­bum that will also in­clude the sol­diers’ portraits and sto­ries. I want to en­cour­age peo­ple to join me and help draw at­ten­tion to th­ese for­got­ten he­roes so their lives will be im­proved and they’ll fi­nally gain the re­spect they de­serve.”


Pri­mary school pupils pay their re­spects to the war dead at the Chi­nese Peo­ple’s Vol­un­teers Mar­tyrs’ Ceme­tery in Shenyang, the cap­i­tal of Liaon­ing prov­ince.


The ceme­tery for the Chi­nese Peo­ple’s Vol­un­teer troops in the city of Paju in the Repub­lic of Korea.


The Chi­nese Peo­ple’s Vol­un­teers Mar­tyrs’ Ceme­tery in Dan­dong is one of three big­gest rest­ing places in the coun­try.

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