A small town­ship in Cen­tral China is renowned as the birth­place of many high-rank­ing PLA of­fi­cers, as and re­port from Cheng­ma­gang, Hubei prov­ince.

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - CHINA -

There are more than 40,000 town­ships in China, but few are as fa­mous as Cheng­ma­gang, Hubei prov­ince, known as the home­town of gen­er­als and rev­o­lu­tion­ary mar­tyrs.

In 1955, in the most im­por­tant round of pro­mo­tions after the found­ing of the Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of China, 1,042 mil­i­tary of­fi­cers were pro­moted to the rank of general, and 26 of them were born in Cheng­ma­gang. Mean­while, more than 20,000 peo­ple from the town­ship were killed dur­ing the rev­o­lu­tion­ary pe­riod from 1924 to 1949, with 5,938 of­fi­cially reg­is­tered as mar­tyrs.

The revo­lu­tion ended in 1949, but since then, join­ing the Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army has be­come a tra­di­tion for Cheng­ma­gang na­tives.

“Now, in the town­ship, one in ev­ery seven peo­ple are serv­ing or have served in the PLA,” said Tao Xiaowu, a lo­cal gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial in charge of mil­i­tary re­cruit­ment.

“It’s not un­usual to meet peo­ple who fol­lowed in their fa­thers’ foot­steps and joined the PLA. More than 100 fam­i­lies in the town­ship can boast sev­eral gen­er­a­tions of sol­diers.”

Mil­i­tary fam­ily

Zheng Zun­yuan’s fam­ily has four gen­er­a­tions of PLA sol­diers. Zheng’s grand­fa­ther, who was born in 1895, be­gan col­lect­ing in­for­ma­tion for the Com­mu­nist Party of China in 1926. He joined the Red Army, the PLA’s pre­de­ces­sor, in 1930, and was ex­e­cuted six years later as a pris­oner of the Na­tion­al­ists after being be­trayed by an in­former.

Zheng’s fa­ther joined the PLA in 1949 at age 18. He left the Army in 1955, and died last year.

“My fa­ther ended up as a man­ual la­borer after my grand­fa­ther died. His clothes were in poor con­di­tion and he was forced to sleep near the cook­ing range of a street con­fec­tionery stall be­cause it gave off a lit­tle heat as it cooled after being used all day. The soles of his shoes were al­most worn away,” Zheng said.

“My fa­ther didn’t talk much about his ex­pe­ri­ences in the PLA, and only told us a lit­tle dur­ing his last few years. But ev­ery time we watched the movie Bat­tle on Shang­gan­ling Moun­tain, which told the story of a bat­tle dur­ing the Korean War (1950-1953), he would burst into tears.”

Zheng, 54, only dis­cov­ered the full story of his fa­ther’s ex­ploits when he checked gov­ern­ment records. The vet­eran was one of the PLA sol­ders who lib­er­ated Hainan prov­ince in 1950, and his unit was one of the first to vol­un­teer to fight in the Korean War in the same year.

Duty calls

Zheng has five sib­lings. Al­though the fam­ily’s life was hard, his fa­ther never asked for gov­ern­ment sup­port and al­ways sup­ported gov­ern­ment pol­icy.

“My fa­ther be­lieved that it was his duty to join the Army and serve the coun­try. No mat­ter what he did, it was al­ways his duty. He never com­plained, no mat­ter what dif­fi­cul­ties he en­coun­tered,” Zheng said.

Zheng joined the PLA in late 1982 and served for four years. He now runs a print­ing store in down­town Macheng, the city that ad­min­is­ters Cheng­ma­gang.

Spurred by their fa­ther’s ex­am­ple, Zheng and his three brothers were keen to join the PLA, but only Zheng passed the med­i­cal. In turn, his Army ser­vice in­spired his son, who en­listed in 2013, after grad­u­at­ing from univer­sity.

“My son was deeply in­flu­enced by our fam­ily’s mil­i­tary cul­ture. Dur­ing our leisure hours, we watched a lot of movies, TV se­ries and other pro­grams about war. We watched Bat­tle on Shang­gan­ling Moun­tain more than twice a year,” he said.

Zheng said his fa­ther led a sim­ple life after he re­tired.

Though his fam­ily of­ten sug­gested trips around China, the se­nior al­ways re­fused be­cause of the cost of travel. With the ex­cep­tion of one trip, he stayed in his home­town un­til his death from la­ryn­geal cancer, ac­cord­ing to Zheng Zun­yuan’s younger brother Zheng Zun­sheng.

After his con­di­tion had been diag- nosed, the vet­eran made a trip to Zhenghzhou, He­nan prov­ince, where he at­tended a re­union of Chi­nese vol­un­teers who fought in Korea.

“I never saw my fa­ther so happy. He didn’t speak much at home, but when he went to the re­union, he spoke with the other vet­er­ans and sang Korean songs,” Zheng Zun­sheng re­called.

The old man also ex­pressed a wish to visit Dan­dong, Liaon­ing prov­ince, where the Yalu River forms the border be­tween China and the Demo­cratic Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of Korea, to take a last look at the coun­try where he once fought. How­ever, he died be­fore he could make the trip.

Zheng Zun­sheng, 46, said he is sad that med­i­cal prob­lems pre­vented him from serv­ing in the PLA, but he hopes his 9-year-old daugh­ter will en­list.

“I told her she should study hard and make an ef­fort to join the Army. Not only to serve the coun­try, but also be­cause it would be good for her,” he said.

Zhang Jinzhong, a 20-year-old high school grad­u­ate from Cheng­ma­gang who has ap­plied to join the PLA

Ac­cord­ing to Tao, the re­cruit­ment of­fi­cial, about 30 young men from Cheng­ma­gang, which has a pop­u­la­tion of about 60,000, en­list ev­ery year.

How­ever, the town­ship’s quota is lim­ited and there are more ap­pli­cants than places, so some are per­suaded to with­draw their ap­pli­ca­tions or wait un­til the fol­low­ing year.

At this time of year, the re­cruit­ment process is in full swing, and more than 40 men from Cheng­ma­gang have ap­plied to join the PLA.

One of them is Zhang Jinzhong, who has been in­spired by his brother and two class­mates who are al­ready serv­ing in the Army.

“My home­town is the ‘home of the gen­er­als’. I grew up hear­ing sto­ries about those men. They are he­roes. I want to join the Army be­cause I want to be a hero like them,” the 20-yearold high school grad­u­ate said.

Con­tact the writ­ers at houliqiang@ chi­


A vol­un­teer at the ed­u­ca­tion base in Cheng­ma­gang, Hubei prov­ince, dis­cusses an ex­hibit re­lated to for­mer mil­i­tary fig­ures.

of sol­diers in one fam­ily: Grand­fa­ther Zheng Shiji as a young man and as a se­nior cit­i­zen; son Zheng Zun­yuan in uni­form and now; and grand­son Zheng Xin, who is cur­rently serv­ing with the PLA,

Three gen­er­a­tions

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