Fight­ing spirit lives on in Long March veteran

China Daily (USA) - - LIFE - By YANG YANG in Zunyi, Guizhou yangyangs@chi­nadaily.com.cn

It all started to­ward the end of 1994, when Li Guang ac­com­pa­nied a char­ity team to a pri­mary school in Zunyi, South­west China’s Guizhou prov­ince.

As a Red Army veteran, he was an­gry to find that the school’s play­ground didn’t have a na­tional flag. Li asked the head­mas­ter: “How do you hold flag-rais­ing cer­e­monies for the chil­dren?”

Fur­ther­more, he no­ticed holes and cracks in the mud walls of a class­room. The chil­dren were with­out shoes and in thin cloth­ing, ex­posed to the cold air from out­side. They had wooden boards on stumps for desks and there were no chairs.

Li do­nated 400 yuan ($60), all the money in his wal­let, to the school.

Back then, the av­er­age an­nual in­come of an em­ployee in State-owned en­ter­prises in Guizhou was a lit­tle more than 4,000 yuan.

Af­ter leav­ing the school, Li kept think­ing of the chil­dren who re­minded him of his own child­hood.

Born in Zunyi in 1921, Li was or­phaned at age 2. By the time he turned 8, his foster par­ents had left him.

He started herd­ing cat­tle for land­lords and of­ten went hun­gry.

In Jan­uary 1935, when a fac­tion of the Red Army ar­rived in Zunyi af­ter cross­ing the Wu­jiang River, as part of the Long March, Li waited for the Com­mu­nist sol­diers. In a bid to get peo­ple to va­cate the now pre­fec­ture-level town, the na­tion­al­ist Kuom­intang forces spread the ru­mor that Red Army mem­bers “ate hu­man flesh”.

Li wanted to find out if the ru­mor was true.

In­stead, he saw the Com­mu­nist sol­diers help­ing the el­derly peo­ple, look­ing af­ter the sick and giv­ing their own ra­tions to the area’s starv­ing peo­ple.

The Com­mu­nist Party of China hosted one of its most im­por­tant meet­ings in his­tory in Zunyi on Jan 15, 1935, when New China’s found­ing fa­ther Mao Ze­dong was elected leader of the CPC.

It was around the time that Li went to a Red Army sol­dier and vol­un­teered to join them.

As a child he never had the chance to study and knew lim­ited Chi­nese char­ac­ters, which led to a mis­take in a bat­tle later.

As a bat­tal­ion com­man­der, Li re­ceived a writ­ten or­der from higher officers that he and his troops “should evac­u­ate be­fore day­break”.

He didn’t un­der­stand the word “day­break” and his as­sis­tant was not around to help. The next day, when Li gathered his army and de­cided to leave in broad day­light, it was too late. They were cap­tured by the Kuom­intang and a lot of peo­ple died.

Since then, he has al­ways em­pha­sized the im­por­tance of ed­u­ca­tion.

Now 95, Li still re­calls the hard years he spent with the Red Army in snowy moun­tains and marshy grass­lands where they ate lit­tle food and wore hand­made clothes.

“We spent five days walk­ing along the Jin­sha River to the Lud­ing Bridge, eat­ing only one meal. For that meal, be­fore we cooked the food thor­oughly, we needed to fight the en­emy. So we put the food in our hats, run­ning while eat­ing the half-cooked food,” he re­calls.

He says many of his com­rades lost their lives dur­ing the War of Re­sis­tance against Ja­panese Ag­gres­sion from 1937 to 1945andthe three-year war of lib­er­a­tion.

“So many peo­ple died to build a bet­ter life for the gen­er­a­tions to fol­low,” Li says.

Li has been do­nat­ing his pen­sion to chil­dren from poor fam­i­lies so they may con­tinue study­ing un­til univer­sity. Since 1995, he has do­nated more than 400,000 yuan to help more than 1,700 such chil­dren.

In 2000, Li was di­ag­nosed with rec­tal can­cer and sur­vived a ma­jor surgery and fol­low-up treat­ment.

In 2002, he had acute pan­cre­ati­tis that kept him in a coma for 20 days. Four years later, he was di­ag­nosed with skin can­cer, which took a few surg­eries to con­trol.

De­spite his poor health, Li vis­its schools and armed forces in­sti­tutes to tell young peo­ple about the strug­gles of the Long March, ask­ing them to cher­ish life and the chance to get ed­u­cated.

“I was born in the age of war, with­out a chance to study. To­day, I feel sorry if some chil­dren can­not go to school be­cause their fam­i­lies are poor. I’ve been a CPC mem­ber for 77 years, and help­ing such kids is my re­spon­si­bil­ity.”

PHO­TOS PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Red Army veteran Li Guang vis­its schools and gives lec­tures to tell young peo­ple his sto­ries of the Long March.

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