China turns KMT vets into pro­pa­ganda he­roes


For decades af­ter World War II Na­tion­al­ist sol­dier Zeng Hui was os­tracised by China’s Com­mu­nist au­thor­i­ties, de­spite hav­ing fought against arch-en­emy Ja­pan.

But, 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 WWII, the Na­tion­al­ist Kuom­intang ( KMT) army lost China’s bru­tal civil war to Mao Ze­dong’s Com­mu­nists in 1949. Its chief Chi­ang Kai-shek 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 Kuom­intang,” said his son Zeng Longx­i­ang, 63. “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.”

But in a new era — Chi­ang died 40 years ago at the week­end — Bei­jing is pro­mot­ing the Kuom­intang 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.”

‘Tooth and nail’

Ja­pan con­trolled vast swathes of China, from Manchuria to In­dochina, dur­ing World War II. By 1938, Chi­ang’s Na­tion­al­ist gov­ern­ment had re­treated in­land to set up a pro­vi­sional cap­i­tal in Chongqing.

With the Na­tion­al­ists 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 theatre 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 told AFP.

In Yun­nan, it was mainly Chi­nese Na­tion­al­ist forces who con­fronted the Ja­panese, say vet­er­ans and his­to­ri­ans.

“The Kuom­intang were fight­ing a real war, while the Com­mu­nists were more like guer­ril­las,” said Xiang, now 90.

But af­ter the Com­mu­nist civil war victory, his­tory was rewrit­ten and the role played by the Na­tion­al­ist army ob­scured.

Chi­ang was the first tar­get for vil­i­fi­ca­tion.

In his Se­lected Works, Mao Ze­dong 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.

But in re­cent years, the pro­pa­ganda ma­chine has changed course, and at the Kuom­intang war ceme­tery i n Yun­nan’s Teng­chong, the head­stones of thou­sands of Na­tion­al­ist “mar­tyrs” have been re­stored af­ter be­ing ru­ined by Mao’s Red Guards.

“The city of Teng­chong was lib­er­ated by KMT troops,” said guide Yang Shuangjiao. “The Com­mu­nists also con­trib­uted, but to a lesser ex­tent.”

Large pho­tos

of Chi­ang hang in a nearby mu­seum, in­clud­ing an im­age of the “Gen­er­alis­simo” toast­ing with Mao. China’s main state tele­vi­sion, CCTV, broad­cast a re­port prais­ing Na­tion­al­ist Gen­eral Dai An­lan last week.

“To­day the Com­mu­nist Party high­lights the united front pol­icy to­wards the KMT and Tai­wan,” Jean-Pierre Cabestan, head of the po­lit­i­cal science depart­ment at Hong Kong Bap­tist Uni­ver­sity, told AFP.

“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.”

‘Im­press Ja­pan’

Bei­jing reg­u­larly ac­cuses Tokyo and na­tion­al­ist 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 be­long­ing to China. There­fore it is quite nec­es­sary to alert the re­vival of the Ja­panese mil­i­tarism.”

China will 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 Com­mu­nist Party mouth­piece.

The Chi­nese gov­ern­ment is try­ing to “re­ac­ti­vate and strengthen the anti- Ja­panese sen­ti­ments across Asia and among or­di­nary Chi­nese,” said Cabestan.

But the one place the mes­sage might not res­onate is Tai­wan it­self, he added.

The an­niver­sary of Chi­ang’s death passed on the is­land with barely a rip­ple. Pres­i­dent Ma Ying-jeou vis­ited his mau­soleum, but me­dia at­ten­tion was limited and the Bei­jing-scep­tic 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”, said Cabestan. “The old Na­tion­al­ist fighters be­long to a by­gone era.”


This photo taken on March 20, 2015 shows for­mer Kuom­intang sol­dier and World War II vet­eran 101-year-old Zeng Hui at his home in Mangshi, in China’s south­west Yun­nan prov­ince.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Taiwan

© PressReader. All rights reserved.