Veterans Honoured After Decades of Discrimination

Originally published on 24th May 2015
Dark, narrow, dilapidated, and filled with the stink of odorous waste on its second floor, a tenement stands at the end of a shabby lane. In one of the rooms of this low-rent apartment building lives Guo Yuguang, a 93-year-old war veteran. Guo fought against the Japanese during the World War II era, but still somehow found himself on the losing side of the war.
In his house there is a bed with a pillow cover, with the words “To celebrate the 67th anniversary of the victory of the Anti-Japanese War,” a TV covered by a red cloth, an old-style wooden desk, a set of kitchen appliances, and two big maps on the walls of this roughly 15-square-meter room. There is no toilet. Guo Yuguang lives here alone. His grand-nephew and his grand-nephew’s wife live in the vicinity, and bring him daily meals. On a fall Sunday his stomach was suffering, and he’d confined himself to bed rest in order to recuperate.
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Veterans’ group members celebrate Guo’s 93rd birthday with him. (Photo provided by group)
Guo, whose story has been covered in Chinese-language media like the Shantou Evening News, is one of dozens of veteran soldiers living in the Chaoshan area who fought for the National Revolutionary Army (the military arm of the Kuomintang Government) against the Japanese after their invasion of China. The soldiers of the National Revolutionary Army faced discrimination and adversity in the years after 1949, as their political affiliation put them on the wrong side in post-war China. Former KMT party officials and soldiers were made outcasts, some of them were put in jail, and others were executed in the decades that followed. Reform through labor was introduced, with many of the laborers being former Kuomintang men.

“In the past, if [KMT] veterans talked about their experience, they would be denounced and criticized for pining for the past. A KMT veteran said that I would feel very satisfied and could die in peace if only I could no longer be considered the enemy, but among the living,” Guo said, referring to being thought of as a common, normal person.

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Guo talks in his small apartment, the living room dominated by maps of China and the world. (Photo by MyShantou news team)
Over the last few years, both the contributions and mistreatment of these old soldiers have gained recognition. Charity groups have been set up nationwide by common people, and there has been a lot of historical research done into the lives of these forgotten soldiers, with many books written on the subject. These veterans’ struggles and sacrifices are finally being acknowledged, both from within the community and officially.

On September 1st, 2014 the Ministry of Civil Affairs of the People’s Republic of China unveiled the first round of names of prominent anti-Japanese heroes and groups. There were 300 soldiers on the list, among which 94 soldiers belonged to The National Revolutionary Army, taking up nearly thirty percent of the total number.

According to a report by the Xinhua News Agency, President Xi Jinping gave a nod to KMT veterans, when he asked officers accompanying him whether a commemorative archway carved with names of anti-Japanese war heroes would include soldiers from both the Communist Party and the Chinese Kuomintang Party, when he visited an exhibition commemorating the 77th anniversary of the war on July 7th, 2014.

Veteran soldiers who served for The National Revolutionary Army have been treated unfairly over the past couple of decades, according to Zeng Jianpeng, one of the organizers of the Chaoshan area branch of the War Veterans Foundation, which cares for the old soldiers from the Sino-Japanese war. That unfair treatment has led to social inequalities, he said.

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Zeng Jianpeng, at left, with a veteran in front of a memorial. (Photo provided by Zeng)
“I got to know more than 100 old soldiers in the Chaoshan area, and some veterans living in Meizhou. From nearly 200 old soldiers, I’ve found that this group of people is distinctively poorer than other groups in the society, for historical reasons,” Zeng said. “These old soldiers, associated with a symbol of the Kuomintang Party, were treated unfairly. They were discriminated against by society, meaning that they could not get an education or equal working opportunities, which gave rise to their poverty.”Other veterans’ affairs volunteers put the number of former Kuomintang army veterans in the Chaoshan area at around 70.

Some veterans were not willing to mention anything that they had gone through in the army and their lives after they retired. A soldier named Xie Zhonghe refused to talk about his time in the National Revolutionary Army, Zeng said. He said that the charitable group had tried many times to persuade Xie to talk about his life after the Kuomintang, by telling him that to be an anti-Japanese soldier was not shameful but glorious, but they still failed to get any information from him. Xie died last year on November 6th, without ever having spoken about his experiences fighting the Japanese.

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Xie Zhonghe, the veteran who passed away last year without ever having spoke about his wartime experiences. (Photo provided by veterans’ association
“It seems that the memory of the War of Resistance against Japan was totally wiped out of Xie Zhonghe’s mind. As a volunteer, I knew that the controversial history had left him with a feeling of deep hurt,” said Zeng.This stigma was often passed down from father to child, and the children of such men were treated as outcasts. This caused resentment and feuds between the fathers and children, where the children would denounce the parents and what they once stood for. Children close to maturity would abandon their parents, causing further alienation in the lives of veterans.

“Lots of sons or daughters did not feel a parental obligation because their father or mothers’ political identity had become a hindrance in their lives,” said Zeng.

Guo Yuguang lost his entire family in the war. Out of patriotism and against his father’s wishes, Guo joined the KMT army. After the war ended he left the army, but a former superior persuaded him he had to provide for his pregnant wife — and convinced him to join the KMT’s intelligence agency. Days after arriving in Shanghai on his first mission, he was swiftly apprehended and incarcerated as a Kuomintang spy in 1951. After his arrest, his wife left him, taking their child with her. He tried to find her after being released from prison nearly 30 years later. He never did.

“I don’t want to dream at night — I’ll only be very sad every time I awake and think about our lives together,” Guo said.

Many of the National Revolutionary Army soldiers who were once criticized and humiliated because of their political status were rehabilitated after the Reform and Opening policy was implemented in 1979.

After Guo Yuguang was released from jail in the 1980s, he had no economic resources at all, so he wrote to the central government to ask for a pension. The government replied, ranking him as a “low-income family,” giving him 20 yuan per month as pension. His pension has been 210 yuan a month since 2001. According to Chen Jiashun, a document keeper who is currently writing an oral history of 12 veteran soldiers in Shantou University library, Guo’s pension is lower than veterans who served in the Communist Party.

“His pension is very low. How can he make ends meet with only several hundred yuan?” said Chen. “If you served in the Communist Party, you would receive at least several thousand yuan.”

Guo’s pension was raised to 500 yuan per month in July this year. Another old soldier, Chen Lunhong, who transferred his allegiance from the Kuomintang Party to the Communist Party right after the fight against the Japanese, receives a pension of 1,155 yuan each month.

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Chen Lunhong, the veteran whose pension is roughly twice that of Guo’s, at his home in Shantou. (Photo:MyShantou News Team)
According to a government document published in 2013, the Ministry of Civil Affairs has asked governments of all levels around the country to pay attention to old soldiers who served in the National Revolutionary Army. The ministry said that should former Kuomintang soldiers meet the standards of the welfare office, they should be eligible to receive social welfare, and be covered under the “five guarantees” — making sure that they have food, clothes, medical aid, a place to live, and a funeral. They should also receive temporary subsidies, should they need them — all of which were previously not offered to former Kuomintang soldiers, according to a Beijing News article on the issue.When it comes to the new policies being made by the government benefiting the old Kuomintang soldiers, Zeng, the veterans’ affairs organizer, thought they were an optimistic message about the future.

“All these signs imply that the government has begun to care more about this group [the National Revolutionary Army veterans of the] and has taken some measures to help them,” said Zeng. “As a volunteer, I think they have not done enough yet, but the government is trying to make a difference, step by step.”

When asked why the government put forward a lot of policies to take care of the old soldiers who served in the Kuomintang Party, Chen, the document keeper working on the oral history of veterans, thought that there were several reasons. These included the general prosperity of the country and the old age of many veterans, but especially the idea that Chinese people should respect the soldiers and their history, who sacrificed their lives and families to fight in the Sino-Japanese war.

“We always put the blame on Japan, criticizing them, and saying that they have not admitted their invasion and their cruelty [in China],” said Chen. “However, how can you blame others for their disrespect if you yourself do not respect the soldiers of your own country?”

Story By: Ao Jin and Laoisen Stadholm

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