Shattered dreams of a united China glimmer in the reflection of V-J Day

By David Kan Ting

The memory is fading out, but not gone. The images of V-J Day 68 years ago still came back to haunt me like an old film of a bygone era. It is a tale about a teenager’s pursuit of a China Dream that began on a bright summer day in 1945. The tale was set in an ancient, sleepy city by the shores of the Gulf of Bohai in northern China, my hometown, where I was attending middle school. The city had been under Japanese occupation (or “Japanese administration, 日治” to be politically correct in today’s Taiwan) since 1937, when it was bombed and overrun by Japanese invaders following the outbreak of the War of Resistance Against Japan. As school kids, we knew little about the war’s progress except for two occasions when we were mobilized to show support for the occupiers: one was to “celebrate the KMT-CCP infighting” (慶祝國共相剋)over their bloody clashes in southern Anhui (皖南事變) in 1941, the other was to root for the “Pacific War” which broke out after Pearl Harbor. While the protracted war of attrition seemed to have no end, we had reasons to be upbeat. When life became harder and harder as years ground on, I could sometimes spot in the sky some shining, silvery dots of high-flying warplanes heading east, presumably on bombing missions in Japan. The faint droning sounds from these bombers were music to the ears. “Oh, the aggressors are getting the taste of the bomb themselves,” I thought in a twinge of Schadenfreude. Finally, we could see light at the end of the tunnel. On Aug. 15, 1945, while in the middle of our class, we were ordered to rush to the school’s playground for an emergency assembly. We didn’t know what had happened. We saw our school principal, in all seriousness and solemnity, perform a flag-raising ceremony by unfurling the long-forgotten flag of “White Sun & Blue Sky” to replace the “Five-Color Flag” of the puppet regime. He led us to sing the “national anthem” which began with “san min chu yi” (三民主義 )instead of “qing yun lan xi” (卿雲爛兮)- the anthem we had sung for many years until then.

We were told that Japan had surrendered and war was over. And our motherland was now one of the “Four Great Powers” in the world. We were ecstatic. I was dreaming of a rich and powerful China and a free and democratic society thriving in peace and prosperity. But peace proved ephemeral, and prosperity never came. In fact, it was the beginning of a new ordeal and a cataclysmic change in China, and the world at large. Civil war came on the heels of the eight-year War of Resistance, laying waste to an already war-torn country, and a miserable, war-weary people.