China turns KMT vets into propaganda heroes

TO GO WITH CHINA-JAPAN-TAIWAN-HISTORY-WAR-DIPLOMACY, FOCUS BY SEBASTIEN BLANC 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. Zeng fought for the Kuomintang against Japanese forces during WWII. AFP PHOTO / Greg BAKER

By Sibastien Blanc ,AFP

MANGSHI, China — 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 �X Chiang died 40 years ago at the weekend �X 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.