The 70th anniversary of the National Day parade was quite unlike China’s past celebrations. Two teams of old veterans who had been forgotten for decades captured the public’s attention.
But unlike most veterans who China chooses to celebrate, these formers soldiers fought on the side of the Kuomintang.
The 92–year-old war veteran Fu Longqian tearfully said, “Our motherland has not forgotten us veterans, this is a great honor! Participating in the War Against Japanese Aggression was the most memorable experience in my life.”
Fu was born in Hunan and joined the army in 1941, serving as the gunner of the battery of the 73rd National Revolutionary Army. He saw action during the battles of Changsha and Changde.
How Veterans Live Today
War veterans are typically respected by the country no matter whether they fought on the side of the Kuomintang or the Communist Party. But many veterans have suffered heavily in their retirement – especially if they were with the Kuomintang.
Li Lei, who spent 10 years tracking down veterans on the Chinese mainland, said he has only been able to locate 10 percent of the 20,000 Kuomintang veterans. Most are older than 90 years old and settled in a rural area. Many spent 20 to 30 years in reeducation through labor programs, after which they were unable to find a spouse and left to support themselves. More than 30 percent of the veterans live in extreme poverty, he said.
In Qizhai Village under the Town of Laodian, Huaxian County, Henan province, the 94-year-old Kuomintang veteran Qi Xiuti lives by gleaning the fields and collecting scraps.
In April 1934, the 16-year old Qi joined the 195th division of Chinese National Revolutionary Army, fighting major battles against Japanese invaders in the Kaifeng, Jiangsu area.
In early 1980s, Qi returned to his hometown. He and his wife rent their field to neighbors to plough and sow every year. They live on only 300 kilograms of wheat and 100 kilograms of corn each year.
During the Cultural Revolution, Qi was shamed and abused for being a member of the “Kuomintang ragtag army.” To this day, he remains afraid to talk about his veteran status and is often targeted for abuse by other villagers.
Qi’s 83-year-old wife Ren Xiuying has advanced gastric cancer. One son married into another family and resides with his wife. They are supported by their daughter, who lives in a neighboring village and helps when she is able.
Why Veterans Suffer
Wang Guangya, 100, is a former Fifth Army soldier of the National Revolutionary Army who stormed a Japanese bunker with his comrades in the battle of Kunlunguan. Today he lives in Changsha.
Song Laohang, 95, joined the Kuomintang army in 1938 and returned to his hometown in 1945 after being injured. He now lives in Henan.
Chen Shilin, 93, served as the intelligence team leader in the Chongqing Garrison Command of the Kuomintang. He lived next to a public toilet in Kunming for 30 years and only recently moved into an old apartment.
Although they were instrumental in repelling the Japanese invasion, for 68 years they have had to hide their identities as they and their children were targeted by political movements. Their entire family lines have been banned from joining the Communist Party and enrolling in college, effectively trapping them in poverty.
On July 3, 2013, the Ministry of Civil Affairs issued a new policy for former Kuomintang war veterans: wounded or disabled veterans or those who defected to the People’s Liberation Army during the War Against Japanese Aggression should enjoy equal treatment with soldiers of the former Eight Route Army and New Fourth Army led by the Chinese Communist Party.
It was the first aid made available to such veterans in 60 years.
Local governments were also tasked with providing aid to former Kuomintang veterans, though that aid has rarely been enough.
According to a report in Modern Express, the Nanjing city government provided former Kuomintang war veterans in rural and urban areas who were without work units a subsidy of 2,000 yuan per month. In smaller cities, such as Shaoyang Hunan, the standard subsidy was as little as 600 yuan.
In Taiwan, the standard subsidy for similar veterans is NT $60,000 per month, or about 15,000 yuan.
Finding New Attention
But in spite of new attention, the country has done far from enough to help former Kuomintang veterans on the Chinese mainland.
One 89-year old veteran Li Jun said, “I joined the Kuomintang Military Commission, participated in the War of resistance against Japan, but it was not respectable. If it was respectable, why was I arrested? Why was I held in prison for 12 years? I never received a medal for our victory, nor any pension or retirement pay. I was even denied medicine.”
Even the Japanese soldiers who lost the war received a pension from the Emperor of Japan that offered hundreds of thousands of yen each month – the equivalent salary of a skilled university graduate.
But in China, these soldiers are being erased from history and ignored in both literature and art. There are no positive depictions of Kuomintang soldiers in movies and TV programs.
Today, such veterans appear likely to leave this world in poverty and ill health. Their wish for a medal of honor or recognition for their contributions to the country are unlikely to be fulfilled.