Recently, the contrasting stories of two People’s Liberation Army (PLA) veterans have sparked a heated discussion among mainland netizens.
They both served their country in war but they have met with different fates due to the propaganda policy of the party.
On Jan. 27, at a Lunar New Year’s Eve gala broadcast live across the mainland, 86-year-old Red Army veteran Zhu Guangdou was introduced to the national audience and praised for his devotion to the revolutionary cause.
However, Zhu’s appearance on national TV immediately stirred up a controversy on the internet. Many netizens raised doubts about his background and identity because when the Red Army was co-founded by Mao Zedong and Marshal Zhe De in 1928, Zhu wasn’t even born yet.
And by the time the Red Army was reorganized and renamed Eighth Route Army to fight the Japanese in 1937, Zhu was only six years old, calling into question how a six-year-old boy could have devoted himself to the revolutionary cause as claimed by the CCTV network.
Through the painstaking fact-finding efforts of mainland netizens, the true background of Zhu came to light: he in fact joined the communist army in 1946, by which time it had already been designated the PLA. In other words, Zhu never joined the Red Army nor the Eighth Route Army as claimed.
State-run CCTV came under fire for blatantly faking a “national hero”.
In the meantime, the BBC recently ran a story on PLA veteran Wang Qi, who has been stranded in India for almost 50 years since the end of the India-China War of 1962.
Wang served as an army engineer with the PLA during that war. Just weeks after both sides agreed on a truce, Wang inadvertently stepped across the border into India during a mission and was caught by Indian soldiers.
After spending seven years behind bars, Wang was finally released, and by a strange twist of fate, he ended up in a remote village in northern India where he married a local girl.
Over the years, Wang tried to get in touch with his parents in China to let them know he is still alive and trying to return home.
Unfortunately, since Wang has been living in India as an undocumented man ever since he was released from jail, the Indian authorities are unable to verify his identity as a POW, and therefore cannot send him back to China following the standard procedure laid down in the Geneva Convention on POW exchange.
Wang has also sought help from people at the Chinese Embassy in India on numerous occasions, but all he has received is a lukewarm response. Wang remains stranded in India and he is not sure whether he can ever return home again during his lifetime.
Perhaps the reason the Chinese authorities are not keen on helping Wang to return home is that he is a POW and therefore, in the eyes of Beijing, he is a disgrace to both the Communist Party and the PLA.
The indifference Wang has met with bears a stark contrast to the pomp and circumstance that Zhu Guangdou has received.
In fact, there have been calls for better treatment of war veterans. In October, thousands of PLA veterans of the China-Vietnam War of 1979 staged a mass protest in front of the PLA headquarters in Beijing demanding better welfare.
They have been given a cold shoulder by the authorities because the PLA suffered heavy losses in that war, which is regarded by Beijing as a dent on its pride.
The different fates and treatment to which Zhu Guangdou, Wang Qi and the 1979 war veterans are being subjected suggest that the Communist Party doesn’t treasure human lives and all it is concerned about is whether a person has propaganda value.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Feb. 3
Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting
[Chinese version 中文版]
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