Saturday, March 7, 2009

Chinese POWs in the Korean War

I don't know how this ended up on my screen, but it's an interesting piece from June 2000 on Chinese prisoners of war during the Korean War. Fifty years after that horrible conflict began, these troubled veterans look back at what became of them when they returned to China:
Five decades later, he concedes that the Chinese people did forget. "All of us who returned to China had fought bravely, but we were all forgotten," he says. "Worse still, we were treated as traitors rather than heroes." Their crime: failure to die for the motherland in battle against the U.S. aggressors.

Yet these were the patriots. Zhang and the rest of the aging chorus in Wuhan last month were among some 6,000 captured Chinese soldiers who insisted on returning home; over 14,000 fellow POWs preferred exile in Taiwan. The POW dilemma deadlocked peace negotiations that began in July 1951. The protagonists finally signed an armistice in July 1953, though a peace treaty still eludes the divided peninsula.

"Because of us, the war dragged on for two more years, during which many more soldiers died," said Zhao Zuoduan, a committed communist who persuaded many POWs to return. "It looked like our government loved us so much they wouldn't give us up, but why weren't we loved after we did come back?"

Far from being loved, the former POWs became social outcasts. Their patriotism had earned them only a pariah status that guaranteed trouble in every mass movement Chairman Mao Zedong let loose on China.
The article also addresses the fabrications about the War (including who started it) that are officially taught by Beijing:
The POWs themselves are asking searching questions about the war. Zhang Zeshi, who wrote "Diary of a POW" in 1993, is planning another book, "The War That Shall Not Be Forgotten," to discuss why China ever got involved at all. "China was tricked into it!" he shouts. "It was not a war of great victory as we always claimed; it was a mistake, a wasted war, a wrong war."

As information becomes more accessible, more Chinese are learning that North Korea precipitated the conflict, not the other way around. Two years ago, an article printed in a liberal magazine first suggested that China was tricked into participating by Josef Stalin himself. The author, pen-named "Qingshi" (clearing history), used newly opened archives from the former Soviet Union. Afterward, the magazine was shut down partly because of the sensitive subject matter broached in this article.
Japan, as a putative ally of South Korea, should be taken to task when it's right-wing leadership tries to promote apologist interpretations of its own wartime and colonial aggression. But as we can often see, this kind of thing all too easily gets out of hand in some very vocal circles. 

When I encounter such people, especially those who think that China is some benevolent neighbor of South Korea's, I like to point out that Beijing routinely teaches its people that South Korea started the Korean War. That ongoing insult is, to me, at least as serious as what Koizumi and his ilk have been trying to do. 

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