Overseas Chinese remembered as heroes to support WWII "lifeline"

Sep.19,2017

By Lü Qiuping, Li Jinhong

When Zhang Xiulong received an invitation in 2015 to celebrate the 70th anniversary of victory in World War II, he fell silent for a while, a tear in his eye: he knew he was not forgotten.

Zhang, 97, lives in a remote village in Wenchang City in the island province of Hainan in southern China.

He was among the 3,200 overseas Chinese drivers and vehicle repairmen who returned home during WWII to help transport supplies to the frontline in the war against Japanese aggression.

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|  Zhang Xiulong (right) and his wife enjoy their leisure hours in the open air.  Photo by Li Jinhong

Monday is the 86th anniversary of the beginning of the Chinese People's War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression.

While the Japanese blocked most of the easy transport routes for military supply, in just nine months in 1938 and 1939, around 200,000 Chinese people built a road in the mountainous Yunnan Province that stretched to Myanmar.

The bumpy and dusty road became a "lifeline" for the war, as most military supplies for Chinese troops, including gasoline and weapons, were delivered from the Yangon port via the road.

DANGEROUS ROAD

When the road was ready, a shortage of drivers in China prompted Tan Kah Kee, a patriotic Malaysian Chinese business tycoon, to summon young overseas Chinese to return to help with transportation in 1939.

Zhang was one of them.

To pursue a better life, Zhang left his home in Hainan for Singapore with his uncle in 1936. He worked as a coffee shop waiter and then a cargo loader there. He still has a coffee habit to this day.

At the age of 21, he registered to return to China, without telling his uncle. "Reading the news about war back home every day was tormenting," he recalled.

After training to be a driver for a short time, Zhang was assigned to deliver gasoline on the Yunnan-Myanmar road, which he considered a "battlefield" that could claim one's life at any minute.

"We had a mountain cliff on one side, and a deep ravine on the other, with bombers flying over all the time trying to destroy the road," Zhang recalled, adding that malaria deep in the mountains also threatened their lives.

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|  Zhang Xiulong (center) tells Chen Wenxiong (right), descendent of an overseas repairman, about his experience in wartime.  Photo by Li Jinhong

"Gasoline delivery was more dangerous, as any spark from a bombing would have led to an explosion," he says.

According to a book compiled by Chen Yiming, honorary head of the Overseas Chinese Museum in Xiamen City, Fujian Province, more than 1,000 Chinese who returned from abroad died on the 1,100-km road.

They helped with delivery of 500,000 tonnes of military supply and 15,000 vehicles and countless materials for civil use until 1942, when the Yangon port was occupied by Japanese troops.

After the war ended in 1945, Zhang returned to Singapore, without telling his relatives where he had been. As requested by his parents back home, Zhang finally returned to his hometown in Hainan Province in 1949, when the People's Republic of China was founded.

HISTORY REMEMBERED

Among the overseas Chinese who returned home to support the war against Japanese aggression, more than a quarter were natives of Hainan Province, according to Ye Jun, who has studied their history for over 20 years.

Ye, 67, learned about overseas Chinese heroes from his wife, whose late father was among them.

"He died when my wife was only eight, so she knew little about the history," said Ye.

To date, he has found information on 47 overseas Chinese who returned to join the war. Zhang is the only one still living in Hainan Province.

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|  Zhang Xiulong, now aged 97, is the only one still alive among those overseas Chinese drivers and vehicle repairmen who returned home during WWII.  Photo by Li Jinhong

With his identity confirmed by Ye and the archives of a museum in Yunnan Province, Zhang was granted 114,000 yuan (17,400 U.S. dollars) in subsidies in 2011, based on a policy by the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office of the State Council.

Due to his poor health, Zhang did not make the trip to Beijing's Tiananmen Square for the parade on Sept. 3, 2015.

Yet on that morning, he got up very early and put on his best clothes. When he saw the veterans waving their hands on TV, Zhang knew there was a spot among them for him. 

Editor: Li Mengxin

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