The following is a translation of an article published by Enorth, an official online news portal for Tianjin municipality. Explanatory notes put into [square brackets]. Links within blockquotes inserted during translation. Mistakes during translation likely.
Main Link: National Memorial Day: Tianjin’s only Chinese Expeditionary Force Veteran tells Story of Japanese War
Enorth — He was fifteen at the time of the Nanjing massacre, and witnessed the panic and helplessness of the refugees who had escaped from there, and the bloody images of Japanese soldiers hunting the common people of Nanjing. He gave up the pen for the sword, and as a member of the Whampoa / Huangpu Branch Seventeen, joined the Chinese Expeditionary Force and fought in the battle of Taungoo, the fiercest in the defense war of Myanmar, he’s the only Tianjiner still living and in good health who was part of the Chinese Expeditionary Force – the War of resistance against Japan veteran Yang Cenfeng. On December 13, 2014, the first day of commemoration [of the Nanjing massacre] held in China, 93-year-old Yang Cenfeng told us this dark period in history 77 years ago, which no Chinese people can ever forget.
Nanjing falls, Blood colors the Yangtze River
Seventy-seven years ago, Yang Cenfeng was in senior high school and living in a family of seven, in Wuhu, next to the Yangtze River. This was a gateway to Nanjing, with only some ninety kilometers between there and Nanjing. After the Japanese had occupied Nanjing, the burning, killing and looting started, and some lucky Nanjingers fled in panic to Wuhu, which, although peaceful, saw the Japanese soldiers coming nearer with each passing day.
At the time, everyone had heard about the disaster of Nanjing, and hated and feared the Japanese. And in fear, the people of Wuhu spent the Spring Festival days of 1938.
“I remember the day of Spring Festival, we were just having a somewhat gloomy family reunion dinner. Just when the meal came onto the table, the air-raid sirens went off, and Japanese airplanes passed through, dropping bombs. At the time, the planes flew at particularly low heights, and I could clearly see the Japanese flag underneath the wings. They bombed unscrupulously, strafing here and there, and whereever they went, they left ruins, and seas of fire”, Yang Cenfeng said.
When the Japanese army approached Wuhu, many common people of Wuhu also fled into all directions, placing their hopes on the New Fourth Army on the northern side of the Yangtze River.
Yang Cenfeng’s recollections continue with a description of how people fleeing Wuhu and waiting for the ferry to the northern banks of the Yangtze – the place densely crowded – were bombed by Japanese warplanes, with countless numbers of people dying on the riverside, or dying in the river. How many people actually died, Yang Cenfeng doesn’t know, but he remembers how the water of the river turned red from the blood, from people who had come there to seek survival.
Yang Cenfeng’s family leapt from death back into life, finding survival in a small village in Jiangbei [here, geographically and literally: north of the Yangze River] under the protection of the New Fourth Army. At the time, a political instructor named Huang left an unforgettable impression on Yang Cenfeng.
“He put us into groups of, say, forty to fifty students, he told us that ‘young students should protect and defend China’, put us into a few groups so that we would stand guard, and taught us many songs to boost our morale.
Instructor Huang’s lessons turned Yang Cenfeng to the idea of giving up the pen for the sword, and after a stay of four or five months in the village, he enrolled at the Huangpu Military Academy’s Southern Anhui [皖南 stands for Anhui-south]. Together with fourteen classmates, all eye witnesses of the Japanese invaders’ atrocities, walked more than 150 kilometers in four days, and reached the administrative office in Tunxi in southern Anhui, and joined the army to join the resistance against Japan.
“My family wouldn’t let me go, so I secretly took three silver dollars from home and went to Tunxi with my classmates.”
But an application for [entrance] exams required graduation from senior high school. Lacking qualification, Yang Cenfeng and his classmates, with their own determination and willpower to resist Japan, impressed the school and were finally admitted to the exams. Going through layers of selection with subjects of literature, math, English, politics etc., Yang Cenfeng and ten of the classmates who had traveled with him entered Huangpu Military Academy.
Having become a student of the Huangpu Branch Seventeen, and because of the Japanese closing in, southern Anhui became into imminent danger, and to protect the young seed of resistance against Japan and national salvation, the Branch Seventeen had to be transferred to Chengdu in Sichuan. After a four-months walk, Yang Cenfeng and his classmates arrived in Chengdu, and began their life of learning there.
The article / its rendition of Yang Cenfeng’s memories describes the year of 1941 as the peak of the Japanese war, with Academy students becoming replaces for soldiers who lost their lives or their fitness to fight. After two years at the academy, Huang joined the 96th Division of the Fifth Army of the Chinese Expeditionary Force as a platoon leader and a second lieutenant (少尉排长).
The Chinese Expeditionary Force is described as a model of China cooperating directly with military allies, and also claims that this had been the first time ever that Chinese troops had left the country to fight in a war (这是中国与盟国直接进行军事合作的典范，也是甲午战争以来中国军队首次出国作战 …). In the three years and three months of Chinese involvement in the China Burma India Theater, China deployed some 400,000 soldiers, 200,000 of who became casualties, the article says, and describes the battles in which Yang Cenfeng took part as the fiercest in the defense of Burma / Myanmar. The battle of Taungoo is described as Yang Cenfeng’s most agonizing and most deeply-felt experience of Japanese troops’ brutality (他一生中最惨痛的经历，也是最深刻感受到日本军队残忍的一幕).
Withdrawal to Savage Mountain, Supporting the Flying Tigers
But because of a Japanese breakthrough at the British flank, the 200th and 96th divisions of the Chinese Expeditionary Force were surrounded, and after defending to the last for eight days and eight nights, Tonggu could still not be held. In the end, after breaking through the encirclement into the endless virgin forests of Savage Mountain, the 96th Division went through Putao in northernmost Myanmar and entered Yunnan province, returning home.
Looking back at the breakthrough at Savage Mountain, Yang Cenfeng says that rather than a way out, it was another dead end. Behind them, the enemy forces pursuing them, in front of them, the virgin forests as a no man’s land with all kinds of venomous serpents, wild animals, and disease awaiting them.
“You won’t believe it, but there were ants as long as your fingers,” Yang Cenfeng says. “Diseases claimed many lives, and it was even worse for the few women soldiers. They became unable to walk and had to lie on the naked ground to wait for death to come.”
There are people who have recorded this kind of miserable story: 1,500 wounded and ill soldiers were unable to go with the troops’ withdrawal, but didn’t want to be captured and humiliated. They set themselves on fire and became martyrs …..
In the end, with astonishing willpower, the 96th Division completed its roundabout route in 35 days, through the northern Myanmar Savage Mountain, across more than 300 kilometers, with less than half of them making their way home.
After returning to Kunming, Yang Cenfeng’s troops were deployed to protect Kunming airport, working with the famous “Flying Tigers”. Finally, after completing the northern Burma counter attack, thus reopening the international traffic line, safeguarding a stream of international support into China and driving the Japanese army out of southwestern China, after clamping down on and inflicting heavy losses on the Japanese troops in northern Myanmar and Yunnan province, creating favorable conditions for the allied forces, to open the battleground for the counter-attack on Japan.
In remarks at the end of the article, the Enorth reporter describes Yang Cenfeng as looking younger than his age (92 or 93), as saying that the party and the state were showing great concern and care for him, and that he was very satisfied. His hobbies are also mentioned, as shown in the pictures within the article. But he would never forget his painful war experiences, the brothers in arms he lost, and he would always utterly detest the atrocities committed by the Japanese invaders.
He says that his survival was luck. He therefore cherishes the era of peace, and he can’t forgive people who distort history.
As a veteran of the war of resistance against Japan, he feels encouraged by the establishment of a national day of commemoration and warns coming generations that history must not be forgotten, to be vigilant about the stirring between the dry bones of Japanese militarism, to use history as a guide, to strengthen our motherland, and to achieve the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.
» Wartime childhood, Sept 7, 2009