Thursday, September 20, 2012

The search for Chinese soldiers’ graves in Burma


Thursday, 20 September 2012 14:09 Mizzima News   

(Feature) – China is engaged in trying to reclaim the bodies of Chinese soldiers who were killed in Burma during World War II.

The mountainous region of Kachin State  Photo: Mizzima

Sun Chunlong, 36, who founded Shenzhen Longyue Charity Foundation, said Chinese soldiers were killed in the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (1937-45), in a story that appeared in the state-run China Daily last week.

The number of Chinese soldiers killed in foreign countries during World War II is unknown.

Ge Shuya, a historian in Southwest China's Yunnan province, said there were nearly 100,000 Chinese soldiers killed in Burma from 1942 to 1945.

Most of their bodies were buried in Burma, and nearly all of their tombs were destroyed in the 1950s due to political reasons, Ge was quoted as saying.

Sun said he felt “heartbroken” when he visited the burial site at a temple in Namhkan.

“Before I visited the temple, I could imagine that the tombs might not be taken good care of, given the fact that ties between China and Myanmar had experienced decades of changes,” he told China Daily.

“But I was stunned when I saw the burial site - all of the tombs had been flattened and there wasn't even a hump of earth in the barren land filled with weeds,” Sun said.

Sun, a former journalist for Oriental Outlook magazine, started to focus on maintaining the tombs of soldiers sent to Burma to fight the Japanese invasion, known as the Chinese Expeditionary Force, since he visited a cemetery in Tengchong county, Yunnan Province, in 2005.

“We owe too much to the brave soldiers,” Sun said.

Sun quit his job in 2011 and established a foundation to help “soldiers forgotten by history.” Sun's foundation has raised 1 million yuan ($158,000) in just over a year.

Sun said he has traveled to Burma numerous times to visit the burial sites of Chinese soldiers.

“There are scores of burial sites where battles of different scales occurred,” he said. “All the places I visited were destroyed with no tombs left.”

Wang Guangya, 96, a veteran of the Chinese Expeditionary Force who went to Burma in 1942 to fight the Japanese army, stayed in the mountainous region after World War II. Wang told Sun that nearly 70 years have passed and nobody has come to the region to look for the soldiers' remains.

Zhang Yushi, 94, a veteran of the 38th division of the Chinese Expeditionary Force, said that at least two or three bodies of Chinese soldiers could be found every 500 meters in the mountainous region.

“Lots of soldiers died from various diseases, snake bites, and so on,” he said. “Their bodies were buried where they died, or were even discarded sometimes since the survivors had no strength to dig a tomb for the deceased.”

Sun said the help of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs is needed to get the soldiers' remains back from foreign countries, since it is difficult to take the remains across the border without permits.

“Lots of Myanmar residents were not very friendly to the Chinese Expeditionary Force, because they thought the Chinese army was sent to help the British army sustain its colony in the region in the 1940s,” Sun said. “As a result, we came across lots of difficulties in dealing with the residents and governments in Myanmar.”

He said that he is optimistic about the Chinese government's support and plans to establish a museum to collect DNA samples of the soldiers.

Their offspring will be able to go to the museum to seek their remains through DNA identification, he said.

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