China / Society

Remains of over 600 'fallen heroes' from WWII return home for burial

By Xue Dan in Tengchong, Yunnan (China Daily) Updated: 2014-06-13 07:40

Remains of over 600 'fallen heroes' from WWII return home for burial

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Seventy years after they lost their lives defending their motherland in a foreign land, more than 600 soldiers from the Chinese Expeditionary Force who fought Japanese troops in Myanmar during World War II have finally returned home.

A burial ceremony was held on Thursday morning at Elegy of the Nation Cemetery in Tengchong, Yunnan province, which borders Myanmar.

Thousands of people, including veterans, descendants of the expeditionary force soldiers and local residents, attended the ceremony, during which the soldiers' remains were buried.

About 300,000 Chinese soldiers of the expeditionary force joined battles against the Japanese in Myanmar - then a British colony - and western Yunnan from 1942 to 1945.

Hu Qili, chairman of the China Soong Ching Ling Foundation, said at the ceremony that the battles of the expeditionary force 70 years ago were an important chapter in the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression (1937-45) and WWII.

"We will never forget those fallen heroes," Hu said.

Wu Po-hsiung, honorary chairman of the Kuomintang from Taiwan, said: "The ceremony suggested the mainland authorities hold a very serious attitude toward history. To respect history is crucial in the peaceful development of cross-Straits relations."

The history of the expeditionary force was largely ignored after 1949, when the communists won a civil war with the Kuomintang and founded New China.

It was only after reform and opening-up in the late 1970s that relations across the Taiwan Straits started to warm up and that part of history was reopened to more people on the mainland.

"Many of my comrades died on battlefields overseas, and I miss them every day," said Lu Caiwen, an 89-year-old veteran of the Chinese Expeditionary Force.

"The memorial activity showed that those soldiers did not die in oblivion. They will now rest in peace," Lu said, adding that the event helped people, especially the younger generation, know more about history.

Twenty-two caskets of remains and two of graveyard dirt belonged to more than 600 soldiers. They were collected by the Yunnan Provincial Federation of Returned Overseas Chinese.

It was the second time the federation has brought back remains of Chinese soldiers from overseas.

In 2011, remains of 19 soldiers from the Chinese Expeditionary Force were returned home and buried in the same cemetery.

Li Rong, president of the federation, said it located burial sites of the soldiers in Myanmar in Namhkam, Bhamo, Lashio and Muse. The federation was helped by experts on the Chinese Expeditionary Force and the Myanmar people, as well as Chinese people living in Myanmar.

Because this year marks the 70th anniversary of the battle in which the Chinese Expeditionary Force reclaimed Tengchong from Japanese invaders, the ceremony will serve to boost national pride and inspire people to remember the heroes and cherish peace, Li said.

Ge Shuya, a historian specializing in the Chinese Expeditionary Force, said nearly 100,000 Chinese soldiers died in Myanmar from 1942 to 1945, and most of them were buried there.

"The activity paid tribute to them. The surviving veterans also deserve our recognition and should be taken good care of," Ge said.

Sun Li contributed to this story.

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