China / Society

Old fisherman recalls heroic act

By Joseph Catanzaro, Zhou Wa and Liu Xiaoli (China Daily) Updated: 2015-06-10 07:39

Seven decades after the end of WWII, historians shine a light on Chinese valor during a tragedy at sea, Joseph Catanzaro, Zhou Wa and Liu Xiaoli report.

 Old fisherman recalls heroic act

An illustration shows the sinking of the Japanese troopship Lisbon Maru, which was carrying British POWs when it was torpedoed by a US Navy submarine in 1942. Many of the POWs were rescued by Chinese fishermen. Photo Provided to China Daily

Shen A'gui stared vacantly at the ceiling above his bed, hands fluttering weakly like broken birds on the bunched-up blankets. They are the hands of a fisherman, every scar and callus a footnote for a life spent hauling oars and nets in the stony seas off China's southeastern coast. They are the hands of a man who saved lives when the world was gripped by war and so many others were taking them.

Standing at the bedside, his friend Xu Guoquan, 67, shook his head. "He's 92 years old, and he's sick with a fever," he said. "He hasn't spoken in two weeks."

The fisherman is the only surviving Chinese participant of a daring rescue in 1942 that saw hundreds of British servicemen saved from almost certain death. "I don't know if he remembers," his friend said.

Suddenly, a paper-thin voice emanated from Shen's sickbed. "I was scared," the elderly man whispered. "I was only 19. The Japanese were shooting. Hou'Ao beach ... that is where we rescued the foreigners."

Shen's voice and memory returned. He has not forgotten the day when the war came to his home on the Dongji Islands and a humble group of Chinese fishermen became heroes.

This year, as the world commemorates the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, China is preparing to mark the conclusion of the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression (1937-45), a bloody chapter in the global conflict. Western and Chinese historians have only recently begun to shine a light on how China's fight against the Japanese army played a crucial role in the greater Allied victory.

Rana Mitter, director of the University of Oxford's China Centre and author of China's War with Japan 1937-45: The Struggle for Survival, is among those working to broaden the historical narrative.

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