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Female fighting forces still inspiring modern women

By MA ZHIPING in Qionghai, Hainan | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2021-06-03 09:21
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The world-renowned combat unit, founded to protect revolutionary elements on Hainan Island, celebrated its 90th birthday last month

"The water of the Wanquan River is crystal clear. I make bamboo hats for the Red Army."

This lighthearted interlude for a ballet, The Red Detachment of Women, is played as background music at almost all grand occasions in Hainan province.

The song has built an enduring image of a group of legendary female soldiers who fought for equality and liberty in the 1930s, under the leadership of the Communist Party of China on Hainan, the island that is China's southernmost province.

On May 1, 1931, a special company of 120 female troops was established in Yangjiang, a town on the banks of the Wanquan River.

It was tasked with protecting the headquarters of the Qiongya (Hainan's former name) revolutionary forces, which fought for 23 years under the CPC leadership until the island's liberation campaign in 1950.

The soldiers, most of them of age 20 or younger, took part in many battles against Kuomintang forces led by Chiang Kai-shek.

Official records show that the special fighting unit participated in over 50 battles in more than 500 days. About 20 of the soldiers lost their lives during a counter-encirclement maneuver in 1932.

"Later, the rest endured difficulties beyond people's imagining, but they persisted with the struggle in different ways," said Pang Qijiang, a descendant of one of the soldiers and an expert on the company's history.

A 1957 report, published under title The Red Detachment of Women, brought the stories of the heroines' fight and struggle to the attention of the wider populace.

Meanwhile, they became known to nearly every household through a 1961 movie and a ballet that premiered in 1964, both called The Red Detachment of Women.

The ballet brought worldwide fame to the female soldiers when it was performed for the United States President Richard Nixon on his ice-breaking visit to China in February 1972.

Nixon said the ballet reminded him of the slave liberation movement in the US. Since its premiere, it has been performed more than 4,000 times in the US, the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Austria and many other countries.

"They (the women) are a model for world revolution," Chairman Mao Zedong and Premier Zhou Enlai commented jointly after watching a performance.

A part of history

In 2014, the death of 100-year-old Lu Yuexiang, the last member of the detachment, made the force a part of history.

"They were unique, with clear goals, firm beliefs, strict discipline and admirable loyalty to the Party," Pang said.

The women's revolutionary spirit inspired future generations.

In 1968, a modern version of the force was established in Yangjiang in an attempt to pass on the spirit of the old heroines.

In addition to performing a range of duties for the local government and at primary schools and farms, they undertook military exercises twice a week, according to Pang.

Li Qin, a 29-year-old mother and a member of the current group in Yangjiang, said, "All my sisters in the town were happy to join the group, now about 180 in number, because it is a great honor for them to pass on the revolutionary history of the female detachment and their spirit of being loyal to the Party and serving the people wholeheartedly."

Pang said he has been dedicating himself to carving portraits in jade of 97 women from the group, working from photos. He was determined to finish before July 1, the CPC's 100th birthday.

"I will carve their images in jade. As long as the Earth exists, their spirit will live on," he said.

Shen Xiaoming, secretary of the CPC Hainan Provincial Committee, said the island is "Red land" and the Red Detachment of Women is an important part of its revolutionary history from which people should draw the courage and strength to promote further opening-up and boost construction of the Hainan Free Trade Port.

Near the birthplace of the detachment, which marked its 90th birthday last month, the site of the Boao Forum for Asia has become a key platform for world leaders to discuss issues related to sustainable development and common prosperity.

Next door, the Boao Lecheng International Medical Tourism Pilot Zone is opening further to embrace world-class medicine and talent, bringing benefits to both locals and visitors from farther afield.

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