Long March veteran continues fighting

Adam Hegarty(chinadaily.com.cn) | Updated: 2016-08-23 15:07

Long March veteran continues fighting

Wang Chengdeng, a Red Army veteran, talks to the media in Ganzhou, Jiangxi province. [Photo by Xing Xudong/chinadaily.com.cn]

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Flanked by his ever-watchful nurse and carer, 101-year-old Red Army veteran Wang Chengdeng slowly but surely made his way towards an applauding Chinese media pack.

His stride has slowed with old age … but it remains rich with purpose.

"You all have to cherish this happy life, which is a hard one," he told the young band of reporters. But few, if any, will experience a life quite as hard as his.

Wang is one of the relatively few soldiers - around 4,000 - who survived the Red Army's iconic, and brutal, Long March.

Eighty years on, he has welcomed visitors to anniversary celebrations in his home province of Jiangxi - the starting point for the year-long retreat from Kuomintang forces, which prevented the demise of the now-ruling Communist party.

He told them never to forget the hardship faced by the Red Army during that retreat to northwest Shaanxi, which claimed the lives of around 80,000 of his fellow soldiers.

"Chinese people must love their country and cherish happy life," Wang said.

He bared the scars to prove that point.

Recruited to the Red Army as a messenger in the year the Long March began, Wang would have been no more than 19 years old when he had his first - and closest - brush with death.

During the retreat, he was shot in his right ear, leaving the eventual battalion commander partially deaf for the rest of his life.

But that made Wang one of the lucky ones. Others weren't just killed during bombardments and gun-fights, they died of starvation and exposure to China's unforgiving weather.

Wang - proudly donning the Red Army uniform and medals earned during his military career - recalled hungry soldiers eating wild vegetables as they scavenged for food, climbing freezing snowy mountains and sleeping back to back whenever they could.

It was a devastating and exhausting campaign … but the 101-year-old still has plenty of fight left in him.

Speaking to reporters in Ganzhou, Wang revealed he recently wrote to President Xi Jinping, asking him to boost poverty-relief efforts in the region.

And it seems his plea hasn't fallen on deaf ears.

As part of celebrations for the 80th anniversary of the Red Army's retreat, local officials are taking media on a tour of towns and communities along the Long March route, which they said are being pulled out of poverty.

That has included the construction of affordable housing in villages, aiding farming communities, creating local jobs and even building an amusement park.

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