If you ask history teachers in Shanghai what's the best way to learn about China's 20th century revolutionary history, they'd probably guide you to Wang Longxiang, a 50-something biker, who's covered miles and miles of treacherous roads in a bid to "feel the country's past".
In the past five years, Wang, a 52-year-old resident of Shanghai, has biked across unfriendly routes, which were once tramped by the Chinese army during the Long March (1934-36) and the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (1937-45).
In his own words: "I love to re-experience history, and try and make the public more aware of our country's past. I travel with my best friend, my motorbike."
And with the People's Republic of China (PRC) celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, it is highly unlikely Wang would not have participated, of course, in his own way.
Wang, a chief engineer at a local company, yesterday took off on a six-month biking trip, which will take him through the path of the Liberation War (1945-50), fought between the Chinese Communist Party and then rulers Kuomingtang. The war led to the birth of the PRC.
The one-man expedition, extending more than 60,000 kilometers in 31 provinces and municipalities, will cover the whole of China, except Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan.
Wang will visit more than 100 memorial and historic battle sites, as well as try to meet the war heroes. A few are still alive.
He set off on his journey on his haughty Loncin motorbike from Long March Middle School in downtown Shanghai amid a thundering applause from students and a number of Red Army cadres, who came to see him off. Wang, sporting a black jacket embroiled with the Chinese national flag, rode off with just two bags - one with his clothes, tent and camera, and the other for a bundle of maps.
At face value, Wang looks every bit the mechanical engineer he is, an adventurer, not by a mile. But as soon as he begins to speak, his passion for motorcycling off the beaten paths helps his gentle demeanor on the backseat.
Wang, a bachelor, holds the Guinness World Record for being the first man to successfully bike across the Takla Makan Desert and Lop Nor in Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region.
Even though he suffered minor injuries, Wang said the trip across the two rather dangerous locations "enriched" his mind.
Of course, years of biking around tough conditions have earned him the title of a veteran explorer.
Wang said he could read weather much better than the weatherman.
"And I have developed an extremely strong sense of direction. I don't lose my way too easily."
Wang Zuhong, an army veteran who fought both the anti-Japanese and liberation wars, said the biker's expedition was "very meaningful" to him.
"If through Wang, youngsters can spare a thought for the martyrs who laid down their lives for the country, it's as good a deed as can be.
"If I were young, I'd hop on his bike and accompany him on the paths of history," said the 83-year-old man, who happens to be Wang's neighbor.
Wang said he wished to return to Shanghai before the school term begins in September.
A part-time counselor at several Shanghai schools, Wang said he could hardly wait to share stories of his expedition with his students.
(China Daily March 27, 2009)