Korean War Remembered
Xiong Lei

On October 25, 1950, New China - just one year old - threw its army into the Korean War, one of the longest and fiercest wars China was to fight after World War II.

Tomorrow will mark the 50th anniversary of the "War to Resist US Aggression and Aid Korea." And young Chinese are having a heated debate, hosted online by Sina.com on a war they know only from history books or their elders.


On June 25, the day the Korean War broke out 50 years ago, Sina.com launched a special domain on its military page, including chronological accounts of the war, war heroes, memoirs of war veterans, old and new media reports and commentaries.

Other Internet content providers followed suit.

China connected its computer systems to the Internet in 1994 and since then, online discussions have become a fashion among young surfers.

Some participants in the discussion about the Korean War are, however, doubtful of the necessity for China to get involved in a war fought in a foreign country against the world's greatest power, the United States.

One even claimed that the Chinese People's Volunteers went to war "without knowing the truth."

A surfer, who identified himself as "shl9999" challenged the skeptics by asking: "Why is it that Korea was partitioned into two parts after World War II? Why were there people who pretended to know nothing when the US army crossed the 38th Parallel but cried for peace when the Chinese People's Volunteers crossed the line in counter attack? Who, acting in gross violation of international conventions, staged germ warfare during the Korean War and tried to terrorize Chinese and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea prisoners of war into capitulation?"

The Chinese People's Volunteers went to war only when the US army had already driven to the Yalu River that separates Korea from China, and US warplanes bombed Dandong that faces Sinuiju of Korea across the river, as well as other northeastern Chinese cities.

"If Mexico, not Korea, was invaded, would the United States remain indifferent?" Xie Hainan, an associate professor of international politics at the Renmin University of China, asked. "When American spy planes found a deployment of Soviet missiles in Cuba in 1962, US President John Kennedy was so disturbed that he couldn't sleep for several nights in a row.

"Why is it that the US response was so strong?"

For Self-Defense

Xie Hainan is a keen student of the Korean War, partly because of his father, General Xie Fang, who was the chief of staff of the Chinese People's Volunteers under the command of Marshal Peng Dehuai. "China was totally justified to fight the war in which my father played a part," said the associate professor, now 50. "My stance is based on the study of the situation at the time, which left China no alternative."

While the so-called "UN forces" under US five-star general Douglas MacArthur were just miles away from China's northeast border, remnants of the Kuomintang troops in Taiwan off the southeast coast of the Chinese mainland took an offensive position.

"If China had not intervened in the Korean War and had let the US take hold of the entire Korean Peninsula, it would have had to prepare to fight wars from Jilin in the Northeast to Guangdong in the South," he said.

The Northeast was then China's heavy industrial base. In the south lay the country's most important political and economic centers: Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai, Nanjing and Guangzhou.

"The best developed and the most densely populated parts of China would be exposed to the hostile forces," he added. "In the Northeast China, Anshan and Benxi, which were furnishing 80 percent of China's steel production, and Shenyang, then center of China's manufacturing industry, would be on the verge of the battlefields.

"China had no other way out but to fight in order to survive," he concluded. "The War to Resist US Aggression and Aid Korea was meant for self-defense. The country would have had to pay a much heavier price if it was not involved."

The discussion has touched some theoretical aspects of the war. Shuang Shi, a TV worker in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, dismissed the controversy over which side fired the first shot.

"The core of the issue was the artificial division of Korea at Yalta," he insisted. "As the two antagonist political groups in the Korean Peninsula were at swords' points across the demarcation line, war would be inevitable as conflicts built up.

"What we should care about is not who fired the first shot. The most important fact is that the shot was fired in Korea, not in the United States."

Throughout history, Chinese or foreign, ancient or modern, he said, there have been only two kinds of wars - just wars and unjust wars. As regards the Korean War, "the most crucial question is who was the aggressor and who were the victims of aggression," he said.

"When the Chinese army went to war, the battle front was by the Yalu River on the Chinese border," he said. "When the warring sides began negotiating an armistice, the front had been pushed back to the 38th Parallel where the war broke out. This was the first time in a century that Chinese forced an imperialist power to sign an armistice without being able to claim a victory."

Scarred by incessant wars and internal conflicts, New China was barely able to produce 610,000 tons of iron and steel a year while the United States claimed an annual steel production of 87.7 million tons.

The Chinese People's Volunteers consisted mainly of foot soldiers, far inferior in equipment and logistical support to the US troops. China's air force had only about 100 pilots who had trained for just a few dozen hours.

In contrast, US forces enjoyed air supremacy throughout the war. "This was very like a trial of strength between a 'lightweight amateur' and a 'heavyweight professional boxer,'" Shuang Shi said. "But for the first time since the 1840 Opium War, the 'lightweight amateur' defended his honor and upheld his dignity."


As the 50th anniversary of China's participation in the Korean War draws near, commemorative activities are being held across the country - reunions of war veterans, meetings between war veterans and youths, exhibitions, film shows, etc.

These will culminate in a rally in commemoration of the war scheduled for October 25 in Beijing, and President Jiang Zemin is expected to address the gathering.

The online discussion is still going on as celebrations gather momentum.

Li Li, now in her 20s, works as a talk show program producer with Beijing Television. "I have been very touched," she said, referring to the discussion.

"The War to Resist US Aggression and Aid Korea must never be forgotten."

(China Daily 10/24/2000)