Military writer Wang Shuzeng's book "Far East: The Korean
War" stands out among the collection of works already
published on the subject of the Korean conflict and has turned
out to be a dark-horse bestseller on the country's numerous
The reason for this is simple: Wang exposes and describes
the true picture of what happened between 1950 to 1953 in
Korea in a straightforward way that few Chinese mainland authors
have been able to do.
Instead of starting the book in smoke-filled meeting room
populated with the members of some supreme decision-making
body, as do many war others, Wang devotes his first chapter
to a demobilized middle-ranking People's Liberation Army officer
named Cao Yuhai who is politically insignificant but whose
story is somehow striking.
On that very day, June 25, 1950, Cao was walking on the street
of Wuhan in Central China's Hubei Province to meet a pretty
nurse he was going to marry when he heard the broadcast news
of the war.
He immediately went back to his former military unit and
was renamed commander of his former battalion. He was among
the first group of the Chinese People's Volunteers (CPV) to
cross the Yalu River.
Eight months later, Cao died on a barren hill south of the
Han River in the central part of the peninsula, "his
gushing blood soon frozen with the thick snow in the low temperature
of minus 20 degrees centigrade."
Wang examines this personal side of the war from both sides.
After describing Cao's death, he goes on to write about Charles
Bradford Smith, commander of the First Battalion under the
US Army's 24th Infantry Division who became the leader of
the first group of US soldiers to reach the Korean battlefield.
In the book, Smith, having kissed his wife good-bye on a
rainy night, flew from Japan, where he had been stationed
after the Pacific War, to an entirely strange land where what
awaited him remained a mystery.
Smith survived the war and retired in 1965 as a US army general,
according to the Harper Encyclopedia of Military Biography.
"The war takes place in a country which was called 'the
Land of Morning Calm' in ancient time and called Korea now,
but the narration of the war has to begin with an ordinary
Chinese and an ordinary American. This is history," Wang
explains, in an effort to show how the war has affected the
lives of ordinary people from either side.
Writing the book 50 years after the war, Wang is careful
to use neutral terms like "Chinese," "Americans,"
and "South Koreans."
Himself a colonel of the People's Liberation Army, Wang tries
hard to tell the story as it actually took place.
He tells of victories, of defeats, of the high prices paid
"Wang looks at the war from an international perspective
and writes it in a very objective way," said Xiang Xiaomi,
an editor with the PLA publishing house and copy editor of
Wang's book. "That's why we include his book into the
Reports of PLA's Military Campaigns Series."
"In the book, I paid more attention to the international
politics (surrounding the Korean War)," Wang said.
Wang shows his personal respect to General Matthew Bunker
Ridgeway despite the fact that the CPV suffered some major
military setbacks after he was put into Douglas MacArthur's
shoes as the commander of the so-called UN forces (Ridgeway
discovered the secrets of Chinese army's "week-long attacks"
in the first few days after his arrival on the Korean battlefield.)
"Ridgeway was the strongest opponent for (CPV commander)
Peng Dehuai (1898-1974)," Wang said during an interview.
"Wang shows us more clearly how strong an enemy we faced
in Korea," Xiang said.
Wang indicated that the Chinese volunteers had to learn a
hard lesson about modern warfare in Korea, which involved
not only infantry, but also artillery, armored forces, air
forces, navy and even biological weaponry.
When asked why he neglected to discuss the truce negotiations
in his book, he said: "I focused mainly on the five campaigns
(during the Korean War, from October 1950 to July 1951) to
portray the situations on the battlefields, to analyze from
a military point of view the positive and the negative sides,
especially the latter."
"There were no big battles after the Fifth Campaign,
only sporadic skirmishes here and there.
"On the other hand, some quite good books have been
published about the truce negotiations, especially the one
written by Chai Chengwen," Wang said, referring to "The
Panmunjom Negotiations," co-authored by Chai, who participated
in the truce talks in the 1950s and was in later years China's
ambassador to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK).
"At its initial stage, the Korean War was a typical
civil war aimed at reunifying the divided peninsula but was
later internationalized with the US intervention," Wang
writes. "It was rooted in the artificial division of
the peninsula by the United States and the Soviet Union after
Japan's surrender at the end of World War II."
One well-received Western thesis has it that the war was
the conspiracy of the communists - Soh Jin-chull, a scholar
of the Republic of Korea, even published a book entitled "The
Origin of the Korean War - Conspiracy of International Communism."
Wang shrugged off the argument. "Personally I think
it is a groundless exaggeration."
There was no consensus on the Korean issue among leaders
of the socialist countries before the outbreak of the war,
General Walton Harris Walker's successful breaking of an
encirclement and the surprising Inchon Landing indicate that
the DPRK side had no concrete and complete war plan at the
beginning of the war.
There were other points to refute the conspiracy theory.
China began to demobilize its soldiers for economic construction
in early 1950. China did not have an embassy in DPRK when
the war broke out. Mao Zedong reportedly learnt of the war
from Western news broadcast.
"The outcome of the war would have been entirely different
if it were well planned beforehand," noted Wang.
Wang was born in 1952, the third year of the Korean War.
He had written numerous novels, essays and plays before he
decided to shift to the Korea issue.
It took Wang three years to prepare the research for his
book. He traveled extensively throughout the country to interview
those ageing, even dying, former CPV soldiers who experienced
the battles and he buried himself in a sea of Korean War-related
He took 1.2 million characters' worth of notes - only half
of which was used in the final version.
Sadly, the book does not have a bibliography and no notes
During the process Wang was lucky enough to read all the
telegraphs between Mao in Beijing and Peng in Korea, which
were declassified very recently but are still not completely
open to the general public.
This lends a new dimension of legitimacy and insight to his
"It's absurd to talk now about whether China should
have sent its troops to Korea five decades ago," Wang
said. "Chinese leaders were given no other choice but
to fight the United States (at that time)."
"At a certain moment in history, war has become the
only choice for a country, if the country cherishes its independence,
sovereignty and territorial integrity as well as its people's
peaceful life," Wang writes in the foreword.
"Gone for good are the days in the past several centuries
when Western invaders could occupy a country by simply erecting
a few canons on an Oriental coast," Wang writes in the
The line is a quote from CPV commander Peng Dehuai.
(China Daily 10/24/2000)