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Fighting Under the Same Army Flag

The big picture of China's War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (1937-45) is clear. China contained and wiped out a formidable part of the Japanese military forces, considerably weakening their economic strength in this part of World War II against fascism.


But some details have been neglected. Few are told about the Chinese forces in Myanmar and India, where tens of thousands of Chinese soldiers fought the Japanese army by joining the Allied Forces.


In January 1942, the Japanese broke through Thai-Myanmar border and began invading Myanmar. Since all of China's seaports were already controlled by the Japanese, Myanmar was crucial in linking China and the Allied Forces and keeping them supplied.


In March, Chiang Kai-shek, leader of the Kuomintang, the then ruling party of China, deployed nine Chinese divisions from Yunnan Province to defend Myanmar. The forces were under the command of General Joseph W. Stilwell, head of the US' China-Myanmar-India theatre.


In May 1942, Myanmar was lost to Japan's armies and more than half of the Chinese soldiers were killed. Some of those who survived were ordered to retreat to Yunnan, others to India.


In India, Stilwell laid plans for retraining the Chinese army for sustained offensive operations to retake Myanmar and take the offensive to China itself. The plans soon got Chiang's permission.


In June 1943, the headquarters of the Chinese forces in India were established, with the Chinese New First Army Corps and American Allied troops under its command. Stilwell was named commander-in-chief.


In the following years, the Indian cities of New Delhi and Ramgarh became the main training centers for Chinese troops. New recruits, most of whom were university and high school students, were also sent there. By the end of 1944, 100,000 Chinese soldiers had received training in India, spending several years of the prime time of their lives in the country.


In this special year of the 60th anniversary of the victory over fascism, looking back on this almost-forgotten history, in the English language book Under the Same Army Flag, provides new and different perspectives on the war.


Many soldiers of the Chinese forces in India enlisted on their own initiative.


In 1944, Chen Yongyi learned from a friend nicknamed "Han Yanjing (Glasses)" that the government was recruiting soldiers to India.


Chen, 20, and from a family of 11 children, worked in Chengdu in Sichuan Province after finishing junior high school in his hometown of Huaiyuan in Anhui Province.


Even in Chengdu, "Japanese planes often flew in the sky above our heads, and the sound of sirens always made my heart beat fast. The scenes of massive bombing leaving many dead, which I witnessed one day, frequently haunted me at night," Chen recalled.


During his spare time he often went to a local army club with his best friends Deng Shufeng, Wang Baobao and "Glasses." They met many American soldiers, who were friendly to them.


Every time he saw the Chinese characters that read yangren (a rather informal form of addressing foreigners in Chinese who were here to fight with China), printed on the soldiers' jackets, he would feel a wave of patriotism and hoped to beat the "Japanese devils."


So he and his three friends signed up, without even telling their families.


Yang Yuxiang, a driver corporal, said he would never forget June 5, 1944, the day of their departure from home.


Early in the morning, he and 500 other soldiers assembled at the Wujiaba Airport in Kunming, the provincial capital of Yunnan. "The sky was starry. It was so beautiful," 78-year-old Yang says. Many of the young men about to leave frequently looked up to the sky.


When the C-47 Skytrain carrying them was taking off, everyone looked out of the porthole at the town of Kunming.


Hu Dongsheng, a former member of the New Sixth Army, kept a diary when he was in India.


On the entry of November 20, 1944, the day of their arrival, he wrote down the items each soldier was allocated: a towel, a set of khaki army uniforms, one pair of rubber-soled shoes, a hat, a mosquito net, a sheet of tarpaulin, blankets and a bottle of insecticide.


Hu said funds and ammunition for the Chinese forces in India were provided by the US government. It was the first time the Chinese armies had been better equipped than their Japanese enemies.


Hu said he has kept the diary through everything. "I have a very bad memory. I can easily forget things right after I turn around. But every time I open the diary, the past starts unfolding right before my eyes," Hu said.


In India, many Chinese soldiers established sincere friendships with their American counterparts after living side by side all the time.


Wu Yuzhang, a former private, had an unforgettable encounter with an American nurse named Louise. They taught each other their native languages and spent many happy hours together. Every time Louise came to Wu, she brought with her a red booklet, in which she noted down some daily English and Chinese words.


"When we had difficulties communicating due to language, we turned to the red booklet. Following this pattern our conversation covered many subjects," Wu said. "I told her about the Great Wall, the Imperial Palace, and the West Lake of my hometown Hangzhou."


Hu Dongsheng wrote about many of his American friends in his diary. One entry was about Adlare.


"Adlare gave me a deck of playing cards, I gave him a Chinese stamp in return. He was very happy," he wrote.


Another time Adlare taught Hu how to play chess. It wasn't long before Hu beat his master, a shock for the American.


For Wu and many other Chinese soldiers in India, their lives in the military are now cherished parts of their memories.


(China Daily August 22, 2005)

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