News / Asia

Chinese Veterans Recall Korean War

Chinese Veterans Recall Korean Wari
X
July 25, 2013 12:00 PM
Sixty years after the end of the Korean War, China is still North Korea’s biggest ally, although the relationship under the cover of shared political ideals has not always been smooth.
VOA News
Sixty years after the end of the Korean War, China is still North Korea’s biggest ally, although the relationship under the cover of shared political ideals has not always been smooth.
 
Today, Chinese veterans of the war recall that they made all efforts to help Korea, while protecting their own country from perceived threats of American imperialism.
 
Zhang Kuiyuan joined the war when he was 18 years old. As a member of the first group of Chinese volunteer soldiers sent to the front lines at the end of 1950, he drove a supply truck delivering food, gasoline and equipment.
 
Zhang said conditions were harsh and Chinese soldiers had few encounters with their Korean allies. “We didn’t have many contacts with the North Koreans unless we were cooperating in the same hills,” he recalled. “In general, we would head to one direction and they would go another way.”
 
More than one million Chinese soldiers crossed the Yalu River into North Korea to help Pyongyang fight against the Americans. They also brought relief to local people by building houses, erecting bridges and engineering roads to improve communications.

Limited access
 
However, the Chinese had little access to the locals. Zhang Yuzeng, a war veteran, said Chinese ethnic Koreans were brought along to help deal with their brothers-in-arms. “We had only a few translators with us, mainly we didn’t understand each other,” he explained.
 
When time came to join forces, “the North Korean army would go first and we followed; we stopped where they stopped,” added Zhang.
 
Zhang Yuzeng recalled that on the front line the Chinese would mainly fight alone, under command of their marshal, Peng Dehuai. North Koreans, he said, “were few and badly equipped and were not as good at fighting.”
 
After the founding of the People’s Republic of China, Kim Il Sung gathered troops in the north-east to go and fight in Korea. But, for as much as he fought it, "it all ended up in a stalemate and the country was divided into two parts,” said Zhang Yuzeng.
 
Chinese troops remained in North Korea long after the end of the conflict, marked by the signing of a ceasefire on July 27, 1953. Until five years after, China helped with reconstruction and technical aid.
 
Zhang Kuiyuan, however, did not leave any friends behind. Chinese volunteers were told to avoid any close connection with North Koreans. “There was such a strict discipline that we were forbidden to have contact with the locals," he said.  "Ordinary communication was allowed but not mingling and having Korean friends.  We were worried it would create problems.”

Mistrust
 
Even though China and North Korea were on the front lines of the global socialist movement and their relation was as close as “lips and teeth,” there was a strong mistrust between their two leaders.
 
Mao Zedong, who ruled over China since 1949, and Kim Il Sung, who was leading the North Korean army, argued often.
 
Shen Zhihua, Korean War historian, said Soviet leader Joseph Stalin intervened several times to solve disputes. “During the war the Chinese army and the North Korean army, Mao Zedong and Kim Il Sung had opposite and conflicting views on all basic strategic questions,” he said.
 
Conflicts arose about who should lead forces in battle, where the front line should be established, and who should be in command of the railways.  
 
Despite those differences, the war cemented a relationship that has lasted for decades. During the years of strained relations with the Soviet Union, China was keen on playing a fatherly role in helping neighboring North Korea.
 
New course

It all changed when Beijing and Washington normalized diplomatic ties, in the late 1970s. Shen Zhihua said North Korea started to feel frustrated at the new common strategic views shared by China and the United States.
 
In the years since, Pyongyang has at times escalated provocations toward South Korea, Japan and the United States. More recently, Beijing appears to be experimenting with a tougher stance toward its historical ally.

This year China joined the United Nations in implementing a Security Council resolution against North Korea. A Chinese state bank has frozen transactions with Pyongyang, and high level contacts have slowed down. “North Korea is pushing it too far. They make China lose face. They make a nuclear test and tell China only twenty minutes in advance, all the others know beforehand. How can we still call this a special relationship?” said Shen Zhihua.
 
Today, for many Chinese, North Korea is more of a weird tourist attraction than a close national ally. Grandchildren of those who fought to liberate Korea, Shen said, would rather see China freed from its historical bond with Pyongyang.

You May Like

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs