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

Unpaid Kurdish Fighters Sign of Economic Woes

Sharp cuts in Kurdistan's budget by Baghdad, falling oil revenue, coping with refugees, inflated public sector have hit regional economy hard More

Koreas Exchange List of Envoys for Family Reunion Talks

Officials will discuss date, venue and number of participants for reunion; Seoul hopes to hold event late this month More

China Targets 197 in Online Speech Crackdown

Nearly 200 punished for 'spreading rumors' online in ongoing crackdown on free speech More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisisi
X
Lisa Bryant
September 02, 2015 6:19 PM
Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisis

Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Russia-Japan Relations Cool as Putin Visits China for WWII Anniversary

Russian President Vladimir Putin is in Beijing for commemorations of the 70th anniversary of China's WWII victory over Japan. Putin is expected to visit Japan later this year, but tensions between Tokyo and Moscow over islands disputed since the war, and sanctions over Ukraine, could pour cold water on the plan. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Kurdish Fighters on IS Frontline Ready for Offensive

Finger on the trigger, the Kurdish Peshmerga soldier stared across the dust at a village taken over by Islamic State extremists. The Kurdistan’s Khazir frontline, just 45 minutes from the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul. And at this point, the militants were less than two kilometers away. VOA's Sharon Behn reports.
Video

Video Yemen ‘on Brink of Disaster’ as Medical Shortages Soar

Aid agencies warn Yemen is on the brink of humanitarian disaster – with up to half a million children facing severe malnutrition, and hospitals running out of basic medicines. There are fears Yemen's civil war could escalate as the coalition led by Saudi Arabia tries to drive back Houthi rebels, who seized control of much of the country earlier this year. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Apps Helping Kenyan Businesses Stay Ahead of Counterfeiters

Counterfeit goods in Kenya cost the government as much as $1 billion each year in lost tax revenues. The fake goods also hurt entrepreneurs who find it hard to carve out a niche in the market and retain customers. But as Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi, information technology is being used to try to beat the problem.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.

VOA Blogs