by Xinhua writers Lyu Qiuping, Xu Yang and Gao Shuang
SHENYANG, Oct. 21 (Xinhua) -- Though 89-year-old Sun Deli finds that many of his memories are fading away, he remembers every line of a song he learned seven decades ago.
"Battling like a fierce tiger, fighting on the frontline," sang Sun, loud and clear, beating time with his right hand. "It's worth sacrificing lives for the people."
In 1950, at the age of 19, Sun joined the first group of Chinese People's Volunteers (CPV) that entered the Korean Peninsula to fight in the War to Resist U.S. Aggression and Aid Korea (1950-1953).
He now lives in the city of Dandong, northeast China's Liaoning Province, which borders the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK).
Eight months after the founding of the People's Republic of China, the Korean War broke out in June 1950. The flames of war soon reached the border river of Yalu and wreaked havoc in Dandong, then known as Andong, with buildings bombed and civilians killed.
At the request of the DPRK, Chinese ground forces under the CPV entered the Korean Peninsula on Oct. 19, 1950 and fought the first battle on Oct. 25.
It was a time when the new China was still poor, with unfavorable weapons and weak air and navy forces. But the United States, the nation that led the rival forces in the war, had much greater military power.
According to information displayed in the Memorial Hall of the War to Resist U.S. Aggression and Aid Korea in Dandong, a division of the U.S.-led army with 17,000 to 25,000 soldiers was equipped with 149 tanks, 35 armored vehicles and 72 howitzers, while a CPV infantry army with 50,000 soldiers had no tanks, no armored vehicles and no howitzers.
DEFENDING THE HOMELAND
"We had nothing but gallantry back then, holding the belief that we must protect our home and defend the country," Sun said.
The former infantryman still remembers how he volunteered to bomb the enemy's tanks with only hand grenades.
"I hid in the roadside ditches to avoid air bombers while approaching the moving tanks. All of a sudden, I dashed out, opened the tank lid and threw five grenades in," he said.
After he exploded one tank, six others surrendered, he said.
Sun twice narrowly escaped death. He was unconscious for several days following a shrapnel head injury he sustained in a tough battle that killed hundreds of his comrades. He was also buried once beneath a bombed fortification.
"I thought I was going to die. But I wasn't scared as I felt honored to die for my country," he recalled. Luckily, a fallen pole nearby had left a small space through which he could breathe before he was rescued from the debris.
A total of 2.9 million CPV soldiers from across the country joined the war that lasted almost three years, more than 360,000 of whom died or were injured. By comparison, over 710,000 rival forces were killed, wounded or captured in the war.
Some CPV soldiers lie buried in a martyrs' cemetery in the provincial capital of Shenyang. The names of heroes lost in the war are engraved on a 200-meter-long wall. As more fallen heroes are identified, the list grows.
Wang Chunjie, a publicity employee at the cemetery, said the site receives some 150,000 visitors every year who pay tribute to the deceased.
"Many young parents come with their children," she said.
Wang, who has worked at the cemetery for 16 years, feels comforted as more and more remains of CPV soldiers are returned from the Republic of Korea (ROK) thanks to efforts by the Chinese government.
"It's an act of honoring the heroes," she said.
She remembers the scene on March 28, 2014, when the first group of remains arrived at the cemetery from the ROK.
"Many veterans and relatives waited along the road as buses carrying the coffins approached," Wang recalled. "'Dad, dad, you've finally come home,' called Li Haifang, the daughter of a deceased soldier."
But Li did not know if her father, Li Shuren, was among the repatriated soldiers as most of the remains had not yet been identified.
"I hope all the heroes will be identified so that they can reunite with their families," Wang said.
So far, the remains of 716 CPV soldiers who died on the battle ground have been returned home.
Sun Deshan, 88, a CPV veteran living in Shenyang, often visits the tomb of Zhu Dechang, his regimental commander who was strafed and killed in Sinmak, the DPRK, in May 1951. Sun was injured in the same battle, receiving a wound to his head.
"We paid a heavy price in the war as we had no airpower back then," he said.
Next to the cemetery lies the AVIC Shenyang Aircraft Corporation, a fighter jet development and manufacturing base. The tranquility of the cemetery is often interrupted by the roar of test runs.
"If my deceased friends were to hear the roaring test flights, they would be delighted and rest in peace," said Sun Deshan.
FIGHTING IN A NEW ERA
A broken bridge on the Yalu River, which was bombed by the U.S.-led army during the war, has attracted visitors from around the country.
"It's where my father crossed the border to join the war," said Xu Fengge, 79, who had traveled with his family from Liaoning's Fuxin City.
While his father was serving in the army as a driver, Xu and his siblings were raised by their mother, who sometimes had to beg for food to make ends meet.
"My mother died in 1967. She never watched TV in her life, and definitely never traveled. Now I travel often with my pension. Life has changed greatly," said Xu, who has retired from a local machine tool plant.
Over the past seven decades, China has developed from a war-torn country into the world's second-largest economy, contributing 30 percent of global economic growth. The per capita disposable income of Chinese residents surged by two-thirds to 30,733 yuan (about 4,600 U.S. dollars) from 2013 to 2019. The country aims to eradicate absolute poverty by the end of 2020 and realize a moderately prosperous society in all respects.
"Decades ago, we managed to resist the aggression of foreign powers with almost nothing but a strong will. Now that our country is more prosperous, we will by no means tolerate any kind of bullying," said CPV veteran Li Shenghua, 88, who lives in Dandong.
"We are not afraid of any power at any time, and we are confident and capable of defending our territorial integrity," he added.
For Zhang Yuwei, her veteran grandfather Sun Deli was no different from other grandparents until she learned the history of the war in university.
"It was then that I realized how great he was," said the 26-year-old.
Zhang, who graduated from the Wuhan Institute of Technology this summer, was stranded at home in Dandong earlier this year due to the unanticipated COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan, Hubei Province.
"By wearing masks and studying or working at home, everyone has contributed to the fight against the invisible enemy," she said, adding that social order quickly resumed following national efforts, enabling her to graduate as scheduled.
She plans to pursue a doctorate and hopes to become a university instructor.
"We should learn from the veterans' strong will in overcoming difficulties, and we should pass down that spirit to future generations," she said. Enditem