The war in China is the most under-reported part of World War II. Valuable testimony is lost every day because people who lived through the bloody events pass away without leaving a record of what they did and saw.
In a modest effort to counteract this sad state of affairs, this website welcomes contributions from readers about their own war experiences or the experiences of people they know. The account below is by Victor Zheng, Charlottesville VA. In appreciation of his effort, he has received a free copy of Shanghai 1937: Stalingrad on the Yangtze.
Victor Zheng’s grandfather, Zheng Meifang, was born on January 20, 1935, in Jianli county, part of Hubei province in central China. In 1942, the Japanese conquered nearly the entire province and confiscated a large part of the family’s property. Meifang, then a young boy, witnessed his family thrown into sudden poverty at the same time as it was forced to split up.
“The wealth they had accumulated disappeared. The Japanese were ruthless in their expansion into China. Most of my family fled to Chongqing, which was the war-time capital of China. But some of the family members had to stay behind in Hubei to look after the family property,” Victor Zheng writes.
Zheng Meifang was part of the family that stayed behind, and as an eight-year-old boy he had an experience which not only reflected the state of fear that permeated territories occupied by the Japanese, but also showed general mistrust among civilians towards people in uniform – probably well-founded after decades of strife among rival warlords.
“Grandfather Meifang was playing by the river side when a soldier walked up to him. Although he was in a Japanese uniform, it turned out the was a Manchurian (i.e. Chinese from the northeastern provinces occupied by Japan in the early 1930s, ed.), and had been conscripted into the Japanese army. He asked Grandfather Meifang to solve some math problems, for fun everyone presumes,” according to Victor Zheng.
“Grandfather Meifang showed his wit and successfully answered every math question the soldier presented to him. As a treat, grandfather Meifang was rewarded with a small piece of candy from the soldier. Grandfather Meifang proceeded to share his adventures with the family only to be scolded and beaten by his father, who warned him not to talk to any Japanese soldiers or any other military man dressed in a uniform.”
Later on, a Japanese raiding party approached the county seat of Jianli, obviously bent on loot. Zheng Meifang’s family fled into the mountains to bide their time until the Japanese had left again. In the rush to escape, they did not take much with them and they had to leave behind the chickens they had raised.
“After spending a few nights away from home, our family returned to the household to find it looted and many of the valuable missing, including the chickens. Interestingly enough, hiding in the now trashed compound was a little chicken that had avoided capture by the Japanese by some chance,” Victor Zheng writes.
“Our family, as a result, kept this chicken and named it ‘Lucky’. They never ate it and always treated it gently. They allowed it to live until it died of natural causes, and never thought of cooking it for food.”