Remembering China’s Forgotten WWII Veterans

On September 3, China will commemorate the 70th anniversary of Japan’s surrender and the end of World War II. Back then, the Chinese forces were composed of a tense alliance between the ruling Kuomintang Nationalists (KMT) and members of Mao Zedong’s Communist Party of China (CPC), who had been fighting a civil war since 1927. KMT soldiers suffered the lion’s share of casualties, with deaths and injuries counted in the millions. Shortly after the end of WWII, China’s civil war flared up again, continuing until Mao established the People’s Republic of China in 1949, while most KMT members fled, relocating to the island of Taiwan. KMT soldiers and loyalists who remained in mainland China were subjected to mass trials, forced labor, and execution. The few veterans of the war who survived these campaigns are now in their 90s, most living in poverty, and the government has long downplayed or denied their role in World War II. Their service has gone unrecognized for decades—many have only been eligible for pensions since 2013, and some have yet to collect. Only in the past few years have Chinese officials even grudgingly acknowledged the presence of KMT veterans, let alone their contributions to the country they call home.