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RPS Postgraduate Bursary Winners
RPS Postgraduate Bursary Winners
Shuo Jia - London College of Communication/ MA Photojournalism & Documentary Photography
The Forgotten Soldiers
February 17th 1979, was a big day for Hong Shuishen. For a young soldier who had just joined the army few months before, this was the first day of battle. The first shell landed on Vietnamese territory at 6:30 AM. Excitement and anxiety crept into Hong’s mind. No one knew what would happen on the battlefield. By the day end, Hong returned to camp on a gurney minus a leg.
The soldiers were praised as the most heroic people in the world, surrounded by glory and greeted with flowers, when they triumphed from the battlefield. Three decades on, the war itself is forgotten, people can hardly recall the blood they bled for their country. They are veterans from the Sino-Vietnamese war, the last real world combat China ever had.
The Sino-Vietnamese War, also known as Counterstrike in Self-defense, broke out on February 17, 1979, only three years after the end of the Cultural Revolution. It was the moment that the Chinese army lost its strength after 10 years of social chaos, while the Vietnamese sharpened their blades in the war with the US.
The Chinese Army crossed the border, destroyed the infrastructures of several Vietnamese cities. The Vietnam suffered the estimated causality of 100,100 death and 185 tanks destroyed, as claimed by Chinese sources. The Army defeated the resisting Vietnamese force and finished the withdrawal in
March 16. China claimed victory, but with a very high price.
According to Work summary on counter strike(1979-1987) published by the rear services of Chinese Kunming Military Region, 6,954 Chinese soldiers were killed and 14,800 wounded.
In the 1980s, both China and Vietnam shifted their focus from political confrontation to economic development. In 1991 the diplomatic relationship between China and Vietnam was reestablished. In 1999, a disputed boundary agreement was signed by the two countries.
When the war ended and replaced by trade, neither the war nor the soldiers were mentioned ever again. Today, the aged warriors live amid the 1.3 billion people, diffused in different parts of the country. They look like ordinary people; nothing special in their appearance is noticeable, unless one listens to their stories or looks deeper into their lives.
Zhou Tingfeng wears sunglasses everyday, whenever the sun is out or not. Not because it looks cool, but because he wants to conceal his blinded right eye. Today, He runs a small stall with his wife, and leads a simple life. Years before, many of his friends thought he perished in the battle and even erected a grave for him.
“The bullets pelted down on the trench, just like the rain drops fall.” Zhou said.
The Division 55 is not longer existed after the war. There is a subliminal rule among the military. If a unit has suffered substantial losses, the unit designation would be canceled. Usually the case only happens when the whole unit is eliminated, or almost eliminated. LI Huazhen served in the Division 55 in the conflict.
LI was shot in his spinal column by a machine gun. Consequently, he has never been able to stand on his feet again. His lower limb paralysis renders him to be categorized the 1st degree disability. The current disability assessment system varies from 1 to 10, and the 1st degree is the most serious level.
The walls of Li’s home are covered by the posters of NBA players with the exception of Mao’s portrait in the center of the living room .Li’s 18-year-old son, Li Feiyu loves basketball. Other than basketball, Feiyu is also keen on painting. He wishes to be accepted by a Fine Art college for university.
Li received a 3rd class merit citation after the war.It was an honor reward to the soldiers. The merit citations have 3 classes, and the 1st class is the highest and rarest honor.
Among all the 1st class citation, only 79 of them were rewarded as “Combat Hero” by the China Central Military Committee. Most of them did not survive. Zheng Hongyu was one of them.
Zheng Hongyu, born in 1953, died in the battle when he was 23. He killed 24 Vietnamese soldiers when he was alone in operation with extreme danger. His smarts and agility led him to rejoin his comrades after two days of adventure. Sadly, he did not make his way to rejoin his family by the end of the war. Zheng died in March, 1979, just a few days before the war ended.
Zheng was buried in Pinxiang, a small county adjacent to the Sino-Vietnamese boarder in Guangxi Province. The red star on his grave is still shining today, which could easily remind the red star on his hat 30 years ago. Li hua, Zheng's mother, is living in Nantian county, Leizhou, Guangdong Province, where 600 kilometers away from the grave. Ms. LI says, she is in her 80's and her sight is weakening day by day. She has never visited his grave in the 32 years since his death.
One of the lucky ones, Luo Daokun came back in one piece, without any noticeable disability. Yet lung disease and damaged rib still plague him as the legacy of the war. Consequently, heavy farm work exhausts him easily, though that is his source for living.
Luo says he joined the army for an opportunity to attend the military academy. He eventually failed to achieve this goal even when he received a 3rd class merit citation after the war. He was then discharged from the army and went back to the rural area as an ordinary peasant.
Health problems are not the only difficulties that they encounter. Poor housing, unemployment, and limited means to educate their children, continually haunt these people who used to be called the most heroic ones.
Chen Bin, 2nd class merit citation, with 4th degree disability, has moved to live with his parents and brother. His own house can no longer provide the basic living condition. The roof is badly damaged and rains can easily soak the rooms. In Chen’s father’s apartment, a bed is propped in the middle of the living room. The 1950s-built tiny apartment is home to 9 people of his family, Chen’s parents, Chen’s wife and his brother, and three children.
Thirty years ago the narrative of Zhou Tingfeng, Hong Shuishen and Luo Daokun began and in modern day these same families contribute their sons and daughters to serve the military. Zhou Hongbin, son of Zhou Tingfeng, is currently serving in Chinese Navy, East China Sea division. The father warns him if any warfare broke out at the Taiwan Strait, "you must get ready to die for the country."
For an application forms for 2012/13 visit www.rps.org/education/Bursary-Information
Postgraduate Bursary Winner 2011 - Huw Wahl
Click here to dowload Huw's Project Summery and Photographs (PDF)