60 years later, Chinese vets talk Korean War
Chen Ruobi, 81, was a female soldier in the Chinese army’s management office and was in charge of photography during the 1950-53 Korean War. She entered the war at its end, early in 1953, and stayed in North Korea for two more years participating in reconstruction projects.
“When we heard that the war was over, we were all very glad. We thought we could finally go home. At that time, we came to Paju with guns slung over our shoulders, but now, China and South Korea are friends,” she told the JoongAng Ilbo on Wednesday.
She returned to Korea as we celebrate 60 years of armistice this month.
She has a collection of photographs taken through the end of the war, including some taken in Cheorwon.
Upon the division of Korea in 1945, the region became part of North Korea and was a part of the Iron Triangle Battlefield, where the communist Chinese and North Korean troops were concentrated.
It was a strategic communication hub during the war. Following the armistice, the region was divided into two, and the lower half of Cheorwon is part of the South’s Gangwon, bordering the North.
She teared up as she recalled the aftermath of the war. She continued to take pictures until she returned to China in 1955. Six decades later the photographs are a precious record, depicting the combat environment and commemorative moments, as well as everyday life.
One photograph shows Chen with other female soldiers of the Chinese Army. Another shows Chen with soldiers on the northern side of the demilitarized zone shortly after the 1953 armistice.
After the war, Chen became an elementary school math teacher, “But because I could not hide my athletic skills I received from my army training, I soon became a physical education teacher.”
Her husband, who also had served in the army, passed away 20 years ago from cancer.
The Korea-China Cultural Association and Gyeonggi provincial government asked to copy the photos that Chen took.
Chen, along with Lai Xuexian, 85 and Liang Denggao, 78, who all served in the Chinese army and fought for North Korea during the war, were invited to South Korea by the Seoul-based Korea-China Cultural Association on Tuesday for a three-day trip which included a visit to the cemetery for North Korean and Chinese Soldiers and Imjin River in Paju, Gyeoggi as well as the War Memorial of Korea in Yongsan District, central Seoul.
It was the first time Chinese veterans from the Korean War were invited by a South Korean governmental or civilian agency to visit.
Liang, who also served in the Chinese army during the Korean War, recalled, “Munitions flew about and everything around me was painted a smoky gray. Nothing could be seen. As your vision came slightly in focus, you could see corpses rolling around. Even when a friend who joined one year later went down first, it was not surprising.”
“I can’t use any other word to describe it except ‘horror,’” said Liang, who entered the war in July 1951 and served as a signalman. But even after the war ended, he stayed on until 1957 in North Korea as an instructor for rookie soldiers. “I can’t forget how moved I was when I met the old South Korean soldiers yesterday,” he said. “As you say, yesterday’s enemy can be today’s friend.”
Chen added that since the forging of diplomatic ties between Beijing and Seoul in 1992, she “always wanted to visit South Korea once, and now my dream has come true.”
BY MIN KYUNG-WON, SARAH KIM [firstname.lastname@example.org]