Since I started painting veterans in Taiwan in 2013, I have focused on portrait subjects such as Hunan celebrities, Muslims from Xinjiang, Scots in UK, Lhasa people and new Irish immigrants, who are defined in the current world context as a group with some universal commonality, and the multitude of lives under this definition has attracted my interest in constant exploration. Initially, I had looked at a particular history or event with some emotional narrow-mindedness, but as I learned more about different ideologies and looked deeper into the state of each individual living being, I gradually saw the smallness and powerlessness of the "self". This "self" is myself and every individual who has been in the world for decades. Behind every event, every ideology, every belief, every preaching and even every emotion, there is a construction of individual beings and their thinking, innocent beings who seem to be behave rationally and logically, but on the one hand are driven by the "big trend" and on the other hand are at the same time unconsciously driving the "big trend".
There are always individuals who are at their wits' end trying to get out of the moment, and there are always passionate souls who shout "hurrah" and are caught up in it, and there are also mud and sand that are hard to distinguish between black and white. Does every life deserve to be cherished and respected? If so, is it possible for fascist agitators like Hitler to be understood? If so, why is our world, even after Hitler's death, still full of killing, vilification and war? If so, can these brave men who once pledged their lives to their country be given the respect they deserve in the last leg of their lives? I hope that my work can bring these lives that I have seen, across time and space, to the viewer for some different experiences.
In 2021, I returned to this heavy subject matter again, taking veterans from the Huaihua area, the site of the Japanese surrender, as my subjects, and conducted in-depth interviews and records of them. In 33 days, I visited 29 veterans, recorded snippets of their ordinary lives and painted them as they are now. These 29 veterans are not the only surviving anti-Japanese war veterans in China, nor are they the only surviving World War II veterans in the world, but they have experienced the era of humiliation and glory, and they have witnessed the years when death and survival were just a moment away, and although they are very small microcosms in the fragments of history, the wonderful stories behind each one of them frame many important historical events at that time.
The end of their lives is a necessary part of every life, and their last days were the final curtain call of that era. That seemingly unreachable period of history is close at hand. From the Taiwan veterans, to the Huaihua veterans, I also took a break from the narrow emotions of my ego to face the more genuine question - what does life really mean, what is it that we hold on to, give up, love, hate, cling to, let go of, go crazy, despise, embrace and pull away from? It is a question that has no answer, but that does not mean that there is no point in thinking about it or pursuing it.
The veterans of the war once defended every inch of Chinese soil to the death, but now they are all nearly 100 years old and fading away. On Christmas Eve, I would like to express my gratitude to these Chinese Santas for the precious gift they have given us with their lives on every ordinary day.
I arrived at the village of Xiaohuang in Longtan Town more than 5 hours later, where the volunteers, Mr and Mrs "Old Stripes", were waiting for me at the junction to guide me on my trip to Xupu. To save time, we didn't even get out of the car, double flashing instead of exchanging verbal pleasantries, and the trip began with two feet of throttle.
Zhang Chuan Cheng
Troop number: National Army Local Armed Forces
I visited Mr. Zhang Chuancheng's house three years ago and he had not changed much from the previous years, even the clothes he wore were the same as three years ago, and he still wore the uniform hat issued by the Hunan Veterans' Home on his head. He also told of the time when he was a boy and blew up the little kids with a grenade. He was only fifteen that year, and because he was herding cattle and familiar with the local roads, he joined the scouting squad, and one time he pulled a grenade and blew up some Japanese soldiers. Seventy or eighty years later, as if that incident had happened just a few days before, he mentioned it and his eyes lit up, those bulging eyes that impressed me so much. Before he left, his son bought me a packet of cigarettes and two bottles of Red Bull, he said, "Thank you for your concern for the veterans, I hear you have to visit more veterans, I hope the journey is all safe and smooth."