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二十六位老兵肖像|26 Venterans

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."

Wu hewen

Enlisted: 1944.2 Discharged: 1950.9 Troop number: National Army Local Armed Forces Officers and comrades: Xiang Chengzu, Wu Renfu Battles fought: Xiangxi Battle, Longzhuangwan War

After leaving Zhang Chuancheng's house, Brother Ziang took me to the Longtan Revolutionary Martyrs' Cemetery, a real battlefield where "one inch of land, one inch of blood" was fought. 28 days of the Battle of Longtan, 672 hours, the sound of gunfire, like the fog now, enveloped the whole valley. bodies dragged one by one from the front line. Through the fog, we arrived at the home of veteran Wu He Wen. The fog was so thick that we groped for a long time before we could get our bearings on his home, and he happened to be at the door with a bowl of rice, ready for dinner. Seeing a visitor, he gave the bowl to his son and sat at the door, sitting upright for my interview, seeing that he cherished every opportunity he had to speak to the outside world. He closed his eyes tightly and kept on reminiscing, talking as if it was a piece of yesterday that he could go back to when he closed his eyes. One day in May 1945, Wu and two other scouts went to deliver rice to the defenders on Wumao Cave in western Hunan province. Wu and Wen were walking behind them, and because of their quick reflexes, he hid the rice in a low bush and escaped with his life because he was familiar with the terrain. After lurking in the mountains for a day and a night, he made sure that the Japanese were far away before coming out and picking up the rice to leave. Who knew that he would run into another Japanese soldier who had fallen alone. The single Japanese soldier saw a young boy carrying a burden and did not harm him for the time being, but forced him to carry the rice with his bayonet towards the ghosts' camp. At that time there were many villagers in the mountains who placed traps for trapping wild animals, and when they made the traps they would make special marks on the side to avoid accidentally injuring people. So Wu and Wen led the Japanese towards these places. Sure enough, the big boar trap caught the Japanese soldier's foot, causing him to scream in pain. At that time, Wu He Wen was still a child and had no combat experience, so he thought that if the ghosts were caught in the boar trap, they would break their legs even if they were not starving, so he only surrendered his gun and was ready to carry the rice up the hill to deliver the rice. Who knew that the vicious Japanese soldier would throw a dagger at Wu and Wen, probably because he was wounded and weakened, and the dagger grazed Wu and Wen around the waist. This resistance by the Japanese made Wu and Wen realize what it means to live and die. He picked up the dagger and killed the Japanese soldier with a single blow. When the rice was delivered to the hill, Wu said to the company commander: "Sorry, the rice is spattered with the blood of the devils". The company commander smiled proudly and said, "To laugh about drinking the blood of Japanese invaders is one of the great pleasures of life."

Tang De Dong

Troop Number National Guerrilla Army National Army 73rd Army Troop Position Soldier Officer and comrade information Xiang Chengzu Unit served and battles fought in The 5th detachment of the 4th detachment of the National Army advancing participated in the battle of Longhuai County

In the darkness of Longtan, I followed the taillights of the Stripes as we ran along, I didn't know exactly where this was, but I knew there must be another veteran full of stories ahead. We arrived at the centre of Longtan town, which has many ancestral halls with different surnames. Brother Stripe told me that Longtan is a very bloody place and wherever Longtan people go, there is a Longtan force, and the source of this force's heritage is the culture of the ancestral halls. Mr Tang De Dong is right in the very heart of the place, and in front of his home is a beautiful lotus pond, the magnificence of which can be felt, even at night, in the sound of the rising and falling frogs. He is also a veteran whom I visited three years ago, and when I saw him again this time, I felt that he had not changed at all. His daughter was full of emotion and was greeting us with tea and a seat, just as she had greeted us with watermelon three years ago, vividly. The living room of his house was very clean and tidy, almost spotlessly clean, the old man's clothes were also very clean, and his daughter and son-in-law were particularly filial. On the way to photograph him, a butterfly flew in front of the camera, crawling slowly and belatedly, as if it were one of his old comrades visiting him. Faced with his family's clean living room and the old man's clear thinking, I could feel their family style, warm and harmonious, valuing emotions and kindness. This is perhaps the reason why so many bloodthirsty men in Longtan went to their deaths to resist.

Shu Yingjie Date of birth: 17 September 1929 Place of origin: Ningxiang, Hunan Present Address: Group 3, Luofeng Village, Xiaohengling Township Troop number: 8th Guerrilla Column Communication Corps, later integrated into the 77th Division of the 73rd Army of the National Revolutionary Army

On the way back to Xupu County, the old cop said we could pass by a veteran's house and see if he was asleep, and if he wasn't, then it was just as well. As luck would have it, the old man, Shu Yingjie, was watching TV with his partner. Even at this late hour, he was still wearing his war veteran's hat and the jacket issued by the veteran's home. His partner, with a kind face, greeted us as we sat in the modest living room, where some of the window panes were broken and missing, and where some wind would blow in from time to time, rattling the cobwebs that connected the window panes to the television set. Mr. Shu was in great spirits, with a fine beard and a general's air, and his companion was like a fan girl, constantly accompanying him and occasionally leaking a shy look. He took out his medals and showed them to us, one by one, one by one, and when we finally left, he walked us to the door, saluted and watched us go.

When we arrived in Xupu County, it was already 12pm and the old stripling couple treated me to a hot pot. We made an appointment to visit Mr Dai Xiangyou, an old man in the county, the next day.

Dai Xiangyou

Date of birth: May 9, 1930 Current address: Lufeng Town, Xupu County, Hunan Province Troop number: 74th Army of the National Revolutionary Army

This is also a veteran I have visited before. The last time I saw him was in the summer, when he was playing mahjong in a mahjong parlour and took me back to his house to sing me a military song with such a high tone that if there were horses around, I felt he could leap up and spur them on. I was so excited to see him again that the old stripling took me to visit, but no one answered the door. When I called his son, he said he was probably out playing mahjong, and we went back to the mahjong hall, still no sign of him. I told my brother that it was noon anyway, so let's have a meal together. So we went downstairs to find a noodle shop and saw a stout old soldier eating noodles, and I thought that must be him. I was so excited that I immediately went up to him. He seemed to have forgotten about me, but he knew I was there for him. He was wearing the uniform of his former military career, with his military medals, badges and insignia, no less, hanging on his chest. From time to time there were passers-by and diners taking pictures with him, having fun, and I photographed his happiness, and he told me to eat more, that life was better now, and that eating well was the only way to have good health, and that the country needed people in good health to do things. After lunch and back at home, he still sang the army song to me, but the difference was that three years had passed and he seemed to have forgotten a lot, stopping a few times and being a bit sad. He said he was really old and hoped we wouldn't dislike him. I said, "No, you're a national hero! He picked up the mirror in his hand, looked at himself in it, straightened his cap, didn't know whether to look into my eyes or the lens of the camera in my hand, and nodded to me with a smile.

Zhang Jiabai Date of birth: 23 November 1923 Nationality: Han Chinese Place of origin: Xupu County Current address: Shanjiaoxia Village, Guanyinge Town, Xupu County Unit number: Xupu County Police Brigade Position in the army: served in the police brigade in the Longtan area, maintaining law and order during the Battle of Xiangxi, and assisting the 100th Army in the battle by transporting guns and ammunition to the front line and guarding the Japanese prisoners of war escorted back by the army. He joined the army in 1943.

Old Stripes said that Zhang's family was in a village called Guanyintang on the outskirts of the city, so we left early in the morning and came to visit. Mr Zhang's son and daughter-in-law look after the old couple. His son is a teacher in the area, and the house is neat and simple, with the old couple warmly watching television under the same quilt in front of the heater. When he saw us coming, he asked his partner to bring out his military medals and told us stories of the past, although he couldn't hear our questions very well, he always tried to give us the answers we wanted. Looking at the pictures on the wall of his house, I couldn't help but feel that the glory and humiliation of one's life, the glory and humiliation, are like fleeting starlight in the face of time, no matter how bright it shines in the night, it will eventually usher in the dawn.

Liu Zhaojin

Date of birth: 28th August 1925 Current address: living in Qiaojiang Township, Xupu County, Hunan Province, Gu Ridge Village Troop number: First time in the army: 8th Engineer Regiment Communications Company, second time I don't remember, the officer's name is not even remembered

Mr. Liu Zhaozin is in a remote village, if I hadn't been led around the corner by an old cop, I wouldn't have been able to find him on my own. The old cop said that although Old Master Liu lived far away, he was not lonely. Every time the volunteers went there, they could see his friendly smile, and recently he had bought a new electric wheelchair, which made it easy to get in and out. Indeed, when we visited, he was fully dressed and sitting in his electric wheelchair, turning from inside to outside the house as if he were a young man who had bought a sports car and was showing off the good performance of this car. I drew a rough outline of him and asked him to sign his name, which he did with a trembling hand, not very smoothly. Finally, with a smile, he gave me a long military salute and watched us leave.

Zhou Youyuan Year of birth: Born on 2 October 1924 Enlisted: c. 1939. lunar month of April Troop numbers and officers: 74th Army, 73rd Division, 51st Division ~ Wang Yaowu, Zhou Zhidao, Chen Cheng.

He was a veteran known as the "God of War", having fought in almost all the major battles and survived them all. When I visited, it was his ninety-ninth birthday feast, with a large number of children and grandchildren, and neighbours from the neighbourhood coming to celebrate, and volunteers organising primary school children to recite poetry for him. Unfortunately, he was so weak that he could barely hear or speak, and could only watch what was happening around him. There was a warm joy in his eyes, and a resilience in them, and I photographed everything that was so close to him but seemed to be detaching. Every time he once battled back to earth from the gates of ghosts, he was tied to the peace that now exists, and now with every faint breath, he is slowly saying goodbye to the world bit by bit. I remember the last time I saw him, he could still say a few words, he said never to call him a hero, if he was considered a hero, then what were his comrades who died in battle?

Shu Ching Yu

This is a 107-year-old veteran who is local to Xupu, or a netizen, because someone on the road didn't believe his age, so he showed him his ID card, and unexpectedly the photographer posted it on social media, drawing praise from all the netizens. He was a university graduate in 1951 and fought in many battles, but never went to the front, and because he had a stomach for ink, he always stayed in the office to deal with paperwork and government. With his long white beard and sharp legs, he told us stories of the war in Mandarin, but I was even more curious about his secret of longevity, which he told me in 16 words: less meat, more vegetation, 100 steps after meals, no anger when things go wrong and moderate work and rest.

Yang Shangda

Born: 1923.10.22 Enlisted: 1939.3 Discharged: 1945.10 Place of enlistment: Chenxi, Hunan Troop number: 1st Platoon, 3rd Battalion, 12th Military Police Regiment, Machine Gun Company, 3rd Platoon

Mr. Yang's home is an ancient courtyard, the gate of which is said to have been built in the Ming Dynasty. His children were sitting around the doorway shelling tea tree seeds, his grandson was very enthusiastic in handing me cigarettes and water, and the volunteer introduced my purpose to them. It seemed like yesterday, but it seemed so far away that it was a blur. Finally he asked me where I was from and I said Shandong. He said he had been to Shandong once, a long way away, and he asked me to stay at his house and rest for a few days. I said I would go on to paint other veterans again, and he said that was a good thing. Gave me a military salute.

Tang Zhaogui

Date of birth: 1931.6 Place of origin: Huaihua Zhongfang Troop number: unknown Troop Position: Private, Machine Gun Company Date of enlistment: Spring 1945 Place of enlistment: Wuli Village, Luyang Town, Zhongfang County Officer's name: unknown Combat experience: Xiangxi Battle, Dongkou and Longtan Battles

He was the closest veteran in the Huaihua area to downtown Huaihua. Mr Jin, a volunteer from Huaihua College, took me to his home early in the morning, but the house was empty inside and out. We went to ask the neighbours, and the enthusiastic neighbours said that his family rarely came over recently, and it seemed that his daughter-in-law, who was looking after him, was also sick. The neighbours helped to find him inside and outside, and ended up finding the veteran in the toilet, where he hobbled out and looked at us with a heavy face. The old soldier was wearing no clothes under the jacket issued by the family, as if he had just woken up. A kind neighbour went and prepared some dumplings for him. The old man said he had been suffering from headaches recently and had to wash his hair with boiling water every day to relieve the pain. The volunteers brought him some very hot boiling water and he soaked a towel in it and rubbed his head so hard, I could feel the pain as if it was coming from inside his brain. He stammered a bit and his ears were a bit back. It was hard for me to concentrate on drawing him, it felt like he was in too much pain, and his pain made me sit up and take notice. Finally, I asked him to write his name, and after he had written his surname, he paused for a long time, wrote the first stroke of the call, and then said, oops, forgot forgot.

Liu Weizhong

Present address: Mayang, Huaihua Joined the army in the second half of 1941 (the 30th year of the Republic of China) Place of enlistment: Mayang Troop Number 74th Army Artillery Regiment 74th Army Transport Regiment Position: Soldier Officer and comrade information Yu Chengwan was the commander of the 57th Division of the 74th Army Service and battles fought in The Second Battle of Changsha, The Battle of Changde, The Third and Fourth Battles of Changsha, The Battle of Xiangxi

This is a legendary veteran in Mayang. When I met him, he was watching a TV series, and his red face made it impossible for me to believe his age, even the corners of his eyes, mouth and forehead were barely wrinkled, like a rejuvenated fairy. He spoke with even more clarity and intonation, his eyes glowing and his brow shining with wisdom and determination. In order to replace his mother, he volunteered to join the National Army in the Ministry of Recruiting. He was the last soldier to be evacuated from the battle of Changde. The Japanese found him and forced him to work as a porter for a few months. He escaped and later joined the communist army as a transport soldier. He said he was really lucky, he had a brush with death on several occasions. Fighting the Japanese was a matter of you dying and me living, between the Communists, it was a matter of you losing and me winning, so the worst battles were fought against the Japanese. I asked him what his secret to longevity was, and he said that he had never eaten meat, any kind of meat, since he was very young, and that he had never smoked or drunk in his life, which he said probably had something to do with his longevity. I asked him what hope he had for the young people of today, and he said that they still had to study hard, that the times were different now and that they were able to learn a lot, whereas in the old days they couldn't and it was very hard. The times now still depend on the young people to hold up, they don't have the time or energy to do anything they want to.

It was late afternoon when we arrived in Xinkang and I contacted volunteer teacher Pan Yang to go directly to the nearest veteran's home to visit first, as the other three were in very remote places. So we went straight to Zhang Liangfa's old man's home.

Zhang Liangfa

Date of birth: 18 April 1928

Ethnicity: Dong Place of origin: Huaihua City (Xinfeng County), Hunan Province Troop Number: Guards Battalion, 38th Division, New First Army, Nationalist Army Name of Officer: Army (Division) Commander: Sun Liren, Battalion Commander: Zhang Jing, Company Commander Xu Kesheng, Platoon Commander Yi Ji Fen Troop Position: Private First Class Date of enlistment: March 1942 Place of enlistment: Zhijiang, Hunan Battles fought: Burma Homerin attack, Tonggu defence, Bamo, Nankan and Xinping Yang recovery battles

He was like a lovely spirit, always talking with a special spirit, and he was especially happy when I said I would come and draw him, telling stories of the old days with great gusto, and from time to time singing the army songs he used to sing. His home was particularly clean and the flower beds in his yard were squared off and well-built, and he said his daughter took good care of him. Before we said goodbye, I gave him a book of paintings of veterans who used to be in Taiwan. He said he had been to Taiwan and then to Qingdao when he was in the National Army. Seeing those veterans, he couldn't help but wonder if they were all still around. I said there might be some still around. He said indeed, they are all getting old.

Wu Ruchuan

Date of birth: 28 December 1925

Current address: Jinggang Group, Xiaobang Village, Tiantian Township, Huaihua City, Hunan Province

Troop number: 57th Regiment, 19th Division

I left at 9am and Mr Pan said that he was the only one who could take me to the homes of the veterans today. He used to work in the Xinfeng Bureau of Statistics and started at the grassroots level. He knows all the data about Xinfeng, big and small, and can never forget any information related to numbers. For more than four hours on the road, he didn't even need to navigate and remembered every fork in the road, while for me, every fork in these mountains was almost as long as the next. Old Mr Wu lives in such a hard-to-find place, a township with a beautiful name, Paradise. When he saw us coming, he chatted with me happily, and when he learned that I had come to paint a portrait, he said that you must not paint me, for I was not as good-looking now that I was old. He then went back to his room and took out a photograph that a photographer had taken of him a few years ago, and he said that you should paint it like this, and that it looked good. But I insisted on painting him, I couldn't let the four-hour journey go to waste, and when he saw my insistence, he reluctantly agreed to do so. He said that a few years ago an artist had come to paint him and had made him look too ugly, what the hell. He wanted me to paint him properly. I said no problem, so we talked face to face and painted at the same time. From time to time he looked through the contents of my box, as if he was exploring the outside world. His son and daughter-in-law cooked us a delicious meal and the old soldier ate two bowls of rice and told us that you, young people, should eat more to be healthy. Before he said goodbye, he said there was now a kind of electric wheelchair and he hoped the volunteers could help contact to buy one for him. Mr Pan said you cannot use this at home because the slope at home is too steep and very dangerous. He then stopped asking and sent us off smiling as he sat in the sun.

Yang Tian Guang

Date of birth: 29 May 1920 Ethnicity: Dong Place of origin: Xinfeng, Hunan Troop Number: 3rd Squad, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Company, 591st Regiment, 197th Division, 99th Army Position in the army: soldier Date of enlistment: 1943 Place of enlistment: Xinfeng County, Huaihua City Name of Officer: Commander Lei Zhonghe, Battalion Commander Luo Mingxin Battles fought in: The Battle of Hengyang to relieve the siege

Under the guidance of Mr Pan, after about the same number of forks in the road, we arrived at Mr Yang's house, where he lived by the river in an open landscape, in a quaint wooden house with pictures of his life and posters of the country's leaders. I asked him the secret of his longevity, and he said that he ate more fresh vegetables, and that he smoked and drank, and that he smoked dry tobacco and drank no less than half a kilo per meal, and then laughed heartily. I jokingly asked him if he wanted to see more beautiful women, and he said it was fine, but he had seen enough, so let us young people see more. He said that once he was also running around and having fun, but now that he was old and couldn't walk anymore, his knees always hurt and he asked me if I had any medicine. It just so happened that I had back pain the other day and the volunteers from Xupu gave me a box of plasters that I hadn't had time to put on yet, so I gave it to the old soldier and told him the precautions for use. He said it was very good and hoped it would help.

Deng Qiyun

Date of birth: 19 July 1924 Present address: Xinglong Town, Xinfeng County, Hunan Province Troop number: Independent Infantry Regiment, Indian Army

On the way back to Xinkou, it was the first time I felt like I wanted to vomit while driving, as every junction was a sharp turn, up and down, ditch and dash, and I could clearly feel the shaking sensation of my brain with the car bumps. After about three or four hours, we arrived at the home of the last veteran in the Xinfeng area. Mr Deng lives with his partner, who is very young. According to his partner, she was thirty-two when he was in his seventies, and at that time she thought he was very caring and married him. Although he was disabled and broke one of his hands, he was good-looking and physically fit, and he would love people. She loved being together every day, cooking together, raising flowers, growing grapefruit and listening to his jokes. This is the happiest veteran I have ever met. Although he is ninety-eight years old, he has the mentality of a child and is always smiling. He says the happiest thing is that he did not die in the war, otherwise he would not have met his current partner for the rest of his life and it would be a pity. Before I said goodbye, I wanted to take a picture of him when he was young to see how handsome he really was. His companion said that the picture of him when he was young was so handsome that many girls had taken it away, and there was only one picture of him in his seventies.

A few of the veterans I visited in Xinkang really made me feel the ruggedness of Xue Feng Mountain, a terrain that is easy to defend and difficult to attack, the most difficult place for the Japanese army to overcome. The next stop, Zhijiang, is where the Japanese were surrendered and where the Chinese Army was headquartered during World War II. Zhijiang is named after the famous line in Qu Yuan's "Chu Shu - Nine Songs - Lady Xiang", "Yuan has Zhi Xi and Li has Lan", and is famous for the place where the Japanese invaders signed the surrender, ending the Second World War. During my previous interview at Zhou Youyuan's home, I met a photographer from Zhijiang, Long Guiding, and I contacted him in advance to act as my guide for my trip to Zhijiang.

Liu Daomin

Date of birth: 25 November 1926

Present address: No. 38, Dongmenwai, Zhijiang Town, Zhijiang County

Troop number: Air Force Ninth General Station, Second Section, Radio Area Station

After a night's rest, I started looking for veterans with Mr. Long in the morning. I gave Mr. Long the list of names and contact numbers given to me by Mr. Liu Yuan, the head of the Huaihua volunteers, and he called one by one in Zhijiang to confirm the addresses. The first veteran to answer the phone was Liu Daomin, and when we asked him where he was, he said he was sunbathing at Heroes' Square and told us we could come straight over. We were so close that we could turn a corner and see this sun-filled square. I saw an old gentleman on a bench wearing a Veterans' Home waistcoat and I said that it must be him. As it happened, we waved to him and he nodded to us. I went over to him with a bunch of painting equipment and introduced myself to him and showed him a book of paintings I had done of Taiwanese veterans. Perhaps because they were all black and white ink sketches before, he said it was ugly, like a dying man, and he didn't like it and told me not to paint him. I explained that I would now paint in colour and showed him a portrait of a veteran that I had finished a few days before. He looked at it and said that it still looked like something and asked me to paint it quickly as he couldn't stay long. I then sketched out his general appearance and asked him to write down his name. There were many curious passers-by around and I told him that this veteran was 97 years old, had been a radio man at Zhijiang Airport and was a hero of the war against Japan. Many people applauded and took pictures with him, and he smiled with relief. He said that he had a good fate, having once returned to Zhijiang as a teacher after his recovery, and had lived a peaceful life. I asked him if he had any secrets for a long life, and he said he had to walk every day, come out for a walk in the morning after breakfast, keep an optimistic mind, not smoke or drink, and eat less meat. When he was leaving, he asked me to remember to bring the painting back to him when it was ready. I said I would!

Wu Tinghai

Date of birth 1929.07.25 Place of birth: Zhijiang, Hunan Joined the army in 1943 Discharged 1949 Place of enlistment Zhijiang Troop number: 67th Waiting Station, 2nd Section, 9th Air Force Station Position: Engineer Officers and comrades: Tian Zhaoqi, Yu Weixin and Chen Zhuangzhan Comrades: Yang Yuming, Long Kejun, Li Wencheng He served with the 67th station of the 2nd Section of the 9th Air Force Station and took part in the air defence war in Zhijiang and the Battle of Xiangxi.

This veteran lives in an old alleyway in downtown Zhijiang, and his son took us to the bungalow where he lives, where he had a kind face and a smile as he told us about his past. He said he had enlisted in the army when he was 15 or 16 years old and worked as a ground communications soldier at Zhijiang airport. His children are all very filial and the country has become rich and strong, he feels he has a good life and can ride his electric tricycle up and down the street every day. Many pioneers still visit him and volunteers often visit him on New Year's Day, he feels very happy that people have not forgotten him afterwards.

Long Cheng Fook

Date of Birth: 1925.4.24

Ethnicity: Dong Place of birth: Zhijiang County, Hunan

Troop number: Air Force 9th General Station Club, 2nd Section Orderly

He lives in the outskirts of Zhijiang. When we arrived, his son seemed to have something to say, and when we saw the old man lying in bed with little consciousness, we all felt a touch of desolation, not the hardship of poverty or calamity, but a silent approach to the end of life step by step. His son told us that the old man was usually very clean and had been very healthy until a few months ago, bathing himself every day and dressing neatly, but suddenly the weather had cooled and the old man seemed to be getting worse by the day. I could see that his son, a very simple farmer, had a look in his eyes of sadness for his father and gratitude for us. It was in this dim, cold room that I drew the picture of him lying there, as we faced not only the splendour of life but also his passing. When we said goodbye, his son brought us four grapefruits and he said thank you for all that we had done.

Li Kun-yuan Li Kunyuan

Current address: Zhijiang County, Tuqiao Township, Lengshuipu Village, Zhongjie Street Group Troop number: 1st Platoon, 9th Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Regiment, 1st Independent Army Brigade

This veteran lives in the town of Lingshuiqiao near Zhijiang. When we arrived, his daughter-in-law was waiting for us by the roadside and told us to park the car there as we could only walk a short distance to his house. We walked through a paddy field and up a small slope along a dirt road. His daughter-in-law introduced the old man who had been bedridden for months and had taken care of him, and he might be able to lie down and tell us about what had happened before. Although he was lying in bed, he spoke with a mid-range voice. He said that he had participated in the anti-Japanese resistance and fought the Japanese, and that after the fight against the Japanese, he still had a post in the Hankow police station, but when it was about to be the eve of the war between the Communists and the Kuomintang, he decided not to fight his own countrymen and fled with his wife overnight, and became a dock worker in Hanyang. He said that now that the country was rich and strong and his children and grandchildren were all in good condition, he could never have dreamed that he would have such a good life.

Xiao Shiyan

Date of birth: 8.11.1923 Troop number: Survey and Mapping Bureau

He lived in the mountainous area outside Zhijiang, which is a beautiful and scenic area. I saw him huddled in the fire pit and he looked like he had wet his trousers. His daughter-in-law said there was nothing she could do, as she had been working outside all morning picking grapefruit and could not stay at home to look after him. I told the old man why we were here and he nodded, so I sat across from him and drew his face. The old man's lower eyelids were all red and his daughter-in-law said it was because he had fallen the other day and it hadn't gone down yet. The old man thought I was a volunteer and asked if I had brought any medicine for him, I said no, but I would help ask. Later his daughter-in-law said that the old man just often forgot that he had taken his medication and told me not to worry. When I was leaving after the painting, I asked him to write down his name and age. He asked me to remember to ask about the medicine.

In advance, I contacted Ms Ouyang Qiong, a volunteer from Chenxi. There are three veterans in Chenxi, one in the county and the remaining two in the very remote mountains, and we had to finish visiting the two veterans in the mountains before the sun went down. Brother Zhang is the owner of the Xinhua Hotel in Chenxi and has been concerned about charity for many years. He came to be the driver today because the terrain and roads are complicated and only he, a local passer-by, can know every intersection.

Li Yuhai

Date of birth: 7 February 1926 Local armed militia

After about I don't know how many hills and how many intersections we turned left and right, we arrived at the home of veteran Li Youhai. His house was very simple, just a concrete room, but we looked for no one around and the front door was locked tight. The old man usually does not have a mobile phone, living here by himself, nearby neighbours said he may have gone to the mountains to work, although more than ninety years old, living conditions are also very simple, but he still insists on doing farm work every day, is known far and wide nearby. Brother Zhang drove to the mountains to look for him, while Mr. Ouyang and I waited at the gate. During this time, Mr. Ouyang said that the veteran had had a tragic experience, that he himself was a poor family, and that his two daughters had married into other villages and were also poor. In recent years the veteran's home had found him and got him a subsidy of 1500 RMB per month from a private foundation, and the village had actually cancelled the 300 RMB per month poverty allowance given to him because he had this 1500 RMB. In the middle of our conversation, I heard a rustling in the distance, and when I turned around, I saw a thin old man, carrying firewood several times his size, hobbling to cross the stream, and Mr Ouyang and I rushed over to help him. He saw that we had guests and hastened to greet us and sit down. Mr. Ouyang explained the reason for our visit and he was so happy that he sat in front of me and asked me to draw. He said he was lucky to have survived the battle and he was grateful for what he had now and said he had nothing to entertain us at his home and asked us to make sure we stayed and he cooked noodles for us to eat. My heart turned upside down and I felt very uncomfortable. After painting him, we rushed to the next veteran's house and he watched us go away until our car had gone a long way before he entered the door. Mr. Ouyang said that every time they came, the old man was very enthusiastic about making noodles to entertain them, despite the poor conditions, and every time he also stood at the door to see them off for a long, long time. He cherished everyone who came to visit him and was grateful for everything in his life.

Hu Yinghe

Date of birth 1929.08.13 Place of birth Huaqiao Township, Zhongfang County Joined the army 1945.5 Date of discharge: end of 1945 Place of enlistment: Yanxi, Xinhua Troop Number 73rd Army Ordnance Section Position: Storekeeper, Staff Sergeant Officer and comrades information Army Commander: Han Jun Chief of Ordnance Section: Hu Zhenhua Troops and Battles Served Battle of Xiangxi

As we continued on our way, the hills were a mixed bag of emotions that I could not describe. It was getting dark, with steep boulders on one side of the road and yellow branches on the other. The sky was a blue-purple haze, illuminating the green and flowery houses in the valley, like the mountains I used to drive through in Tuscany, Italy. Mr Hu Yinghe lived in such a place, and from his home he had an unobstructed view of the rolling hills and the ever-changing colours of the haze. Unfortunately he was a little confused and his grandson helped him out into the courtyard while I drew his face. The journey was very bumpy and tiring, but every time I saw the veteran's face, I was thrilled to come back to life with full blood in place and instantly started working on full power. Ouyang asked him if he had eaten today, and he replied that he was probably in his eighties this year. This adorable reply amused everyone around him with laughter. The only thing he didn't get wrong was the number of his unit and the name of his army commander. Mr. Ouyang and Mr. Zhang brought him a veteran's commemorative medal and he didn't seem to know what was going on, and later he trembled and wrote down his name.

Qin Yupei

Date of birth: December 1927 Current address:Chenyang Town, Chenshi County Troop number: 91st Army, New 4th Division

Early in the morning, another volunteer from Chenyang took me on foot to the home of Mr. Qin, who lives on the first floor of a shop in an old neighbourhood. On the ground floor is the shop owned by his son, which mainly deals in plastic canopy cloth. He was sitting in front of the shop and was in good spirits. He said that his hometown was in Sichuan and he had a brother in the northeast, and that when he was a soldier, he joined a different unit in order to prevent being killed in one unit.

When I entered Yuanling, a straight road into the city to cross several bridges, from large to small, getting narrower and narrower, until the last bridge, you can see the whole Yuanling like a big fortress, as if I crossed this bridge, the bridge can automatically close up, the water entangled the city, there is no way in or out.

Chang Gan Ai

Date of birth: 1927.7.6 Current address: Pingtouyuan Group, Daping Village, Xiaojiaqiao Township, Yuanling County, Hunan Province Troop number: Artillery Battalion, 43rd Division, 94th Army

Mr Zhang Ganai lives in a mountain village near Yuanling, about three hours' drive away, two and a half hours of which are on a winding mountain road. According to volunteer Mr Su, the old man's grandson, who has just graduated from Peking University with a Bachelor's degree in medicine, is working as a doctor in Changsha. The old man is very wise and will not only educate his children, but likewise benefit his neighbours, returning to his hometown as a teacher when he was young, and later learning Chinese medicine on his own to hang pots and pans to help the world, in addition to this, he will also know woodworking, weaving and other crafts. Indeed, when we met, we could feel the strength of his memory, and to this day he can clearly remember every battle, the route of every march, the type of each aircraft he had made, and even the number of seats in the plane. His son and daughter-in-law took good care of him and the house was very clean, with a ginkgo tree full of golden leaves in the front yard and chickens and ducks walking along the stream in the backyard, like a man of the world in a paradise. I asked him what he wished for the young people of today, and he said he wished them good health, that it is useless to have good health even if you are learned and knowledgeable, and that a healthy body is the first priority in everything. His son and daughter-in-law made us a chicken stew and we sat around the stove and ate together. His son said that he used to do very well in his studies, but two weeks before the college entrance exams, his mother died suddenly due to an accident, so he did not do well in the exams and was very sorry. I knew how difficult it was to get into a medical program at Peking University in this small mountain village and asked him if it had anything to do with his grandfather's education. He said for sure, that since he was a child they had watched how he did things, how he spoke and how he studied, and that he himself had been greatly influenced. He said his dad did everything like he did, even if it was something he hadn't done before, he could learn it a few times and do it much better than anyone else. The old man said there was nothing more difficult than facing death on the battlefield, if you want to do it well, then do it.

Gong Chengfu

Date of birth: 1928.8.15 Ethnicity: Hmong Military position: soldier Date of enlistment: 28th day of the lunar month, 1942 Place of enlistment: Mao Ping Village, Lu Xi Kou, Yuanling County Name of Officer: Commander: Chen Mingren; Army Commander: Chen Gang; Division Commander: Zhang Youbing. Troop number: 100th Army in 1943, integrated after the Battle of Changde; 6th Company, 2nd Battalion, 28th Regiment, 10th Division, 14th Army, 1st Corps! (Possibly the unit's number after the defection) The divisional commander of the Yuanling Divisional Management Area was surnamed Lu, the regimental commander was surnamed Kang, and the battalion commander was Yang *Rong

Mr Gong lives in the hills on the outskirts of Yuanling and we had to park halfway up the road and then go up a steep slope that could only be crossed by one person. Volunteer teacher Su and I were both out of breath when we arrived at his home. The old man's partner and daughter were rubbing his body because of his mobility problems. The volunteer, Mr Su, said that the old man used to be very cheerful and healthy and did not need any help whenever he participated in activities, but once he fell because he had a few glasses of wine and became like this. Under the sun, the old man was wrapped in thick clothes, smiling at us, his daughter rubbed lotion on him and cut his nails, Miss Su chatted with him like his granddaughter, the old man nodded happily all the time, there were some chickens walking around the yard, a small yellow cat kept biting my shoes, two dogs were barking in their cages, and as we said goodbye, her old companion watched us go down the hill until we disappeared. It all felt like seeing them in heaven.

The trip ended with a five-hour drive back to Changsha, just in time for my daughter's eighth birthday, with a delicious meal prepared by my family and a dinner full of laughter and giggles. All these seemingly normal days of well-being are inextricably linked to each of the veterans I interviewed.

This article of more than 10,000 words and two dozen portraits is only a tiny slice of this group, far from enough to fully embody that period of history. "Time will dilute all love and hate, sorrow and joy, but it will not extinguish the era of humiliation and glory, which is a past worthy of everyone's knowledge. The faces of these veterans have always been with us, writing down the word "peace" in the history of the Chinese nation.


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