The KMT Soldiers Who Stayed Behind In China
Image Credit: Wikicommons

The KMT Soldiers Who Stayed Behind In China


On July 4, Chinese state media all carried the same news headlines on their front pages. The Ministry of Civil Affairs of the People's Republic of China had declared that China would make Nationalist Party (Kuomintang or KMT) soldiers living in mainland China eligible for welfare under the social security system.

The soldiers had helped in China’s successful war against Japan from 1937 to 1945, however they did not follow the bulk of other Kuomintang troops to Taiwan in 1949 after the KMT was defeated by China’s Communist Party (CCP) in the Chinese Civil War. For the next 50+ years these former KMT soldiers lived under CCP rule , where they faced both discrimination and contempt. According to (admittedly incomplete) statistics, today there are still over 2,000 of these former fighters living on the mainland, most aged around 90 years old,  about 50 percent of them in poverty.

For thousands of years, China’s customs have encouraged people to respect the old and cherish the young. But what makes this new declaration so significant is that it signals that China’s Communist Party has begun to face up to and respect history, regardless of differences in ideologies between these veterans and the Party’s.

The news about China’s KMT soldiers has unsurprisingly also attracted interest in Taiwan. One report in the Taiwanese media outlet United Daily News says the turnaround reflects increasingly warm relations between mainland China and Taiwan across economic, political and social spheres. On June 13, Taiwan’s Honorary Chairman of the Nationalist Party Wu Po-Hsiung visited Chinese President Xi Jinping for the first time since Xi took office, in search of “new navigation for the two sides of the Taiwan Straits.”

Another news outlet in Taiwan, Want Daily, suggests that the CCP is not aiming to present a united front with Taiwan, because Taipei doesn’t currently have any special measures for former Communist Party soldiers living in Taiwan. The outlet suggests instead that China is making strides with its social welfare policies.

Under China’s Treatment for Service Regulations, only members of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and their family members were eligible for benefits. Former Kuomintang members living in China were previously excluded. The Ministry’s new announcement brings a much needed change, with these new rules ensuring that soldiers who fought against the Japanese would have access to welfare facilities, and that the Ministry would support, encourage, and advise social welfare organizations to provide the former soldiers with support. Also, the Ministry has called on local governments and party committees to take an active interest in these soldiers’ well-being.

The announced change has been a relief to former soldiers, like Zhu Mingfu, who has been trying to apply for benefits for years. Still, many worry that the announcement won’t be followed with concrete action. According to a Southern Weekly report, Wu Siqi, a volunteer who works with soldiers, voiced his concerns, “Will the benefits really apply? How will they work? ”

Meanwhile, other former Kuomintang soldiers have other aspirations. Luo Zhongguo for instance, simply desires recognition for his sacrifice and service, “All I want is a medal. We old soldiers deserve [a] real medal.”

Colleen Wong is a reporter for China Power.

July 10, 2013 at 21:54

Interesting development, but it's worth noting that the United Daily News and (especially) Want Daily are extremely pro-KMT/pro-China publications and as such aren't necessarily representative of Taiwanese views.

July 10, 2013 at 12:24

"The cynical part of me thinks this is a way for the CCP to drive a wedge between the KMT and the other opposition parties on Taiwan."

You are starting to think like a chinese. You are no longer a "simple" american. lol.

July 10, 2013 at 03:22

The cynical part of me thinks this is a way for the CCP to drive a wedge between the KMT and the other opposition parties on Taiwan.  By granting official recognition to KMT veterans of the civil war, the PRC government elevates their status both at home and abroad.  The implied message to all of this: we, the Communists and the Nationalists, both fought for China.  Whether against the Japanese or each other, our core desire was to see a stronger China free of foreign influence and we fought long and hard for that dream to come true.  Where were these other political parties?  While they talk, we fought.

It's a fairly clever if obvious move by the CCP to appeal to the martial pride of folks on both sides of the Taiwan Straits.  By elevating the KMT, which has been a bit more pro-unification than the Democratic Progressive Party, the CCP probably hopes to give the KMT more exposure and more clout with Taiwanese voters.  Lobbing missiles towards them didn't work during the last election, so maybe Beijing figured they'd try a softer approach. 

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