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.