Fallen foreign heroes not forgotten

Busy time for martyrs' memorial

These are busy times for the staff at the North China Martyrs' Memorial Park in Shijiazhuang, Hebei province. At least two memorial ceremonies will be held every day until April 6 as thousands flock to pay their respects to the dead ahead of Tomb-sweeping Day.

Among the national heroes interred in the park are Norman Bethune (1890-1939), a Canadian surgeon, and Dwarkanath Kotnis (1910-1942), an Indian doctor, both of whom provided vital medical assistance to China during the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression (1937-1945).

"We had more than 5,000 people come for the morning ceremony on the first day," said Duan Fengguo, a park worker who is responsible for compiling the guest list. "People come in here to make appointments with us to join these ceremonies and, just a few days ago, some Canadian visitors came in with a wreath for Bethune."

College students and high school pupils also come to the park to learn more about their revolutionary heroes.

"Our students walked for one hour from our campus to get here," said Hou Zhiqi, an official with Hubei Banking School, who was accompanied by more than 800 youngsters wearing handmade paper flowers. "We want to encourage them to follow the examples of the revolutionary generation, who were hard-working and plain-living."

Wandering along the many paths of the memorial park are also people who come on their own to reflect, far from the noisy crowds.

"I think history is actually neglected during these ceremonies, so I'd prefer to spend more time in the museum looking at old pictures and learning a few details about the heroes' lives," said 27-year-old Liu Hui, a medical intern at the No 3 Hospital of Hebei Medical University. "I was so surprised to see the picture of Bethune as he operated without wearing gloves."

Although people come to pay homage in different ways, the majority share one thing in common: They have all read In Memory of Norman Bethune, an article written by Mao Zedong following the medic's death in 1939.

"I think Bethune is the most famous foreign friend to China and, although Kotnis is not as famous, they both made great contributions," said He Liming, 30, who works in a nearby supermarket and quoted Mao's article by adding: "They 'made light of traveling thousands of miles to help us'."

Every year, she comes to visit the tombs for Tomb-sweeping Day. "They were great people. Hopefully, they can bring me some good luck as well," she added.

Call to protect memory of brave pilots

American pilots and Chinese soldiers killed in battle against the invading Japanese airforce during World War II were buried in the woods of Puzhao village, Yunnan province, more than half a century ago. However, their tombs were virtually undiscovered until 2007, when the Yunnan Flying Tigers Research Institution found them by following clues included in The Aluminum Trail, a book written in 1989 by Chick Marrs Quinn.

About 300 pilots with the Fei Hu, or "Flying Tigers" - the nickname given to the 1st American Volunteer Group of the Chinese Air Force - and 500 Chinese soldiers are buried at the site, which was built beside a nunnery in 1943 in the northeastern suburbs of Kunming, the provincial capital, said Sun Guansheng, chairman of the institution.

The tombs were "lost" when they were moved to make way for a storehouse either in the late 1940s or early 1950s, and since then, the memorial has not been properly protected, experts say .

"Some of the graves have been robbed and some have sunken," said Sun. "Many tombstones carrying names of the dead pilots and soldiers were even used to build a reservoir in the 1950s. Exposed to the wind and the rain, what is left of the Flying Tigers cemetery is bleak."

"We are calling on the authorities to take measures to effectively protect this vital and historic site."

The tombs in Puzhao are about 4 km from Wujiaba Airport, the former air base of the Flying Tigers, most of whose names have since been forgotten.

The group, which was led by United States General Claire L. Chennault, was formed on Aug 1, 1941, to help China fight off invading Japanese troops and later absorbed into the US Air Force 23 Fighter Group, part of 14th Air Force. Their planes were recognizable for the shark's teeth painted on the nose, while the pilots were revered for their courage and skill in battle.

Many Chinese now call all US pilots who flew with the 14th Air Force in World War II "Flying Tigers".

Li Shan, a Kunming resident who read about the tombs, took her 7-year-old son to see the cemetery as she wants him to learn more about the history.

"We've now put a tombstone in the graveyard for people who come and pay their respects, but we should build a better cemetery to honor those who helped us during the war," said Sun.

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