I’ve long wanted to visit the World War II Cemetery in Tengchong, Yunnan, as I’ve heard so much about how bloody the battles were, and how the American Flying Tigers came to our assistance at moments of needs. We even created a trip that goes there. I went there with much respect, and left with the same respect for lives lost, but also sorrow for how differently deaths are treated.
First I had a little difficulty finding it. I asked the taxi driver to take me to 二战烈士陵园 (World War II Martyr Cemetery), as “Martyr” is usually the word I knew how we called those who died in wars. The taxi driver asked me if I wanted to see the Martyr Memorial or 国殇墓园 (badly translated by me as National Tragedy Cemetery). What’s the difference I wondered? “Those who died in WWII were Chiang Kai Shek’s solders, they are not in the Martyr Cementery.” He said. Ah, now I get it, the word Martyr I grew up knowing was only referring to communist soldiers not the ones who died fighting for Chiang Kai Sheck, even thought they were also fighting against Japanese.
As I found out later, those two cemeteries are located next to each other, separated by a wall. I wonder if the ghosts mingle at night.
A very brief background. Yunnan Province in Southwest China only became the frontline when the Japanese decided to change their tactics and started their attacks from Burma into mainland China. The bloodiest battle took place in May 1944, as Chinese army mounted a bloody siege to win back the ancient trading town of Tengchong. More than 9000 Chinese soldiers and 6000 Japanese died in the battle. There are 3346 dead honored in the Cemetery.
Since I visited the Viet Nam Memorial in DC, I’ve always wanted to see how the names are arranged at any cemetery. Take a wild guess? Are they ranked in alphabetical order of their names? Or by the date of their death? Or by the unit they belonged to?
In Tengchong, they are arranged according to their military ranks. The lowest ranking soldiers at the bottom of the hill, and the highest ranking at the top; while generals are entombed separately. There is also a separate area honoring the 19 young American soldiers who died in the War. I was glad to see the American soldiers honored as well, but the ranking of the other names bothered me quite a bit. To me, those who died in a war are equal regardless of their ranks, as they all equally gave what’s most precious to them – their lives.
At Viet Nam Memorial in DC, the architect Maya Lin decided to do it differently. She organized the names by the date they died, and for those who died together, she intentionally kept their names together. I was told, each Viet Nam Vet volunteer always stands in front of a certain plaque, as if he was guarding the names of those who served in the war together with him. I find the message powerful and moving.
This little blog is my way of commemorating those who sacrificed for what we have today. Thank you!