Thursday, November 14, 2013

The meandering life of Lee Po-tsin

Lee Po-tsin was a Taiwanese fighting World War II as a Japanese soldier. After the war, he continued to fight side by side with Indonesian guerrillas against the Dutch colonial government. Last month he died of heart attack at 91 in Jakarta and was buried at Indonesian Heroes’ Cemetery.

Born in Tainan, Taiwan, in 1922, as his family following the ruling Japanese Taiwan-Governor General Office’s Komika Movement, a campaign to totally transform the Taiwanese into loyal subjects of the Japanese Emperor between 1937 and 1945, Lee Po-tsin adopted a Japanese name. When World War II broke out, Lee “volunteered” to serve in the Imperial Japanese Army, seeing actions in the Philippines, Burma, and Indonesia with the Allies.

When Japan surrendered in August 1945, Lee and nine hundred fellow soldiers did not want to lay down their arms. Together they joined the Indonesian guerrillas in the struggle against the Dutch for the independence of Indonesia. Over half of his compatriots were killed in action in the four-year long independence war. When the conflict ended in 1949, about three hundred surviving former Japanese soldiers including Lee chose to stay in Indonesia where they were given citizenship out of gratitude for their contribution and sacrifice. In 2005, Lee was awarded a national hero’s medal by the president at a ceremony celebrating the sixtieth anniversary of Indonesian independence.

In an interview Lee said that he came back to Taiwan once in 1974. As Taiwan was then still under “White Terror”, Lee, who fought with the Army of the Republic of China in Burma, fearing of being purged, left hastily after a brief meeting with his parents. Returning to Indonesia, Lee became very active in Japanese community and devoted himself wholly to teaching Japanese to Japanese Indonesians. He married an Indonesian girl and they had three children.

His 27-year old grandson told the media that his grandfather was always proud of taking part in the independence war and often told him war stories. Lee’s last image was recorded in a documentary directed by Sakai Atsuko (1969-), who has long been concerned of the Taiwanese under Japanese colonization and their lives after World War II.    

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