Tuesday, January 28, 2014

128 Incident: Don’t forget the 19th Route Army

My mother used to tell me a story about a young crippled veteran she met when she was only seven or eight. The poor young man in a ragged old uniform could only crawl on the ground because his both legs were amputated from his knees down. When he was crawling door to door begging for food, many poured water on the street to keep him from approaching their door step. As a little girl, my mother felt very sorry for that poor guy. After nearly eighty years, she could still remember vividly of his shining white teeth and melancholic smile.

Judging from my mother’s age and picking up from historical facts, I would say that disabled veteran might be one casualty of the 19th Route Army.

The 19th Route Army, a unit formed mainly by Cantonese, had a glorious combat history. On January 28, 1932, Japan attacked Shanghai without a declaration of war. The 19th Route Army, then stationing there, vowing not to let the enemy take an inch of Chinese soil, fought gallantly to defend the city. Failing to achieve their objective, the invaders were forced to change their commander three times. Thirty-three days later a cease-fire was signed after international mediation. On March 1, the 19th was ordered to pull back to a second line of defense. Later the 19th was sent south to Fukien province.

November 1933, the 19th joined with the Communist forces to openly defy Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek’s central government but failed. The unit was disbanded and its numbered designation was never used by any Republic of China troops.

I suspect the young veteran was a victim of the clashes erupted between the 19th with other nationalist troops deployed by Chiang to wipe out communist insurgency. It was a time when China did not have a strong central government and her armed forces were divided into various factions. Regarded as a territorial warlord unit, the 19th was never favored by Chiang. However, its gallantry and sacrifice in confronting Japanese aggression should not be forgotten.

This post was inspired by a letter-to-the-editor titled “128 Incident: Don’t forget the 19th Route Army” written by Wang Jing-nan on today’s China Times.

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