Among all fifties allies that took part in the struggle against Fascist aggressors during WWII, General Zhang Zhi-Zhong of the Republic of China was the highest ranking officer killed in action.
Born in a family of renown in Northern China at late Qing dynasty, Zhang was well educated in Confucianism and was indoctrinated that loyalty to his country and filial piety to his parents were both indispensable to a man.
When he was young, he first chose to study law and politics. Several years later, he turned to develop his career in the military.
He first joined the Northwestern Army, at that time a warlord’s territorial armed forces of China and started from the bottom.
After the Zhong-Yuan War, a civil war between the ruling Nationalist and warlords in 1930, his troops were reorganized, and he became the commander of the 38th Division of the 29th Army.
In 1933, the 29th Army beat up the Japanese trying to occupy Xifengko, a strategic point of the Great Wall. For their gallantry in battle, Zhang and eleven officers of the 29th were awarded the Order of Blue Sky and White Sun, the highest award of the Republic of China.
On July 7, 1937, when the Marco-Polo Bridge Incident broke out, and China launched a full-scale resistance war against Japan. Zhang was ordered by Chiang Kai-shek, the head of the Nationalist government’s military committee and de factor ruler of China then, to stay behind and become the acting mayor of Peking(now Beijing). His job was to deal with the Japanese as long as possible to gain the time for the 29th to withdraw. However, the public and the media, unaware of the ins and outs, labeled Zhang as a traitor.
His name was finally cleared as Chiang Kai-shek appointed him as the commander of the 59th Army after he managed to escape to Nanjing.
In 1938, his 59th beat the Japanese hard and paved the way for the Battle of Taierzhuang, China’s first major victory in the Second Sino-Japanese War. Thus Zhang was promoted to become the commander of the 33rd Army Group.
Zhang then led his troops to win battle after battle. In 1940, Japan intended to take China’s wartime capital Chung-king and launched a major offensive. On May 16, Zhang led his men to attack and unfortunately was surrounded by the enemy. Badly wounded, Zhang still fought to the last moment and attempted to commit suicide but was stopped by his subordinates. He later died of severe wound.
The Japanese buried him and honored him as China’s god of war. Chiang ordered a commando to retrieve Zhang’s body and held a state funeral to commemorate his sacrifice. Chiang personally wrote his epitaph 英烈千秋 meaning everlasting glory for this national hero.
On April 16, 1982, the People’s Republic of China officially recognized Zhang as a revolutionary martyr. On May 16, 2010, on the seventieth anniversary of General Zhang’s death, a ceremony was held in Chungking to honor his sacrifice for the nation.