Exiled Kuomintang Returning to Motherland

 
    • Wars caused numerous people to be dispersed from their family and motherland. Same thing happened during the Chinese Civil War between Mao Zedong’s Communist forces and Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang forces in 1949. It has left subsequent effects to the group of former exiled Kuomintang army in Northern Thailand. They are the defeated and forgotten army who emigrated from the mainland China to establish the general headquarters of liberation army in Sat and Chiang-lab, Burma with a hope to liberate their country and return to their homeland. At the same time, they were ousted by the Burmese and the Chinese army. After withdrawal, most of the members of the Kuomintang army were sent back to Taiwan according to the second United Nations mandate, the remaining soldiers escaped and reinforced at Burma-Thai border, to follow Chiang Kai-shek’s command. Eventually, when Chiang Ching-kuo ascended to power in 1975, he abolished his father’s plan to regain the mainland China and abandoned these soldiers. The remaining soldiers were left to struggle on their own to obtain Thai citizenship and to feed and support themselves. It was with severe difficulty that they attempted to establish a permanent residence in Thailand.

      Today, many of the Kuomintang soldiers are still completely cut off from all of their relatives in China and have never had the opportunity to return to their motherland for 60 years. Almost everyone wants to know what happened to their beloved family members, who were shaken and shattered, whether they are still alive or dead. They wonder whether their parents’ and ancestors’ tombs have been set up or if there is anybody to hold a memorial ceremony to venerate their ancestors. Their poverty, worn out body, and depravation of citizenship, have been the obstacles keeping them out of their motherland. All they ever dream is to be in their motherland at least once before they die and they know it well that it will never come true.

      Major Gao Chuoling, 78-year-old, one of the few lucky Kuomintang soldiers who has obtained Thai citizenship. He is still healthy and has some savings. This year, he plans to make a journey back to his homeland in Yongde Municipality, in Yunnan province during the Qingming Festival. It is the most important and most meaningful time for all Chinese people to return to their motherland to remember and honor their ancestors at the gravesites.

      This is for the third time he is returning to motherland. He made a trip from Arunotai Village to Bangkok by car and got on a flight to Kunming. Then, made another trip by car for 19 hours to Yongde. He met Gao Tingzhi, a son of Gao Chuochao who is his half-brother. Gao Tingzhi is waiting to pick him up with a smiling face in Dedang District downtown of Yongde. He took Gao Chuoling to buy stuffs for Qingming Festival Rituals, then got on a car to Gao Chuochao’s house which is located in Yangzhazhai Village on the hilltop of the countryside.

      The car ran uninterruptedly through the asphalt road until the end, and then connected with the rocky road made like ancient time and got into a narrow red dirt road with muddy holes all over. On both sides of the road there are steep cliffs and valleys. Even though Gao Chuoling looked weary from a long arduous journey, still he was excited and delightful when he arrived home to see his brother, niece-in-law and his great-grandchild. He spent time with his family and visit his relatives in a small village of 14 households in which 9 of them came from Gao lineage.

       

      After that, he got back to his very own family and gathered to talk with them. The neighbors also came over to visit him until late at night. They brought along good food like a young beehive and hot steamed Chinese bun to welcome him among the cold weather from the rain and mountain cool breeze, while Gao Chuochao and other relatives prepared the stuffs to pay respect at his parents’ tomb in Hushang Village, a village further away from here.

      The day they pay respects to their parents’ tomb is on the same day of Qingming Festival. Gao Chuoling had a chance to return and felt his feet touching the graveyard where he hasn’t been for 15 years. At the graveyard lied down many of his relatives from Gao Family. He then met more than 30 other relatives within Gao Family who also came to hold a memorial ceremony.

      The rituals of tomb sweeping day starts with cutting the chicken’s throat and offer it to the spirit house and more than ten to come after the first one. They were prepared as same number as the tombs in the graveyard. Women were cooking from water and the other kind of foods the carried to the hilltop. Young descendants cut down bushes and pulled the weeds to clear aside from the general area around the tomb. After finishing all those, everyone prayed to honor the ancestors and offered the sacrifices. Gao Chuolings eyes were beaming with the moment of happiness and relieve, after he had paid respect and compensate to the spirits of his deceased ancestors.

      He encircled with many of his relatives to eat and talk. Gao Chuoling received many of his relatives news and more than that, he got a chance to meet Mou Lao-ang, the 88 years old man and who was previously a groom for his family and who risked his life bringing news to Gao Chuoling and his family to escape because of the Communist soldiers plan to arrest them. At that time, no one believed him so Gao Chuoling’s father was arrested. Still, Chinese Civil War has left a wound in the hearts of all the relatives of Gao Family. Even when everyone is together for a commemoration of their ancestors and eats rice from the same pot, there are still some of his relatives looking at Gao Chuoling with hatred because he was a Kuomintang soldier.

      After paying respect to the deceased ancestors’ tombs, Gao Chuoling and his family returned to the 80-year-old home where they used to live. Two, two storied wooden buildings were made next to each other. It was old and dilapidated within a stone hedge, yet it still had the same structure and characteristics of the excellent taste of the past owner. This house was seized to be used as a government building by Mao Zedong’s government. Gao Chuozhi, Gao Chuoling’s brother, devoted his whole life working for the communist party and he was the person who redeemed the house back from the government with a cost of ten thousand Yuan. Gao Chuoling helped renovate some part of the house, but it could never erase the trace of the communism that took away his parents’ lives or erase the time when his beloved family was torn apart.

      Gao Chuoling explored the house and swept the dust with grief in his heart. The terrible memories of the past haunted him from every corners of the house. Before gradually moving 18 memorial tablets of his ancestors, from 12 generations ever since the Qing Dynasty till his father’s which were kept on the worship shelves inside the house to cherish with love, Gao Chuoling has to offer boiled chicken that was pre-made. There is no water, not even a drip to cook and not even one mattress for him to sleep over like when he was living happily here in the past with his parents and his siblings.

       

      In the old days, Gao Chuolings family was wealthy and at the most superior level in the Hushang Village. His eldest brother was taking care of family business. They employed the villagers to grow paddy, corns and potatoes on their land of more than four hundred acres. Gao Chuozhi, his favorite and closet brother, played the top with him every other day before he moved away for a secondary school in Kunming while Gao Chuoling himself went to Mong-pang Prefecture for his primary level education. Gao Chuoling had a lot of friends. After school, they usually wandered around and fished, while sometimes they got into trouble with the other kids. His home used to bustle with busy people all-around. Counting only the members of his family would be more than ten, not including the workers for another thirty lives. Every time for the meals, the cook had to prepare many big rice pots, set up many dining tables. Every one of the workers ate together and had decent food like a member of Gao’s family.

      Until 1949, when Mao Zedong’s forces seized power in Yongde and soldiers came searching for wealthy people in the village and took over their homes, lands and all other assets before putting them into jails and torture them. Men from proletariat class were appointed to rule the villages. The situation was still worse until 1950 when Gao Chuoling was 19 years old.

      Ten days after Mou Lao-ang came to warn the family to run away, communist soldiers overran the house. They hurt the family members, destroyed their belongings, took their properties and arrested Gao Chuolings father, right in front of his eyes. He sneaked and followed the soldiers back to the camp and saw that his father’s hands were tied behind his back with tight knots and was being tortured with all kinds of torments before he was taken to kneel on the rocky yard and put his face against the floor together with his neighbors from other villages to be condemn and make confessions.

      After that, Gao Chuoling decided to flee his home. But on the way he felt concerned to his family and risked coming back home once again but his mother insisted that she could not leave his father and told him to run away as far as he could. Gao Chuoling was reluctant and left with tears. With fear and haste he could only grab a knife along. Arduously, he made a move on his feet away from the communist soldiers who were hunting him down into the jungles and opium plantations.

      He was starving and living in a terribly cold weather. His intention was to cross over the border to Burma and to join General Li Wenhuan’s volunteer forces. Many times, he was almost getting caught and killed but Gao Chuoling got away with it. Once he arrived at Man-ze-shang-da-zhai Village, which was located by China-Burma border, he finally met almost sixty of Generarl Li Wenhuans men who migrated to live inside the village. Gao Chuoling asked this group of soldiers to get back to help his parents but during their preparation, his relatives that have just escaped from Dedang informed that everyone was detained in the Dedang prison and there was no way to help them.

      At that time value of living and dying were equal, so he took-up a gun and joined Generarl Li Wenhuan’s soldiers and later reinforced General Li Mi’s liberation army. A young man turned to be a mountain warrior in Kuomintang army and fought heavily with Chinese and Burmese army along the China-Burma border until the southern part of Shan State for 11 years until 1961, then he moved to reinforce in Thailand as to follow Chiang Kai-shek’s command. They had been waiting for the day to return home. Ultimately, this army was blamed to be an insurgent by Chiang Chingkuo’s government and became a civilian that had to strive in every way to acquire Thai citizenship.

       

      Although during the time of war, Kuomintang party had decisively forbidden the soldiers to make contact with their relatives back in China and blocked all of the communication methods, in 1986, Yang Zhengyi who is Gao Chuoling’s very first friend, secretly made it back home and came back to the camp to tell everyone that they can return to China without getting an execution from the government. Gao Chuoling had long dreamt about building tombs for his father and stepmother in Hushang Village, while the tomb of his mother was already built in Mahmah, Burma. Therefore Gao Chuoling saved some money and decided to return home for the first time in 1994.

      His genetic mother and stepmother were arrested within short while after he fled from home. Both of them were tortured while their hands were tied behind their backs. They were hung and condemned for so long a time that the soldiers thought they were dead. The soldiers then took both of them and left them in their own houses. After a while, his mother awoke and ran away to Gogang, Burma. Year and a half later, Gao Chuoling was able to reach his mother and took her to live with him in Pang-lung-pang-yao camp. Due to the responsibility of military work, which was hazardous and could not be abandoned, he had to make a decision to send his mother to live with his eldest brother, a civilian in Mahmah, Burma . After that, his mother passed away when she was 78 years old.

      At the time he was preparing for the first journey to return to his motherland with his son, miraculously Gao Chuoling received the letter from Gao Tingzhi, who was teaching in Burma and happened to know that exiled Kuomintang had migrated to Chiang Mai, by Burmese border. Because of that, Gao Tingzhi gave a letter to the person who was going back to the area. A letter from Gao Tingzhi told a story from home. Gao Chuoling contacted him back before he left for the journey, visit him in Burma and then they traveled to Gao Chuochao’s home together.

      After Gao Chuoling had been separated from his homeland for 44 years; he met his 50-year-old brother, whom he saw for the last time when he was he was only 5 years old. He also met Gao Chuozhi, a 70-year-old brother, with his worn out body as if he was a different person from the time he left for school in Kunming when he was young. Both Gao Chuozhi and Gao Chuochao, had been keeping in touch all the time and heard that Gao Chuoling was returning home. Gao Chuozhi, traveled a long distance from Qujing which is the outskirt of Kunming just to see him.

      Gao Chuoling said everyone enfolded each other and bawled with the most sorrowful and most delightful feelings at the same time once they met. Gao Chuoling and his brothers helped each other to build their father and stepmother’s tombs as they intended to. Gao Chuoling found out that his father had to be in jail twice for five years in total. After he was unrestrained, he had to work three years as a ranch worker for the government and later became a worker who grinded wheat at the back of Yangzhazhai Village. His father spent the last part of his life with difficulty and starvation, then die at the age of 92. Gao Chuoling spent every single moment of the valuable time with his family for a month and a half during his stay at his motherland. Then he got a chance to return home again for the second time in 2008 with his youngest daughter by a flight to Kunming. He visited his younger brother in Yongde and older brother in Qujing but it was after the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival (Zhongqiu Jie) so that he didnt have chance to pay respect to the ancestors’ tomb like this time.

      After finishing with paying respect and honoring the memorial tablets of his ancestors, Gao Chuoling left Hushang Village for a trip to Mong-pang to search for his primary school that he missed so much and had not seen for 63 years. After searching for a while and not finding it, he had to give up and chose to believe that his beloved school with all the precious memories is certainly there but that he was on the wrong street because it had changed a lot.

      During this trip back to motherland, Gao Chuoling had a strong desire to visit his ancestors’ tombs of Gao lineage on top of the mountains. In the outskirts of Dedang District, where he had not been for more than 60 years! He had to take over an hour to walk and scrutinize each memorial tomb, one by one and read the stories on the front that were almost faded in time. Gao Chuoling had harrowing and disheartening feelings as he found many tombs that belonged to the people he knew. He found only six of his ancestral tombs.

      After finishing the rituals, he came back to stay in Dedang town before continuously travel to Qujing District and stayed at Gao Chuozhi’s house, his brother, who is a previous governor of Jaotong District, Kunming in the period when Gao Chuoling fought for Kuomintang. Gao Chuoling spent time with his brother, sister-in-law, grandchild and his great-grandchild. He chose to talk about things that were not related to the conflicts of both parties. Even though his brother doesn’t want to hear or have anything about Kuomintang in his own house, both of them still love and attach to each other as if the genetic relation can never be broken by the political issue.

      Many years ago, Gao Chuozhi used to plan to visit his blind sister, who had been separated for over 60 years at Arunotai Village in Thailand. He believed that although his sister could not see, she would absolutely remember him once she heard his voice. Therefore, he prepared and planned in advance to come to Thailand this year with Gao Chuoling because he knew that he would not be able to travel a long distance anymore for the next and coming year. Moreover, Gao Chuoling may never have another chance to come back to China because of his health problems and traveling costs. Both of them got on a train to Kunming and took a flight back to Thailand together.

      Throughout the time while Gao Chuoling was on his motherland, he surrendered as a defeated man, with the feeling of both relief and affliction, as he was able to complete what he had wished for; meeting the people he loved and visiting the places where he missed so much. A vivid memory of unspeakable brutality of the war is still haunts him, both when he was awake on his motherland and when he is asleep at his place in Thailand. Vital wounds that the war has inflicted upon his soul will remain throughout his life without any remedy to cure them.

      If he had the chance to fulfill his last wish before taking his last breath, it would definitely be to see himself happily reunited with all of his family members at home in Hushang. This wish would be the same as many of exiled Kuomintang soldiers who have never had a chance to return home, including the numerous people from whom war has taken their homes and families from their lives, until the last breathing moment.

       

      The production of this news documentary was supported by Thailand Research Fund

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The dormitory in the 3rd route’s general headquarters in Thailand, used to be home for exiled Kuomintang soldiers over a thousand lives. Chiang Mai, Thailand. January 12, 2009. Part of the photo feature, Exiled Kuomintang Returning to Motherland, by Patcharin Toraktrakul.

Chen Fuyou, 81-year-old, a former soldier from Longling city, had lost contact with his relatives in the homeland for as long as 57 years. He spent his terminal life with destitution and senile diseases. He still has a lifelong unanswered question about when his mother died and how, is his older brother still alive or not. He has sent countless letters to the address of the home he departed but there is no clue of the letters being received or not. He is still waiting and desiring to return to his motherland and find out the truth before the end of his life. Chiang Rai, Thailand. January 24, 2009. Part of the photo feature, Exiled Kuomintang Returning to Motherland, by Patcharin Toraktrakul.

Zhang Zhengbi, 74-year-old, with a photo of his beloved Burmese wife who died 8 years ago. The memory when his parents and siblings were killed before he left Longling City at the age of 17 is still vivid in his mind. He used to try to send letters to his nephew, the only relative he has left, for decades until he succeed. Nevertheless, dreams of visiting his nephew and building tombs for his family members may never be fulfilled of the senile diseases and his poverty-stricken life. Chiang Rai, Thailand. January 24, 2009. Part of the photo feature, Exiled Kuomintang Returning to Motherland, by Patcharin Toraktrakul.

Chiang Yaoge, 85-year-old past warrior, currently suffers from Alzheimer, hearing loss and many other senile diseases. He was left alone with his four-year-old granddaughter, desperate and without citizenship. No one knows whether he still has a memory of his motherland as a beautiful or a horrifying place. Perhaps, if he could communicate his thoughts, he would tell everyone that his one and only lifetime dream is to return to his motherland in Yunnan just once, same as many other soldiers. Chiang Mai, Thailand. January 13, 2009. Part of the photo feature, Exiled Kuomintang Returning to Motherland, by Patcharin Toraktrakul.

Huang Shang, used to try very hard to save money for many years and paid someone to look for his 60-year-long lost relatives in the motherland. He finally found his younger brother, the only relative who is still alive. But all he can do is just talking to him on the phone and writing letters. Because of his poverty and aging body of 79-year-old which is too fragile for a long distance travel, returning to the motherland would only be just a dream that will remain in his mind until the day he dies. Chiang Mai, Thailand. January 30, 2009. Part of the photo feature, Exiled Kuomintang Returning to Motherland, by Patcharin Toraktrakul.

Women are cooking food with water and ingredients they carried on the stick all the way to the mountaintop. Yunnan, China. April 4, 2009. Part of the photo feature, Exiled Kuomintang Returning to Motherland, by Patcharin Toraktrakul.

The bedroom that belonged to Gao Chuoling, in his home in Hushang village. It was occupied by the communists and used as a government building. The house still bears the traces of the past as if it wants to ridicule his loss and repeatedly hurt the deepest wound from the war that is incurable for the rest of Gao Chuoling and his cousin’s lives. Yunnan, China. April 4, 2009. Part of the photo feature, Exiled Kuomintang Returning to Motherland, by Patcharin Toraktrakul.

Distant relatives of Gao lineage came to pay respect to their ancestors on the same day as Gao Chuoling. A large number of members from Gao lineage are still living in Yongde. Within only Yangzhazhai, Hushang, Gaoting, Qinzhaitang, and Dachaoba villages there would be over 200 households. Yunnan, China. April 5, 2009. Part of the photo feature, Exiled Kuomintang Returning to Motherland, by Patcharin Toraktrakul.

Distant relatives of Gao lineage came to pay respect to their ancestors on the same day as Gao Chuoling. A large number of members from Gao lineage are still living in Yongde. Within only Yangzhazhai, Hushang, Gaoting, Qinzhaitang, and Dachaoba villages there would be over 200 households. Yunnan, China. April 5, 2009. Part of the photo feature, Exiled Kuomintang Returning to Motherland, by Patcharin Toraktrakul.

Gao Chuoling spends over an hour looking for his direct line of Gao family on the graveyard where he has not been and felt his feet on the ground for more than 60 years. Yunnan, China. April 5, 2009. Part of the photo feature, Exiled Kuomintang Returning to Motherland, by Patcharin Toraktrakul.

The ancient ancestor’s mausoleums of Gao Lineage on the infertile hilltop far away from Hushang Village. Some of the tombs are more than hundred years old. There are over hundred tombs in the grave yard. Yunnan, China. April 5, 2009. Part of the photo feature, Exiled Kuomintang Returning to Motherland, by Patcharin Toraktrakul.

All tombs in the graveyard up on top of the mountain were left to the lonesome and turned back to the tranquility after the descendants finished the commemoration rituals and left for home. Yunnan, China. April 4, 2009. Part of the photo feature, Exiled Kuomintang Returning to Motherland, by Patcharin Toraktrakul.