The Sino-Japanese War, Part 1
The Chinese hatred of Japan is not as intense as decades ago, but to my grandma, if a country were to be condemned to hell forever, that country would be Japan.
I was born in the city of Shenyang, which was also the starting point of Japanese invasion of China. Whenever my non-Chinese friends asked me which part of China I was from, the Japanese invasion story, and the Nanjing massacre, would always be told with my identity introduction. Although personally I have no strong negative feelings towards Japan, I felt compelled to let people know the history from the war victims’ perspectives — my grandma’s perspective.
Grandma was sitting in her one sitter couch in her living room, hands clasped together on her knees. Behind her, were pots of blooming purple and red orchids so well maintained that they no longer looked real. The sun shined through the window, casting orchids shadows on grandma’s shoulders. She looked so relaxed, so peaceful, so wise, so full of stories yet so calm with tragedies, as if she was a living Buddha.
“You are the first who ever asked me about the war,” grandma let out a little chuckle. “I know my da sun nu (big granddaughter) is special.”
Grandma started her memory recollection in Chinese with a strong Shangdong accent that in our family, I was the only one from my generation that could understand her. I can see from her eyes that she was searching for the movie roll titled “War”.
“It was 1939 in a small village named Shi Jia East （石家东庄） in Shandong province. I was about 8 years old. My mother sent me to pick up tree branches near the corn fields. I do that everyday as they would be used as firewoods. It was a sunny day with breeze combed through the corn fields gently, and the sky so blue, so high up, as if the village was being protected with a magical dorm that could last eternally. Until all of a sudden, a panicked middle aged man who kept on hitting a gong ran into the village screaming.
“Ri ben gui zi (The Japanese devils) are here!” he cried.
“I was squatting down drawing flowers on the dust with a tree branch when he ran into the village. Because my basket was full of firewoods and the weather was so good, I wanted to stay outside for a bit before going back to take care of my sisters who were always crying. But then this frenetic man came into the peaceful village, a place that he didn’t seem to belong to. His face was wet from sweat and tears, and his clothes torn and blood soaked. He was screaming like a horse about to be slaughtered, using up all the air in his lungs to make sure his terror could be spread via the gong’s pounding effect. Before I could understand what was going on, the man ran past by me, leaving behind him a trail of dust that chocked me.
“Then I saw people started to emerge from the corn fields. In the distance, women started to scream for their husbands, children and men started to shout back.
“I can’t exactly hear what they were shouting about, but I felt fear was spreading fast in the village. So I grabbed my basket of firewoods and started to run towards home. At the same time, I was confused about where to run, as there were people running into the corn fields too. It was chaotic and frightening. Everyone seemed to be running away from something from different directions. I decided to go back home to my mother. When I could see my house, I saw my mother standing at the door way, stretching out her arm at me. The moment I was within her arms reach, she pulled me into the house and shut the door tightly behind.
“We don’t have time to run,” mother said to me. “We will hide at home.”
“Then I know, we should not have stayed at home. Because mother was waiting for me, that was why she did not run to the corn fields with sisters. It was deadly quiet at home. My younger sisters were not crying or jabbering like they used to be. They stood stiffly close to each other, waiting for mother’s instructions. Then mother scooped up them both and put them into a huge ceramic tank, and she covered the tank with a layer of cloth and sealed it with a wooden lid. That tank was used to store rice but we did not have any rice left in it.”
“Don’t cry. Don’t make a sound. Cover your ears!” mother hushed sisters. “Mother then picked me up and ran to the backyard. She put me behind the door, and herself looking through the cracks of the wooden door to check on the ceramic tank where my sisters were placed. Mother and me were not really hiding. We were so poor, our house so bare, we did not even have proper place to hide. Anyone who walked into the house could almost see us instantly.
“Within minutes, the gunshots outside started and echoed louder and louder. I felt gui zi could come into our home any moment. I heard our door being smacked but mother locked it well. Subsequently, a grenade, must be two, went off, and the mud from our roof rained down on me. Then it was silence for a few seconds, and gun shots started again.
“I didn’t know how long the fight lasted, but when it finally became quiet I thought everyone was dead outside. Little by little, although soft, but persistent, I heard my sisters crying. Men outside started to shout, the gong started to pound again, and this time, another desperate voice rushed everyone remaining and alive in the village to go and hide in the far corner of the corn field.
“Mother stood up in a half squatting position bending her upper body, quietly shifted herself to the main door and peeped outside to check if we were safe. She opened the door ajar, and I saw men and women outside started to flock towards the corn fields. Mother decided to leave too when everyone now seemed to be abandoning their houses to the corn field. She walked briskly towards the ceramic tank, pulled out my crying sisters, hushed them again, and together with me, we four shifted towards the corn field just like all the rest.
“Along the way, dead bodies of the gui zi and plain clothed villagers scattered everywhere. Mother kicked one dead gui zi on the face but she quickly moved on as there might be more of them coming. Other villagers who couldn’t find their relatives were wailing, and one man tried to look through the dead bodies, hoped not to find his loved ones. Then again he was pulled away by others as more gui zi were coming to us.
“Old Shi was a deaf and mute old man living by himself. When all the surviving villagers gathered at the foot of the mountain at the far end of the corn field, Old Shi was not there. His house was west to where we were living. While mother was looking for him, she was told that when the Japanese came to the village, they went to his house to ask for direction, but Old Shi could not understand a thing as he was deaf. The Japanese devils became impatient with him, and stabbed him with their pointed rifle gun on the spot. Old Shi was gone.
When grandma was telling me about the battle, she seemed to have no time to even breath. The movie roll played so fast in her head. All the details seemed to be still so vivid to her, even after almost 80 years.
But the battle in the village was far from over.