China's Korean war veterans battle for benefits

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 28 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 28 July, 2013, 7:51am

Although they are often hailed by the state media as national heroes, veterans of the Chinese People's Volunteer Army (PVA) continue fighting a seemingly hopeless war for better retirement benefits.

Many of China's Korean war veterans still alive - most now well into their eighties - must survive on local government welfare and military service subsidies that rarely exceed a few thousand yuan a month. They receive no special medical benefits.

"Our country still fails to come up with a comprehensive system to take care of veterans and their families," said Huang Zhao, 78, a Korean war veteran who lives in Guangzhou.

Huang, who worked as a telegraph operator in the PVA's air force, said he is lucky that he and his wife together collect 7,000 yuan (HK$8,800), thanks in part to jobs they held after the war.

But he said most other Korean war veterans he knows are living in poverty. Many veterans and their families have travelled to Beijing looking for help from the central government.

"But the petitions all failed," Huang said. "The central government just passed our problems to local governments, who always see veterans as troublemakers."

Zhang Zhuan, 86, a veteran who won several medals in Korea, lives alone in a dilapidated 540-square-foot apartment in Guangzhou's Liwan district. He relies on a 950 yuan monthly subsidy to survive.

It is not known how many Chinese veterans of the Korean war still live. About three million PVA soldiers fought in Korea.

Veterans say the 7,000 Chinese prisoners of war repatriated by the United States received the worst treatment. Among them is Zhang Zeshi, who was captured two months after joining the fight.

Zhang was drafted by his captors to serve as a prison camp interpreter due to his fluent English, a role that would later cause him to be branded a collaborator.

Zhang, 84, was rehabilitated in 1981. But many of his fellow prisoners of war died in the political purges of the Mao Zedong era.

China's main opponent in the war, the US, treats its veterans much better, said Zhang, who described being overcome with emotion while visiting the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington several years ago.

"I was moved when I saw that all the names of the American veterans and casualties in the war were carefully carved and preserved on the memorial stones without being hidden," Zhang said. "But it's impossible for us to collect such a detailed list of our martyrs."