One of life's survivors

Updated: 2012-08-14 07:36

By Wang Xiaodong (China Daily)

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The 91-year-old Cheng Yinbao, a former soldier, can't remember all the battles she fought in, but she is proud of having served her country. Wang Xiaodong reports in Tianmen, Hubei province.

After seven days of fierce fighting, the battle was won. But as Cheng Yinbao returned to her regiment she was shot from behind and the bullet went into her belly just under the ribs.

One of life's survivors

Cheng Yinbao, a former soldier during the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression, refuses her township government's subsidy and a proffered move to a nursing home. The 91-year-old prefers to take care of herself. Provided to China Daily

"I felt numb," Cheng, 91, recalls. "I turned around and shot back and a Japanese soldier fell. Then almost immediately I lost consciousness and fell."

It was in 1940, when Cheng was 19 years old and serving as a military trainer in the No 128 Army of Kuomintang. She survived the battle but lost a rib when the bullet was removed during an operation, which prevented her from having children.

Now living alone in a simple room of less than 10 square meters in her hometown of Henglin township, Tianmen county in Hubei province, with an electric fan as the only modern housing appliance, she refuses the township government subsidy and a proffered move to a nursing home.

"I cannot move to a nursing home or a welfare house. Such places are for the poor and the weak. How can I face my ancestors if I move to these places?" she says.

Cheng's pride has a reason: She was born into a prominent family. Her father was the head of Tianmen county, where she was born, and several of her uncles were senior officers in the Kuomintang army.

Cheng still looks nimble and remembers much of her history. When talking of her early life, happy smiles occasionally surface on her wrinkled face.

One of life's survivors 

Cheng Yinbao lives on her own in a simple room in Henglin township, Tianmen county, Hubei province. Wang Xiaodong / China Daily 

Cheng grew up in an age when China was engaged in civil war and threatened by Japanese invasion. When she was 13, she was selected by the local government and sent to a military school.

"All the 600 selected teenagers were born into rich or powerful families," Cheng says.

Three years later she graduated and became a military trainer in the No 128 Army. The 16-year-old's excellent shooting skills won her respect.

"In a contest I got top scores for all five shots. The chief officer was so happy he gave me a gold watch as a gift."

Unlike ordinary soldiers, who were given a fixed amount of bullets she had as much ammunition as she needed due to her family ties in the army and could practice when she wanted, she explains.

Since joining the army in 1937, when the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression (1937-45) started, Cheng has lost count of the battles she fought in and how many people she has killed.

Relying on more advanced weapons, the Japanese army occupied much of China's prosperous eastern part within the first year of the war, which lasted for eight years, until Japan surrendered in 1945.

However, when the invading army marched to Wuhan, Hubei province, they lost much of their advantage.

"This area was intersected by numerous rivers and lakes," Cheng says. "So many battles were fought on water, which was less familiar to the Japanese army."

Cheng is still proud of a battle in which she took advantage of her beauty to kill a Japanese guard and then commanded four soldiers to take dozens more by surprise.

"So many battles were fought. But this was one of the proudest moments in my life."

After she learned the commander of her brigade surrendered to the Japanese in 1943, she refused to stay in the army, removed her uniform and returned to her hometown.

In the decades after the People's Republic of China was founded in 1949, Cheng experienced the turmoil of the age. A fire burned down her old house, in 1953, and life became tougher. She labored, carrying fertilizer and opening an oil extraction mill with her husband, among other small businesses.

"Life was hard. After a day's labor, I used to wash my sweat-drenched clothes and wear them the next day. I did not have alternate clothes."

In the 1950s when she was carrying a bag of fertilizer, an army officer on an inspection tour recognized her.

"We once fought the Japanese side by side. I could see he was very surprised to see me. He later sent me eight bags of rice."

Half a century later, Cheng still gets emotional when recalling the scene.

"He was such a nice man. How can I ever reward his kindness?"

After her husband died 10 years ago, life became even harder for Cheng. She sold the gold watch she was honored with in the shooting competition for 14,000 yuan ($2,200) several years ago to cover medical bills.

"Although she's lived a hard life, Cheng still feels proud in her heart," says Lao Jiang, a volunteer who cares for old soldiers in Tianman county. "It is very hard for her to accept charity, as she always thinks it is for the weak and infirm."

Until May, she still lived in a dilapidated house, with no electricity or water, he says.

The township government rented the 10-square-meter room for her where she now lives. A piece of cloth hangs from the roof and divides the room into two areas. Behind the cloth is a bed.

"I will continue to stay in my room, until I cannot move," she says.

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