70 years ago today on 27 July 1953, an armistice for a cease-fire was signed after 3 years of war in the Korean Peninsular, aiming to “ensure a complete cessation of hostilities and of all acts of armed force in Korea until a final peaceful settlement is achieved”.
The historical document bore the signature of five men from three countries: Kim Il Sung and General Nam Il representing North Korea, General Peng Dehuai representing China, and Lieutenant General William Harrison Jr. and General Mark Clark representing the United States.
Later, China proposed to finalise the settlement with a formal peace treaty, but the United States ignored the proposal, thus the Korean War never technically ended.
The following is a recollection of an encounter by a Chinese tourist who visited South Korea half a century after the armistice was signed:
Mr Zhang is a South Korean with ethnic Chinese background and as soon as I met him we became good friends. One day, we ascended Bada Hill and he told me that when he was a little boy he witnessed a bloody battle unfolding around the hill ranges.
He recalled how the American troops were well-wrapped up in warm clothes while Chinese armies wore cotton-padded hats, cotton-padded jackets and cotton-padded trousers, and looked rather thinly clad for the weather. What made him most astonishing is that in the freezing condition of Korea’s harsh winter with the temperature frequently dropping to minus 20 to 30 degrees Celsius, the Chinese soldiers had only rubber shoes on their feet.
Mr Zhang didn’t know that many Chinese volunteers were barefoot when fighting in the snowy field.
Pointing at rice paddy fields at the hill foot, Mr Zhang reflected on the battle scene of the day. The Chinese armies launched repeated charges at defence lines on the Bada Hill; when one group of the soldiers fell, another group of soldiers swiftly surged ahead, and the rice fields down the hill and the soil on the hilltop were all soaked in blood and became red. He never quite understood why Chinese soldiers could be so fearless, and what made them keep fighting under the most adverse circumstance like this.
The combat finally concluded with the Chinese claiming victory and replacing the Americans to take charge of the region. The locals did not feel afraid of the Chinese armies, since the soldiers were pretty friendly. Like other South Korean civilians, Mr Zhang’s family previously lived a life on the run, trying their best to escape from war. They were hungry and cold and homeless. It was Chinese soldiers who distributed food and clothes to the refugees, which allowed them to hold out through the winter. He still remembered vividly how a Chinese Volunteer handed him a cornbread, which he said was a moment that he would never forget.
“The locals would flee when heard the news that the South Korean or American troops were coming, but if it was the Chinese army, we would stay ‘cause we knew Chinese Volunteers would not hurt the civilians,” added Mr Zhang.
I felt my eyes dimmed with moisture.
Due to constant US air strikes, Chinese armies had difficulties receiving their food supplies, and many soldiers survived on snow and cold potatoes. But they gave away their cornbread to the South Koreans.