‘The Battle at Changjin Lake’ breaks record

06 Nov, 2021 - 00:11 0 Views
‘The Battle at Changjin Lake’ breaks record One soldier beat back the charges of the enemy more than 40 times and killed 280 single-handedly when his whole squad had perished

The Herald

Ms G

One was a one-year-old newly independent nation, with the entire economy in shambles and more than half of the population starving; the other was the world’s top power, accounting for 40 percent of the global GDP.

One had a GDP 1/15 of the other and a steel output 1/144 of the other. One had only infantry and limited artillery to call military power; the other had all the latest weapons in the world.

The mismatch was astounding. Yet the former decided to defend itself in a war waged by the other and prevailed.

The contrast makes for good drama material. And it did. “The Battle at Changjin Lake,” a story about a particular battle during a war on the Korean Peninsula in the 1950s, is now the world’s highest-grossing film in 2021, breaking $845 million (RMB5,41 billion) in 29 days after its release in late September.

More than 100 million Chinese viewers, from young teenagers to septuagenarians, watched the film and reported being “unable to control the tears”.

The war is a painful, indelible mark on the Chinese national consciousness. In June, 1950, the US sent ground troops to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the Seventh Fleet into China’s Taiwan Straits, two days after the Korean War broke out between the Republic of Korea and the DPRK.

Leading a UN force and mobilising a third of its own army, half of its navy and a fifth of its air force, the US was bent on a win and had no doubts about it. No one in the world would have doubted it either.

When they were pushing back the DPRK forces, US military planes also took the opportunity to intrude China’s airspace, bombing airports and infrastructure along China’s northern borders.

China did not want the war — the nation had just enjoyed liberation for less than a year; hostile elements at home were still busy sabotaging the new government; the people had had enough conflicts and misery and loathed war. But a request for help was sent in from its brotherly neighbour.

And China’s sovereignty and newly-gained independence was under grave threat.

China soon decided to responded. But it was an impossible mission. Chinese soldiers only had canvas shoes and thin cotton uniforms; their US enemies were wearing full outdoor, cold-proof gear from head to feet, complete with the newly-invented bulletproof vest.

The Chinese were skipping one or two meals a day, eating frozen potatoes and wild herbs, and sometimes taking snow for water, while on the other side there was fresh meat and vegetables, chocolate, cookies, and even cigarettes and chewing gums.

According to the Associated Press, General Macarthur remarked with a smile during his discussion of the campaign with Major General John B. Coulter, “You tell the boys that when they get to the Yalu (River) they are going home. I want to make good on my statement that they are going to eat Christmas dinner at home.”

Six days after the Chinese soldiers crossed the border into the DPRK,  they successfully forced the enemy back to the Chongchon river; 19 days later, the enemy retreated to the south of the 38th parallel.

Three years after the war broke out, the Korean Armistice Agreement was finally signed in the village of Panmunjom. It was a victory won with many tragic deaths and brutal battles, especially on the Chinese side.

The Changjin Lake battle is one of the deadliest. It is the coldest place in the north of the DPRK. And that winter was recorded as the harshest in 50 years. Night temperatures plunged to minus 40 degrees. But the Chinese fighters were tougher than their environment.

One of the most told stories is about the “ice sculpture companies” in the Chinese military who were frozen to death while keeping their formation and combat posture. Their hands were frozen to the guns and all guns pointing in the same direction.

A note was found in the pocket of a young soldier. It reads, “I love my family and my country. Yet I cherish my honour even more. I am a proud member of the Chinese People’s Volunteers. Ice and snow will not break me. Even if frozen, I would still stand tall on my battle field.”

In another excruciating battle on the Triangle Hill in 1952, more than 1,9 million cannon shots, 5 000 bombs, and 274 fallen jets failed to give the US control over the mere 3,7 square kilometres of land.

Every six seconds there were 76 shells exploding. The heavy use of fire exceeded the highest levels in World War Two and became know as the “Van Fleet load”, after the US General James A. Van Fleet, a term that means five times the normal load of firing.

Supplies to the Chinese forces were cut off. “Whoever gets an apple to the front line will be given a merit citation class II”. Yet even a bottle of water could cost several lives. But the brave heroes held on for 43 days.

One soldier beat back the charges of the enemy more than 40 times and killed 280 single-handedly when his whole squad had perished. Among those who gave their lives in the war was Mao An’ying, Chairman Mao Zedong’s son.

Upon learning his ultimate sacrifice, the heart-broken father and leader of the nation said this, “Wars kill. Many officers in the Chinese People’s Volunteers laid down their lives in the war. Theirs is a glorious death. An’ying is only an ordinary soldier. Do not exaggerate it because he was my son.”

Some critics say the film is designed to whip up nationalism and anti-US sentiments and relives an American defeat.

Some say it is about flaunting Chinese military might. Both interpretations fail to capture the magnitude of the real lesson. It’s not about might, because obviously might did not work in the war. It’s not about us against another because both sides suffered tragic losses of young lives.

In fact, I don’t believe anyone walking out of the cinema with tears in their eyes would be thinking, “Yes, kill them all. I’m so happy we won.”

There must be something deeper, more profound on their mind. Something about how war devastated humanity, how to better live their own lives and love those in their life, and how peace, democracy, freedom and justice should be defended at all costs.

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