—-The experiences of a teenage boy in China during World War 2
Lately there have been rumors of war going about our city. One day, they weren`t there, the next day, all anyone talked about was the Japanese Invasion of China. The idea of war is still very otherworldly to me, for my whole life I have lived in my ancestor`s homeland. It is my entire world.
Our ancestors came from the North to escape from the fighting over a thousand years ago. Every one of my blood line takes their first and last breath here. This land houses the spirits of my ancestors, who watch over us, answer our needs, and guide us to our destiny. I will live here for the rest of my life. And so will my children. And their children. And all our descendants to come.
Zhe shi wo de jia. This is my home. I live with my family; brothers, sisters, parents, uncles, aunts, cousins, and grandparents. There are around 40 people who live in my ancestral home.
We live in the city of Meizhou, of the Guangdong province. I go to school in the city, too. We go to school six days a week, 8 o’clock to 4. We eat lunch at home, in between classes. At the end of the day, we have recess. We play soccer with a rubber ball and ping pong on a concrete table. After school we go home, eat supper and study. All in all, it was a very peaceful life.
But all of that was about to change.
The sky is a clear blue with a complete absence of clouds. Birds chirp melodies as they sing the song of the earth. There is a faint rustling of leaves; I feel a warm breeze brush against my skin.
All was calm. Before the storm.
Last night I had had a dream. It was of fire, and explosions, and the chatter of gunfire. I watched as our house burst into flames. I watched as giant war machines filled the sky like a great swarm of insects. I watched as soldiers and innocents fell to the ground. I watched, but I could do nothing. On the inside, I was screaming, yet on the outside I was mute. I watched as my entire world burned.
When I woke up, sweat was plastered on my skin. I felt like my heart would thump out of my chest.
Just. A dream.
Today was Saturday, the last day of the school week. The classroom was buzzing with excitement. The boys had been organizing soccer teams and playing a mini “World Cup”; the finals were tomorrow. When I went back home for lunch, I was shaking with excitement. I wolfed down my lunch and almost spilled an entire bowl of soup. My father scolded me, saying to appreciate what we were given. Nothing was to be wasted.
“Yes, Baba,” I replied, cramming a piece of chicken into my mouth.
I jogged back to school. By the time I arrived, I had cramps.
The rest of the day seemed to last an eternity, even my favorite class, literature, seemed to last two extra hours. I tuned out the teacher and thought about tomorrow`s game. I was on one of the final teams. I was a decent soccer player, probably one of the top ten kids in our school. But I was nothing compared to the other team; they had the best player, hands down, of the entire school.
His name was Yuan, but everyone called him Monkey, even the teachers. He was the only one in our school who could do a bicycle kick. He once took on an entire team by himself and won 3-0. He could score on a goal kick with his eyes closed, no joke.
When we were finally let out of school, everyone was talking about the game. Most people, including me, thought Monkey`s team would win the game.
When I got to the field, Monkey was already practicing. Sprints, pushups, sit-ups, quad stretches. It was pure intimidation.
Monkey looked at me and grinned.
“Good luck tomorrow. You`re gonna need it.”
I walked away, not bothering to reply. All I knew was that I would beat Monkey. I had to. Tomorrow I would play my heart out.
We never got to play that game.
The day started off ordinary. I dressed, ate breakfast, did homework, and then went for a jog. My feet hit the dirt and settled into a rhythm; one, two, three, four, one, two, three, four…
And then it happened. I woke up.
I saw an army of soldiers, heading my way. Scared out of my wits, I sprinted for cover.
“Hey, you! Boy! Come out!”
I was seized by my ankle and ripped out of my hiding place, behind a persimmon tree.
I was face to face with a Chinese soldier. His face was stern, with scars running down his jawline.
“Why did you hide from us, boy?”
“I… I thought,” I stuttered. “I thought you were invaders.”
The man`s face softened. “No, we aren`t invaders.”
“Then why have you come here?” You didn`t see soldiers every day.
The man became grim. “We have come to hide from the invaders.”
I soon realized that because our village was surrounded by mountains, the National Army had come to hide from the Eastern Invaders, the Japanese. They told us of the horrors the Japanese had inflicted on the rest of our nation. They told us to prepare; once the Japanese knew the national army was in our village, they would stop at nothing to wipe us out.
The first bomb dropped the next morning. We were in the middle of math class. The first things we heard were the screams. Then we heard the hum of the propeller slicing through the air. Then a gigantic boom that was so loud it left me deaf for a few minutes. The teacher yelled at us to get underneath the desks. We felt the shock of the bomb ripple through the school. All we could hear was the forty of us in the classroom, breathing, still half in shock. Then the sound of walls collapsing.
Luckily it wasn`t our room. But still, the teacher had us evacuate immediately. She told us to run home and not to look back.
She didn`t need to ask us twice.
For the next month, we were bombarded by the Japanese. The only time we went out of the house was to get food from the store. The garden became overgrown and unkempt, and school was abandoned. We spent the day in our house, the sound of our breathing the only sound as we waited for the inevitable. They didn’t bomb us every day; those days we spent huddling inside, not daring to move.
I remember it was a Friday. When we heard the sounds of the bomber plane, we were terrified. But the bomb never came. Instead, there was a gigantic crash. We sat there for an hour, two hours at least, until my baba plucked up the courage to go outside. I followed him silently, trailing behind him like a shadow.
When we went outside, we saw what had happened. The Japanese plane, while dive-bombing us, had dived too far. It had crashed in the swamp like area near the outskirts of our city. Already, National Soldiers were coming to surround the plane.
Two hours later, a second plane came. This one did not try to bomb us. Instead, it went in the direction towards the first plane. A rescue plane. When it tried to land, it got stuck in the bog.
Children started to cheer, running towards the crash site. They were stopped by the soldiers, sternly saying to stay away from the planes. The pilots could still be alive.
The soldiers were right; the four pilots were still alive. They sat back to back to each other, guns loaded. At first the soldiers tried negotiation. Put the guns down, they shouted. You`re outnumbered.
But the Japanese pilots were stubborn. They refused, cursing at the soldiers.
It was the Japanese who shot first. But when the chaos subsided, the gunshots ceased, the Chinese soldiers had won.
The soldiers marched into the city, proudly displaying the heads of the Japanese pilots. The adults were cheering; the kids were jeering and cursing at the Japanese pilots. I spat at one of the bodies, swearing.
After the Japanese invasion, most the boys in our city volunteered for the army, including me. The invasion deepened our hatred of the Japanese. It also increased our feeling of patriotism to our country.
“You`re sure you want to join the army, Wensheng?” my father asked me.
“I`ve never been more sure of anything my entire life.”
My father looked at me for a second. Then embraced me.
“Erzi, I am so proud of you,” he wiped a tear from his face.
“Remember, erzi, never forget your roots,” he gestured to our ancestral house. “You are just an individual. What you do in this world is temporary. It can be buried, wiped away, forgotten. But family, that is something you can`t ever erase. It is a part of you, it is a part of me. Blood is the stronger than all other connections. You will always be my son. Tell me you will never forget this.”
“I won`t, baba.”
We embraced for the last time. I knew this could may be the last time I would see my father.
“Wo ai ni, baba,” I love you, father.