Dong Jimin stands next to a photo of himself at a Beijing exhibition about veterans of the Chinese People's War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression in August 2015.Provided To China Daily
Dong Jimin, the oldest living Chinese veteran of China's protracted struggle against the invading Japanese, from 1931 to 1945, died on Wednesday morning at the age of 113.
With his passing, veterans who fought in the war from the beginning and survived to see the invaders' defeated are closer to fading from the scene.
The war, known officially as the Chinese People's War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression, started in 1931 with the Sept 18 Incident in Shenyang, Liaoning province, when Japanese military personnel detonated a small quantity of dynamite close to a railway line controlled by Japan.
The explosion was so weak that it failed to destroy the track and a train passed over it minutes later. But the Imperial Japanese Army blamed the Chinese and responded with a military occupation of Northeast China, then known as Manchuria.
It was the beginning of the resistance for Dong and many others.
He joined the Northeast Volunteer Corps that year and, for the next 14 years, traveled all over China. During the outbreak of the July 7 Incident on Beijing's outskirts in 1937, which led to a full invasion of China, Dong was nearby in Hebei province.
He was in Jiangxi province in 1939, when fighting intensified in that part of China. Later, he fought in Shaanxi. "Death was just an integral part of life that could come at any time, with or without an emphatic note," he said in an interview with China Daily last year. Japan officially surrendered to the Allies on Aug 15, 1945.
On Oct 1, 1949, the People's Republic of China was founded. Dong didn't take part in the civil war before that, but as a former Nationalist soldier, he was not immune when the chaotic era of China's "cultural revolution" (1966-76) arrived. He was forced to move from Beijing, where his family had settled, to a rural village in Henan province a few hundred kilometers away. Political rehabilitation came in 1971, five years after he was denounced as "an anti-revolutionary".
His son Dong Xiwu said that later in life, all the veteran's memories - whether heroic or painful - remained locked up in the safe box of his mind.
But then, on Sept 3, 2014, China held a grand military parade to commemorate the end of World War II. Dong watched the live TV broadcast at home. The Chinese government has officially. designated Sept 3 as the national Victory Day in the Chinese People's War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression.
"When the vehicle carrying veteran soldiers came into view, my father propped himself up on the back of a chair and saluted," the son said.
In 2005, in a memorial event, then-president Hu Jintao talked about the contribution of the battlegrounds where Nationalists soldiers clashed with the Japanese. On July 7, 2014, President Xi Jinping met with veterans from both the Communist and the Nationalist armies that fought to expel the invaders.
The oldest soldier was put on a ventilator on Saturday night, a few hours before this year's Victory Day.
"I bent down and whispered into his ear, 'Dad, hold on! Victory Day is coming," recalled Dong Xiwu. "He winked at me."