China's Lost and Found Hero
A soldier's bravery in China's darkest hour was forgotten when he defied the Communist party. Decades later, the government resurrected his story, yet whitewashed his beliefs.
Photos by Amanda Mustard
The year was 2012. It was a cold December night in Nanjing, China, and a solemn memorial ceremony was taking place. Buddhist monks from China, Korea and Japan chanted looped prayers. School children lit candles for the vigil and left written notes beside the flames. “May the world no longer see war,” one note read. “We hope you can all rest in peace,” read another. White flowers were laid at an altar for the dead.
One by one, party apparatchiks, all wearing the same black wool suit, the same white shirt, and ties of varying shades of red, congratulated one man: Cheng Yun, then ninety-two, was the last surviving native Nanjingese man who fought the Japanese army here seventy-five years earlier. The same ceremony takes place every year, organized by the city officials of Nanjing.
Cheng limped into the spotlight, supported by a well-worn cane. Dozens of microphones and cameras were pointed at him, reminiscent of the Japanese rifles and bayonets he faced more than se…