Nanyang Volunteers – Part 3
Dr Julitta Lim Shau Hua, the president of the Association of Sarawak Chinese Academic Research (ASCAR), recalled that the year 2019 marked the 80th anniversary of the epic event of the Nanyang Volunteers.
A year earlier, 2018 was the most significant year, as the ‘Archives of Nanyang Volunteer Mechanics and Drivers’ entered the ‘UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register — Asia and Pacific Regions’.
The eighth general meeting of UNESCO Memory of the World Committee for Asia and the Pacific, represented by members from 30 countries, was held in Korea from May 28-31, 2018.
The Yunnan Provincial Archives Museum, as representative of one of the eight countries applying for inscription, was represented by its deputy director, Madam Duan Lijuan. She led a delegation to the appraising and accessing meeting.
She presented a collection of more than 850 files of official documents, photographs and records on the Nanqiao Volunteer Drivers and Mechanics, covering the period between 1937 and 1948.
Six months later, it was unanimously selected and approved for inscription in the The UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register — Asia and the Pacific Regions.
Objection from the Japanese
During the appraisal meeting, the only dissenting voice came from the Japanese quarters. Of course, as usual the fascist section of the Japanese government would not admit any atrocities committed by them in China and Southeast Asian countries, either prior to or during the time of World War II.
To that dissenting voice, a grace period of six months was given for it to come up with refuting evidence, but to no avail by the end of October 2018.
Symposium cum press conference
A symposium on the success of the ‘Nanqiao Volunteer Drivers and Mechanics Archival Files’ being inscribed in the UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register — Asia and the Pacific Regions” cum press conference, was held at the Yunnan Provincial Archives Museum in Kunming City, China on Oct 24, 2018.
The international symposium, which was chaired by Yunnan Archives Museum director Huang Fengping, was jointly organised by the Yunnan Provincial Archives Museum, the Yunnan Provincial Overseas Affair Department, the Yunnan Returned Overseas Chinese Union, and the United Front Work Department of CPC Central Committee of Kunming City.
Dr Lim, in her capacity as ASCAR president, and executive member Kong Tze Ting, were invited to attend the symposium.
On arrival in Kunming on Oct 23, 2018, Dr Lim and Kong together with more than 120 invited participants from the various Chinese provincial archives, libraries, members of the local and overseas mass media, local and overseas scholars and researchers were accommodated at the Yunnan Zhen Zhuang Guest House in the centre of Kunming city.
The Green Lake
“Mention must be made about this historically and culturally rich Zhen Zhuang Hotel or Yunnan Zhen Zhuang Guest House with its large compound bordering the Green Lake or Cui Hu. It covers an area of 138 acres with 96 acres of greenery bordering the Green Lake,” recalled Dr Lim.
She revealed that the Green Lake was a familiar place to the former Nanyang Volunteer Mechanics and Drivers who used to have a wash at the lake after they returned from their arduous drive, transporting war materials to the war zones along the dusty Yunnan-Burma Road.
“Two of our Sarawak Nanyang Volunteer Mechanics, the late Kho Hai Seng of Serian and the late Lee Ah Liew of Lundu, revisited the Green Lake in 2013 and 2014 respectively after a lapse of more than seven decades,” she recalled.
The visits were made possible with the help of Dr Lim and ASCAR.
The architecture of the Zhen Zhuang Guest House reflects not only the style of Chinese traditional classical gardens, but also the style of European architecture.
It is composed of both internal and external courtyards. The outer courtyard consists of a group of small Chinese-style buildings adjacent to Beijing Road. It has several floating restaurants and pavilions by the lake. An aerial view of the numerous buildings of the hotel looks like an interesting maze.
With modern development creeping in, it is now the unique garden hotel in the heart of Kunming city, and it is accessible to places like the Changshui International Airport, Yunnan Hall, Kunming City Museum, Yunnan Archives Museum, the Nanyang Volunteer Mechanics Memorial Hall of Wuhua Qu and the old Panjiawan and Jiangwu Hall. The latter two were military training centres for the new arrivals of the Nanyang Volunteer Mechanics during WWII.
Speaking at the symposium, the deputy director of Yunnan Provincial Archives Museum, Duan Lijuan said the collection of more than 850 files of official documents, photographs and records on the Nanqiao Volunteer Drivers and Mechanics, were first-hand materials, valuable for historical studies of China’s Resistance War against Fascism.
It is a record of the Nanyang Chinese epic participation in the Second World War, as well as the relationship between the Southeast Asian Chinese migrants and mainland China.
Duan Lijuan said the epic historical event deserved a place not only in our memory, but also a place in world heritage.
Nanyang Jigong Memorial House
In the afternoon, a guided tour of the Nanyang Jigong Memorial Hall at the Xinwenli Nanqiao Jigong Memorial House was held.
On the ground floor, there’s the ‘Wall of Fame’ with the names of more than 3,200 volunteer mechanics engraved on it. Other exhibits include the Memorabilia Wall and the Dodge Truck used along the Yunnan-Burma Road during the Sino-Japanese War.
On the first floor, there’s the display room and exhibition corridors. The walls at the entrance are engraved with stone relief carvings depicting the images of the volunteers and routes of the Yunnan-Burma Road, the Huitong Bridge, the strategic site blown up as a denial measure. It has a floor area of about 70 square metres and it was opened on July 17, 2016.
“Although it is small, it contains the history of Nanyang Volunteer Drivers and Mechanics at a glance; it’s an epic event in a nutshell! Visitors to Kunming are recommended to visit the site as it is by the Green Lake,” said Dr Lim.
In Malaysia, several war monuments have been erected in memory of these Nanyang Volunteer Mechanics and Drivers.
On July 7, 1946, just a year after WWII, overseas Chinese in Penang unveiled a monument to honour the Nanyang Volunteers.
The Chinese community in Kuala Lumpur also built a monument in their memory a year later, Johor in 2013 and Sarawak in 2016.
In China, there is the memorial monument in Xishan, Kunming, built in 1989 and one in Wanding, built in 2005, that is complete with a memorial hall, especially dedicated to the Nanyang Volunteer Mechanics and Drivers.
Every year on July 7, to commemorate the anniversary of the Sino-Japanese War, public memorial services are held to honour them.
“It is hoped that through pictorial exhibitions of the epic event, the stories in the books and the monuments, which keep alive the memories of the Nanyang Volunteers, the people of Sarawak, especially the younger generations, will emulate the patriotic spirit and love for our country Malaysia,” said Dr Lim.