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Remembering History: Yang Guoqing on the Battle of Nankou
Last Modified:  2012-02-29 15:45:12
Yang Guoqing, a resident of Xiakou, Shisanling, Changping was invited by Co-dean Fang Liufang to give a lecture on the Battle of Nankou at CESL on February 27, 2012.

Many politicians and scholars have given lectures at CESL, Fang said, however, there has never been a talk so close to the environment we live in as the one today. After a brief introduction to the background of the Battle of Nankou, Fang said, “In military terms the Battle of Nankou probably does not count as a victory for the Chinese. Nevertheless, they rose up against all odds in the clear understanding that they could never win, and still fought bravely, crying, “Forward into the enemy’s canon fire”, "Use our blood and sweat to make a new Great Wall”. It is precisely this spirit of the Chinese people that led to ultimate victory against the invaders. Fang talked of his high esteem for Yang Guoqing’s interviews with survivors, and his magnanimous deeds of collecting, protecting and displaying artefacts from this period. Fang described this as, “Saving precious objects and rescuing a period of history from indifference and forgetfulness. An ordinary Changpinger acts upon his moral convictions”.
Yang Guoqing talks about the Battle of Nankou

Bullet riddled Ming Dynasty watch tower
(Photo supplied by the Battle of Nankou Research Centre)
Yang Guoqing first played Shanghai Television’s 2010 documentary “The Immortal Great Wall”. The documentary gave an introduction to Yang’s experience of five years as an independent explorer of the battlefields from the anti-Japanese war at Nankou. One autumn when Yang climbed the Great Wall, he saw that the tallest point was a bullet riddled crumbling Ming Dynasty observation tower. The surrounding remains of the Great Wall had already disintegrated and all that remained was this observation tower. It was almost as if it stands there as a silent witness, showing history to the later generation. It was that moment which touched Yang’s soul and set him on a quest to uncover the Battle of Nankou. From this point on his work only increased. He conducted interviews, collected artefacts, visited residents, formers soldiers, gradually resurrecting a forgotten period of history. On August 8, 2009, Yang erected a monument for national heroes “who couldn’t return home”. On it was written, “A Belated Commemoration”. He said, “Setting up this monument was a way of gathering the spirits of these heroes, bringing their spirits together”.

Yang Guoqing
Yang said looking back at history is not a way of prolonging enmity, but using history as a mirror so that there is peace for generations to come. During the one hour talk, he introduced the geography of Nankou, its history and culture and the meaning and main events of the Battle of Nankou. Nankou is located in a place that is both strategically important and difficult to access, between the Taihang and Yanshan Mountains, and the site of many battles throughout history. Japanese forces attacked Nankou on August 8, 1937, approaching the Beiping-Suiyuan line to protect Manchuria and cut off the Chinese and Russian forces. A fierce battle over 18 days ensued between 70,000 Japanese troops and 60,000 Chinese in the passes of Nankou, Yanqing, Mentougou and the surrounding mountains. In some respects the Battle of Nankou was the first time China and Japan faced each other on a large scale. Even though the Chinese forces were eventually defeated, the Battle of Nankou is still worth remembering.

Yang shared his experiences of excavating and inquiring at three important locations. He used pictures and objects to show what he had found. The three battle sites are: the 390 Plateau, famous for its fragrant yellow flowers, Huangtuwa battle field, famous like Northern Odai for its mountains of bodies and rivers of blood, and the Northern Qiling battle field, famous for worriers’ last cries. “History cannot speak; friends must use their own insights”, analysis of bullet holes and object unearthed at the battlefields brought memories back to the old soldiers. Yang has restored the defensive Battle of Nankou, a period of history full of blood and fire, for us all.

In the end, Yang made the audience respect those martyrs who had sacrificed their lives in battle.

Students interacted with Yang during the lecture. They learn about the objects from the battleground, his care for survivors and interviews with them, as well as the difficulties he experienced in working at the battlegrounds. A short film calling for society to care for survivors made students feel proud of their national heroes, and made them think about how they could improve the circumstances of old soldiers next year.

Fang expressed thanks to Yang Guoqing on behalf of the staff and students. He said, “History exists in its exposition and discourse, and then it stays in our memories. History disappears if people forget or are indifferent. In the middle of summer 2003, I listened to Jewish students read a list of names of Auschwitz victims one by one outside the Widener Library in Harvard. At the time I felt deeply that the power of a nation perhaps comes from its people’s endurable memory of history. When history is engraved on our hearts it becomes a kind of spiritual force.”

Co-dean Fang Liufang's full speech (in English) (in Chinese).