Sunday, July 31, 2011

Penang Chinese Anti War Memorial(槟榔屿华侨抗战殉职机工罹难同胞纪念碑)

Penang Chinese War Memorial(槟榔屿华侨抗战殉职机工罹难同胞纪念碑)

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Many people have seen the tall memorial while traveling to Penang Hill or Kek Lok Si, but not many people know the story of the memorial. It is located just opposite SJKC Kong Ming Pusat or Kong Ming Main Chinese Primary School(公民国民型华文小学总校)which is located at 39-A, Jalan Air Itam, 11500 Ayer Itam, The school is also the trustee for the annual memorial service for the war martyrs. It is beside the Air Itam Government Clinic(Klinik kesihatan Air Itam) and Anglican Christ Church, opposite the Lye Lye Coffee Shop. If you travel from the city it is along Jalan Air Itam, until you reach the junction at the foot of Penang Hill, just opposite the Kong Ming School, the memorial is located right at the corner.

It is popularly called Penang Chinese Anti War Memorial,an anti war memorial. But behind the monument there are many touching stories. The memorial to commemorate the Chinese people of Penang who died in World War II. The Chinese name of the monument is Penang Chinese War Memorial for the Nanyang Transport Volunteers and the Martyrs of the World War II(槟榔屿华侨抗战殉职机工和罹难同胞纪念碑).

The memorial was built in 1946, but only officially opened on 1-11-1951 @11 a.m. by the late Lim Lian Teng. Below the memorial was buried the ashes of the bones of many martyrs who died during World War Two, collected from all over Penang. It was not only built to remember the WW2 martyrs, who died for their resistance to the Japanese Imperial Army, and also to remember the Nanyang Transport Volunteers who died while volunteered their service as truck driver and mechanic during the Sino Japanese War(which was part of Pacific War or WW2)at Burma Road,in Yunan,China. The Chinese inscription on the monument was as below;

慨自滔天涡水,起于芦沟;刮地腥风,播及槟屿。凡是侨居华族,莫不切恨倭奴,出力出钱,各尽救亡天职;无老无少,咸怀抗战之决心。是以募机工,大收驾辇车 之利,技参军运,竟树蜚邹挽粟之功。矢石临头,都无畏色,而疆场殉职,宜慰忠魂也。迨日敌偷渡重洋,首沦孤岛,先而肃清文令,更颁炮烙之刑。公治被诬,同 羁缧绁;赢秦旧虐,重演焚坑;暴骨露尸,神号鬼哭。虽汤州十日,无此奇冤;嘉定三屠,逊兹浩劫也。所幸两声原子,三岛为夷;八载深仇,一朝暂雪。茅飞扬 日旗,虽远竖于东瀛,而内烁青磷,尚游离于南廓。客过回首,空怀堕泪之碑;鹤化辽东,未见表忠之碣。言念及此,情何以堪!槟屿赈会,早经议决,极思掩盖, 藉安英灵。奈经处处搜寻,始得一丘之萃。兹者卜地旗山之麓,建立丰汗;招魂槟海之滨,来归华表。漫说泽枯有主,定教埋石无忧,庶几取义成仁,恒千秋而不 朽;英风浩气,厉万古而常昭。

Each year on 11th of November at 11.a.m., a memorial ceremony will be held at the memorial, representatives from the Chinese community will be there to pay their respect to the martyrs. Some time, some Japanese will also come to join in the memorial ceremony. Recently even the Chief Minister was there.

Most of us are familiar with the story of the Japanese occupation during the World War Two, from 1941 to 1945. The local Chinese also called san-nee-pei-go-quai(3 years and 8 months). But the story of Nanyang Transport Volunteers, not many are aware of it.

Nanyang Transport Volunteers((南侨机工)1939-1946

In 1939, 3,200 young men from South-East Asia, historically was called Nanyang(南洋) by Chinese, most were from Malaya, left their families and homes voluntarily to travel to China to work as drivers and mechanics during the Sino-Japanese War of 1937-1945. They left in 15 batches with 9 of 15 batches leaving from Singapore. The volunteers are called Nangiao ji gong(南侨机工)or “overseas Chinese mechanics”.

These 3200 volunteers included Indian, Malay men and four Chinese women. They were responding to China Relief Fund’s call to sustain China’s war materials supply chain during the Sino Japanese War. The China Relief Fund or Nanyang Federation of China Relief Fund(南洋华侨筹赈祖国难民总会) or Nangiao Chung Hui(南侨总会), an association founded on 10-10-1938 by 170 overseas Chinese representatives from the Nanyang region. Their objective was to coordinate regional relief work to support China against Japanese advancement. Mr.Tan Kah Kee(陈嘉庚)was elected as the chairman. The regional headquarter of China Relief Fund was located in Ee Hoe Hean Club, Singapore.

On 7-2-1939, an announcement no. 6 issued by The China Relief Fund, calling all able Chinese mechanic and drivers to volunteer for relief work in China. The responses to the call was tremendous, many Chinese responded to the call and went for interview. The first batch selected consisted of 80 pioneers. They left Singapore on 19-2-1939, 11 days after the announcement. They were known as Nanqiao ji gong(南侨机工) or “overseas Chinese mechanics”. The group however included both mechanic(修理工)and drivers(司机), Ji gong(机工) means workers on the machinery or vehicle, which included both mechanics and drivers. The volunteers, consisted mainly Chinese from Nanyang, but also included Indians, Malays,Indonesians and Burmese. The sent off ceremony attended by many was the hot news in Singapore. The initial 80 was called Eighty Pioneer(八十先锋),who left on 18-2-1939, just a day before Chinese New Year. They made history for Nanyang Chinese. (Note: You can see the photo of the first batch Ji Gong at the official website of Ee Hoe Hean Club(怡和轩俱乐部),

There were 300 volunteers from North Malaya of Penang, Kedah and Perlis; of which 233 were from Penang. A list of the volunteers can be seen from the Sin Chew Daily dated 25-7-2011 North Malayan Edition page 20. In Penang, the sent off cemory were held at Choon-man-yuan or Wembley Park(春满园”游艺场), and there were long procession, by people of Penang to provide moral support to the volunteers, matching and walking all the way to clan jetty(Ong Jetty). Whenever batches of volunteers were going to China(via Singapore), there were big crowds sending them off, it was reported that there was an incident the wooden plank bridge of the jetty collapsed, and people fell off to the sea, due to overweight by large crowds standing on the plank bridge. They departed from Clan Jetty to Singapore. When they arrived at Singapore, their accommodation was at Nam Tien Hotel in Singapore prior to final departure by ship to Vietnam. A grand sent off was again at Singapore with big crowds sending them off at the Singapore old harbor(新加坡红灯码头). From the port at Haiphong, Vietnam, they went to Kunming,Yunnan, China. Sad to say ,Wembley Park has demolished recently for redevelopment, Nam Tien Hotel is still around.

According to Yunnan Province archives, records of the second brigade of Overseas Transportation Teams dated June 30, 1941, showed there were 97 non-Chinese mechanics – among them 55 Indians, 18 Malays, 11 Burmese and two Indonesians.

These volunteers’ task took them along the Burma Road, a more than 1,453km-long route that began at the rail head town of Lashio in north-east Burma (or Myanmar)(缅甸腊戌)and wound its way across mountainous terrain through the province of Yunnan in the south-west corner of China to end at the provincial capital, Kunming(中国云南省昆明市).

Of the 3,200 who went to Yunnan, about 1,028 died in Yunnan, out of 2,000 that still alive, half of them remained in China, and half come back to Nanyang. The one remained were those who had started a family in China, or who missed the last trip for home.

The first batch returned to Singapore with the help of United Nation in 1946, arrived at Singapore on 4-11-1946. After the war, China civil war started, the Nanyang volunteers and their families had to face another war period as civilian. Even after the establishment of People Republic of China in 1949,when communist took over China, the 1,000 who remained was treated as Chiang Kai Shek or KMT's soldiers experienced political discrimination. During the unfortunate incident of Cultural Revolution(1966-1976), they were prosecuted and discriminated due to their "polluted cultural background" as Nanyang ji gong, which was treated as link to KMT. They faced extreme hardship, and some committed suicide. Today, many of them had died of old age, and not many remained. Their contribution was forgotten as time passed, and no body remember their heroic act in China until 1985, when official recognition was given by the Chinese Government.

The Burma Road(滇缅公路)

By the middle of 1938, the Yunnan-Burma Road, laid along segments of that ancient trail, was completed and ready for heavy use. (The Yunnan-Burma Highway and Yunnan Economy During the Periods of Anti-Japanese War by Li Cheng, Journal of Asian Culture and History, Canadian Center of Science and Education, Burma Road(滇缅公路) is a road linking Burma (also called Myanmar) with the southwest of China. Its terminals are Kunming, Yunnan(中国云南省昆明市), and Lashio, Burma(缅甸腊戌). When it was built, Burma was still a British colony.

When the Japanese began blockading China’s seaboard in 1937 to cut off access to overseas war materials, the Chinese Government turned to this inland route that crossed its border to maintain a tenuous link with the outside world.

The Chinese government officials began the process of shipping military supplies from Irrawaddy River ports to Lashio for transportation into China via the road, they realised there were not enough skilled drivers and mechanics in China to service this overland route.

Malaya and Singapore had an estimated 50,000 to 60,000 skilled workers, according to research done for a documentary film made by a Chinese TV station and museum about the Nanqiao ji gong.

So in February 1939, a recruitment drive began in Singapore that called for drivers and mechanics aged between 20 to 40 years old to come to China’s aid. The drive was held under the aegis of the China Relief Fund that had initially been formed to raise funds from overseas Chinese to aid China during the Sino-Japanese War.

The response to the call was astonishing: within a matter of months more than 3,000 men, and not all of them Chinese either, from this part of the world volunteered, eventually joining tens of thousands of mainland Chinese in plying the 1,453km Yunnan-Burma Road(滇缅公路), China’s only link with the outside world after 1941. There were 3,192 from Nanyang.

According to the researchers, upon arriving in Kunming(昆明), the Nanqiao ji gong were sorted into Overseas Transportation Teams(华侨先锋运输队) and given additional training. Initial groups of drivers were under Team NO: 11, 12, 13 and 14, and then two Oversea Chinese Convoy Teams No. 1 & 2 were formed. The mechanics were assigned to the repair stations along the Kunming(昆明), Guiyang, Chongqing and other places of major Automobile Repair Factory. In the period, at the Burma Road, there were 17 transportation brigades of about 3,000 vehicles, while six of the teams were established by the Nanyang Chinese driving trucks, which accounted for one-third of more than 1,100 vehicles.

It was these men’s job to ferry fuel, weapons, ammunition and soldiers to various parts of China. In return, the Chinese Government provided food, accommodation and medical support and a monthly salary of between 69 and 74 yuan, which was quite low compared to wages for such jobs in Malaya and Singapore at that time.

The route traveled over two mountain ranges, crossing three rivers and countless gorges over more than 400 bridges; it ran along the edges of cliffs and slopes and there were long stretches with sharp and precarious bends, as the road rose from about 600m to over 2,000m above sea level along its length. And then there were mosquito-infested jungles where deadly malaria was rampant.

Burma Road drivers ferried SOE and Force 136 operatives on their missions. Tan said: “We had a saying that if a truck flipped over on the highway on the first day of the month, it would reach the bottom only on the 15th. It was a very dangerous road. It was not paved and not wide enough for two vehicles to pass each other. The drivers needed to have very good skills.

The reality was that by the time the war ended in 1945, about one-third of these volunteers had given their lives in the line of duty; some remained in China to find a living and got married and settled there. Only about 1,200 eventually returned to South-East Asia

走遍中国-再会吧,南洋--南洋华侨机工 Part 1 of 3

走遍中国-再会吧,南洋--南洋华侨机工 Part 2 of 3

走遍中国-再会吧,南洋--南洋华侨机工 Part 3 of 3

The Nanyang Transport Volunteers was assumed to be a Chinese man. But some non Chinese responded to the call. One of the non-Chinese volunteer, Col Dara Singh, from Taiping wrote on his experience as Malayan Mechanic Volunteer in the Singapore newspaper, The Strait Times, dated 26-7-1939.

MALAYAN VOLUNTEERS IN CHINA Taiping Man On Dangers And Thrills Of Supply Routes (Taiping, July 24, 1939). THRILLS and danger that go hand-in-hand in the daily life of Malayan mechanics who are now doing service in war torn China are described in a letter from Dara Singh(The Straits Times, 26 July 1939, Page 16)

Dara Singh was adopted by a Chinese family who educated him at King Edward VII School in the town. He used a Chinese name to register, a name of his Chinese brother, Wong Ah Leng. He was initially rejected during interview, but he appealed to Mr.Tan Kah Kee, who appealed to the Chinese authority to accept him. Dara was finally accepted and become the first non -Chinese volunteer. Darqa become close friend with General Stillwell, commander of the US Army in North Burma during his stay in Yunnan. Dara created a bodyguard for the general and became his interpreter. He rose to the rank of Colonel.

There were 5 females,Pai Sek Keow(白雪樵,白雪娇),Li Yue Mei(李月美)、Tan Keow Chin(陈侨珍)、Wu Siew Fen(吴秀芬) and Choo Sek Chin(朱雪珍)(Please take note the names were merely translation from Chinese name, it may not be the same in actual register). Pai, Li and Tan were from Penang. Li Yue Mei was know as modern Hua Mu Lan(当代花木兰), as she also disguised as a man to serve in the Nanyang Transport Volunteers as a driver, just like the ancient Chinese woman heroine. She was discovered only after an accident, but she was saved by a fellow driver, Hainanese Yang Wei Quan(杨维铨), who was surprised that he was a woman. Li later married Yang. The life of this brave Penang girl can be a touching story like Hua Mu Lan. But sad to say she committed suicide and died during Cultural Revolution, unlike ancient Hua Mu Lan who retired with honors. Pai Sek Keow(白雪樵,白雪娇) is another brave girl who joined the volunteers, she was a teacher from Union School, now Union Primary School or Sekolah Rendah Jenis Kebangsaan (C) Union at Burma Road, Penang. She may be one of the pioneer school teacher of the Union School in 1938. She wrote a touching letter to the parent before the departure. She came back to Penang after the war in 1946, working as teacher in Hock Kien Girl School(福建女校), now Penang Chinese Girls High School or PCGHS(槟华国民型女子中学). She was sacked due to political involvement in school. She later joined a private school. On 1-10-1949, the day Chinese communist formed the People Republic of China or PRC, she raised the first PRC flag in the school, and was captured by the British and sent to Ipoh prison, accused her as communist. In those day under colonial rule, it was a norm for Chinese school to raise ROC flag in school each morning, it is also normal to change flag when China was taken over by PRC. Due to the incident, she was treated as hard core communist, and banished to China by British colonial government. She later become a secondary school teacher, lecturer in Guangzhou Teacher's College(广州师范学院), and retired as Asst Professor at age of 70. She is now retired , still living and staying in Guangzhou.

The Monuments

In 1946, after the end of the world war 2, the local Chinese in Penang built a monument in memory of civilians and Nanyang Transport Volunteers who lost their lives during WW2, it is commonly known as Penang Chinese Anti-War Memorial. The actual full name of the memorial is Penang Chinese War Memorial for the Nanyang Transport Volunteers and the victims of the world war(槟榔屿华侨抗战殉职机工罹难同胞纪念碑). The monument is located at the foot of Penang Hill, Penang, Malaysia(槟城升旗山). It was reported that there is another at Kuala Lumpur Kwang Tung Cemetery(吉隆坡的广东义山亭).

In China, only on 7 July 1989, the Yunan government constructed a monument,"赤子功勋", in memory of Nanyang Transport Volunteers at Kunming, the capital of Yunan Province.(昆明市的西山森林公园建有“南洋华侨机工抗日纪念碑).

There is another memorial monument at Wanding(畹町), Ruili(瑞丽市),opened on 12-12-2005.(云南瑞丽市畹町经济开发区南洋华侨机工抗战纪念碑).Ruili is a border town with Burma, Wanding Border Economic Cooperation Zone (WTBECZ) is a Chinese State Council-approved Industrial Park based in Wanding Town, Ruili City, Dehong Prefecture, Yunnan, China, founded in 1992. Wanding Bridge(畹町桥)is the bridge at the border between Burma and China, where the Nanyang Transport Volunteers crew had pass through.

The Journey to Burma Road in remembrance of the Nanyang Volunteers

Initiated by the KL & Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall and organized by Malayan Second World War History Society(滇缅公路马来亚二战历史研究会), and Persatuan Hope Negeri Johor, (柔佛河婆同乡会青年团), a group of history enthusiasts commemorated Nanyang Volunteers with a journey from Singapore to Kunming.

Their starting point was the Ee Hoe Hean Club,(怡和轩)in Singapore Chinatown,since Ee Hoe Hean was the headquarters of China Relief Fund and the send-off location for many batches of Nanyang Volunteers.

Nanyang Federation of China Relief Fund(南洋华侨筹赈祖国难民总会) was formed in 1938, when 170 overseas Chinese representatives from the region met to establish a regional body to co ordinate regional relief work to support China against Japanese advancement. These delegates founded the Nanyang Federation of China Relief Fund(南洋华侨筹赈祖国难民总会)and elected Mr. Tan Kah Kee(陈嘉庚)as the chairman. The regional headquarter of China Relief Fund was located in Ee Hoe Hean Club, Singapore.

The motor crew rightly ended their trip at Penang Anti War Memorial at the foot of Penang Hill, Air itam on 30-7-2011. A memorial ceremony was also held to pay respect to the war martyrs. It make their trip ending more meaningful.

Suggested readings/websites:

1. MALAYAN VOLUNTEERS IN CHINA , The Straits Times, 26 July 1939, Page 16( This was the report of one of the non Chinese volunteer, Dara Singh from Taiping)
2. Flying Tigers,
3. Heroic contributions of the Nanqiao ji gong; The Star, dated August 8, 2010;
4. 南侨机工,, Part 1-3

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