Heart and Soul: My grandfather, a lieutenant-general

Huang Zhen Wu, the writer's grandfather, was a high-ranking general in Chiang Kai-shek’s army. — Photo: Ronnie Tan

When I was a kid, I learned from my mother that my grandfather was a high-ranking general in Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek’s army.

I was too young to know the significance of his military history and knew very little about him or his military career.

Likewise, mum also knew little about him other than what she had been told by her mother. When she was an infant, she was brought to Malaya by my grandmother to be with her grandparents. She never knew her father or her older brother Hui Liang who stayed behind in China.

My grandfather subsequently remarried and had five children: Zhao Liang (Alex), Yu Liang (Sally), Xiao Liang (Fred), Zhong Liang (Al) and Wen Liang (Pearl).

My mum would meet up with her half-siblings in later years.The family fled to Taiwan when the communist forces under Mao Zedong defeated Chiang Kai-shek’s army and took control of China in 1948.

My grandfather never gave up looking for my mum. When he finally found her, he made arrangements for my mum to fly to Taiwan to meet him for the first time in 1959. And in 1964, my grandfather came to Malaysia to meet us for the one and only time.

My memories of meeting my grandfather are still very vivid even after all these years.

He was a man of tall stature, soft-spoken but had a commanding presence.

My grandfather’s nephew Huang Hao Liang wrote an article (in Mandarin) about my grandfather, titled "The Overseas Chinese General" (published on Feb 9, 2009, in chinaqw.com), which was later translated into English by my late Uncle Alex. I have taken the liberty to extract some excerpts from it.

The story of my grandfather began on Nov 16, 1900, in a little village in Hainan, the southernmost island of China. At age 15, he graduated first in his class from his local middle school. But the war among the many warlords in China temporarily suspended his education.

At the age of 21, he sailed to Malaya and joined the overseas Nationalist Party (Kuomintang). While in Malaya, he taught in a Chinese school in Melaka and engaged in journalistic pursuits. He was editor-in-chief of a progressive newspaper in KL, promoting the KMT to local compatriots and propagating the ideals of Dr Sun Yat-sen, the founding father of the Republic of China.

It was the beginning of the Japanese invasion of China that made my grandfather return to China to enlist in the army and fight for the motherland. He enrolled in the very first class of the Huang Pu Military Academy (sponsored by the Malayan Chapter of the KMT in 1924), thus beginning his military career. While at the Academy, he was actively involved in study groups expounding the ideals and beliefs of Dr Sun Yat-sen.

Huang Zhen Wu, the writer's grandfather, was a high-ranking general in Chiang Kai-shek’s army. — Photo: Ronnie TanHuang Zhen Wu, the writer's grandfather, was a high-ranking general in Chiang Kai-shek’s army. — Photo: Ronnie Tan

After graduation, he stayed on to teach new cadets on politics at different levels. In later years, my grandfather became the Dean of Political Science at the Huang Pu Military Academy.

My grandfather’s military career saw him leading different roles and positions in the army in the provinces of Guangdong, Fujian and Nanjing. A well-known military campaign in his early years had him leading an assault on the city of Hui Zhou (Guangdong Province) and he was awarded a Medal of Valour. The famous painter Liang Ting-Ming created a mural depicting this particular battle of a young officer, with a pistol in hand, climbing up the city gate. This historical portrait of the pivotal campaign now hangs in the military historical museum in Taipei.

A very meaningful part of my grandfather’s life was his constant effort to build a bridge between the overseas Chinese and their motherland. During his tenure in the southern provinces, he expended his efforts and time to assist youngsters who returned to China from South-East Asia to pursue higher education. He wrote editorials in the overseas newspapers to enlighten overseas Chinese about the situation in China and rally support for Chiang Kai-shek.

The Chinese Government in early 2000 started acknowledging the sacrifices and contribution of the KMT National Revolutionary forces in the fight against the Japanese army during the Sino-Japanese war. My grandfather was awarded the Gold Medal for Heroism posthumously for his role and contribution, by President Hu Jin Tao in 2009.

In 2013, I decided to do an Internet search for my grandfather. I found a website, The Generals of World War 2. It had his name: Lieutenant-General Huang Zhen Wu. There was no photograph of him on the site then but it had a listing of his military career and positions. One of the positions in Nanjing confirmed to me that it was indeed him. The webmaster of the site acknowledged it was my grandfather after verification of the photos I submitted.

My grandfather passed away on Nov 5, 1969. Those who attended his funeral included many high-level officials such as Vice President Yen Chia-kan, Vice Premier Chiang Ching-kuo plus numerous alumni of the Huang Pu Military Academy and colleagues. The memorial service received over a thousand attendees, testifying to the respect my grandfather commanded at his passing.

The essence of my grandfather’s life can be best summed up as “duty, honour and country”.

Engraved on his gravestone are the characters for these words, signed off by Chiang Kai-shek: 忠 (loyal), 贞 (faithful) 永(forever) 念 (remembered).

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