Years of tireless search net veteran results
China Daily

Wang Aifu displays a file of a martyr at his home in Taiyuan, Shanxi province. (Photo provided to China Daily)

Over the past 30 years, Wang Aifu has helped bring news of some 40 martyrs to their relatives.

Born in Zuoquan county, Shanxi province, the 82-year-old joined the military when he was 18. After retiring in 1981, he became a county procurator. Since then, he has visited the martyrs' memorial cemetery to mourn the fallen heroes on every Qingming Festival (Tomb Sweeping Day).

He also began collecting memorabilia, including documents and objects related to the country's various wars, such as the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression (1931-45), the War of Liberation (1946-49) and the War to Resist US Aggression and Aid Korea (1950-53).

During a visit to a flea market in 1996, he came across files including the registration forms for 84 martyrs who died during the Taiyuan Campaign (part of the War of Liberation) between Oct 5, 1948 and April 24, 1949. "As a veteran, I knew those documents were really important, especially to the martyrs and their relatives," he said. "So I bought them."

Seeing Wang's interest, the seller asked for 3,000 yuan. "That was really a large amount of money at the time, several months of pension," he said. "I wasn't able to get a better price, so I ended up spending the 3,000 yuan.

"When I checked the information, I discovered that most of the martyrs were young people in their 20s; the youngest was only 18. They are heroes who sacrificed themselves for our country and people, so I decided to send their files back to their hometowns."

That was easier said than done. Tracking down relatives was complicated, even though the men's addresses were listed in their files.

"I wrote to the relatives at the addresses on the forms, but more than half a century had passed and lots of things had changed," he said. "I didn't receive any replies."

Wang then began visiting different cemeteries to see if he could turn up any more clues. He failed again, though he did find dozens of tombs belonging to martyrs.

Over the following decade, he continued his search in different regions, including the provinces of Shanxi, Henan, Hubei and Hebei and the Inner Mongolia autonomous region. He spent almost all of his savings but still wasn't able to find any of the relatives.

Then, in 2005, Wang organized a photo exhibition on the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression and the Taiyuan Campaign. The exhibition attracted media attention. Wang's story was reported, and information about the 84 martyrs was published.

Shortly afterward, the relatives of one of them, Hao Zaihu, made contact. "When I arrived at Hao's hometown in Hubei, all the villagers were already waiting for me at the entrance. They had assembled to welcome the hero home," Wang said.

When he brought the file to the martyr's home, Hao's younger cousin told Wang that they had lost contact with Hao after he joined the military. "Now, it's been confirmed he sacrificed his life for the founding of New China. We are proud of him," the cousin said.

In February 2007, with donations and help from well-wishers, Wang set up a website to publish the information he had on the martyrs. Volunteers in Taiyuan, Shanxi, and from the Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Wuhan, Hubei, helped him check for accuracy.

From that point on, more relatives began to get in touch, and over the years, Wang has sent some 40 items to the hometowns of martyrs nationwide.

"Searching for the relatives of martyrs not only helps the heroes return home, but also affirms and honors their sacrifice," he said. "I plan to create a website to continue my attempts to help find the relatives of more martyrs."

Peng Ke'er contributed to this story.