JERRY HIGGINS, a friend of mine, came back from Chungking, China's wartime capital, with a bullethole in his thigh. He was in bed for two weeks, and he didn't have much to do except tell stories. He told me the story of Sergeant Yuang, who was raised to be a scholar.
Higgins said that in China, unlike Japan, warfare was never regarded very highly. The Chinese are an old people and a civilized people. They did not think killing a very noble profession. Therefore, in the long list of honored crafts, the military man came at the bottom.
All this, of course, was before the Japs taught the Chinese that they must either kill or be slaves.
* * *
Yuang was brought up to be a scholar, which was at the top of the list of honored professions. In China, all bars were let down to the scholar. The son of a peasant, if only he studied enough, could rise to become the righthand man of a king.
Yuang loved all things; he studied the philosophy which teaches that it is wrong to kill even the smallest insect. When he went to the university he received highest honors. One of his professors wrote to Yuang's parents: "He is a credit to China. You who have raised him and we who have taught him are thrice honored."
Yuang came home and was received like a conqueror. His father gave a great party to which the whole village was invited, old and young, rich and poor.
* * *
Yuang does not like to talk of how it was at the beginning, when the Japs first sent their bombers to "teach the Chinese civilization." His sister and his mother were killed in the first raid. But Yuang had been taught that two wrongs do not make a right, and that hatred cannot cure hatred.
"I will not hate the Japs," he told himself. They are up in the sky in their planes, and they cannot know what pain they have inflicted on us."
Then the Jap land forces came, the tanks, the armored cars and the small, yellow men with expressionless faces. The elders of the village ordered everyone to flee into the tall canebrake that lined the riverbank. But Yuang's father said, "Here I was born, and here I lived my life, and here I will remain."
From the shelter of the canebrake, Yuang watched the village burn, all the houses of many peaceful people who had done no harm to anyone. The, next day the Japs pushed on again, and the people came back, to their village. Among the ashes was the body of Yuang's father, and the boy saw what the Japs had done to him before he died. That was how Yuang came to be a machine gunner in the Chinese army. It was not out of hatred, but out of a feeling that such things must stop. Otherwise life would not be worth living.
* * *
People who have been to China say the Chinese soldier is brave. Some say he is the bravest in the world. He doesn't fight because he considers it an honor to die, but because he believes a world ruled by Japs would not be worth living in. Even among such men, there came to be a saying,
"He is brave as Yuang:"
Or, "He fights like Yuang."
The small, gentle boy became a sergeant in a matter of months. In the retreat across the Yangtze River, Yuang alone held off a regiment of Japs with his machine gun until the bridge was destroyed. Then, wounded in two places, he swam the river to safety.
Yuang's strength was the strength of the spirit, and his courage was outstanding in an army of courageous men. He led a detachment to raid an ammunition dump, setting the dynamite himself. Then he held off the Japs, killing three of them with his revolver, while he calmly lit the fuse. He got out of that. He led a party of guerrillas to the very gates of Canton, and returned to Chungking with a Japanese colonel as his prisoner.
Yuang became more than a person; he became a symbol of a civilized, quiet people who will not be slaves. He was never false to himself; he remained the gentle scholar. He thought only of finishing this thing, so that he might go back to his books and his studies.
* * *
Then Higgins told me the tale of Yuang's death.
American planes were in China then. The tide had turned, and the Chinese were on the offensive. But they were still pitifully underarmed, and terribly short of artillery and antitank guns. Brave as the Chinese were, they feared the tanks, the inhuman, rumbling monsters of iron on which their rifle bullets flattened without effect.
Yuang was not afraid. He believed the tanks could be beaten. He had heard somewhere that a bottle of benzine, wrapped round with a benzine-soaked rag, could stop a tank by setting it on fire. He made his preparation, a cotton bag full of the bottles slung around his neck.
The tanks came; the Chinese troops broke; and Yuang remained behind. A Chinese soldier told how calmly he stood there, lighting the bottles and hurling them at the tanks.
Yuang had eight bottles, and he set three of the tanks on fire. They said afterwards that he must have been shot twenty times, yet he continued to light the bottles and pitch them at the tanks.
Higgins was at his funeral, and when they buried him, they praised Yuang not as a soldier, but as a scholar. That, to me, is the remarkable fact in the story of Yuang.
It shows how a people can rise up against cruelty and oppression, yet remember always that they are not fighting for power, but for the simple, quiet things they have always valued in civilized life.