It will be remembered as a war between two communist nations, a bitter month-long fight that could shape Southeast Asian politics for years.

But the Sino-Vietnamese war of 1979 also will be remembered in a more personal way by the people who experienced it first hand -- the families who lost sons in battle, the refugees forced to flee their homes and the poor villages whose communities were turned into supply lines and battlefields.

Perhaps the most dramatic impact was felt by the border people living in villages like Ban Jun near Friendship Pass who have coexisted with Vietnamese neighbors for generations, often finding more in common with them than their own government.

This is a story of how the war affected the lives of four Chinese men.

The national border had little real meaning for Zhou Zitan, a poor rice farmer from Ban Jun, until the fighting reached his village in 1979.

As the product of a border village and son of a Vietnamese woman, he thought nothing of walking into Vietnam every day or so to visit his relatives.

As a member of the Zhuang minority in a China dominated by Han people, he felt a special kinship with the people like himself across the border and even considered joining the Vietnamese Army when it was fighting the Americans in the 1960s.

Since the 1979 war, however, he has not set foot on Vietnamese soil, and the persistent border hostilities have given him a stronger sense of Chinese identity.

"If I met my relatives on the other side, I'd try to reason things out with them," said Zhou, 26, a tall, reedy, barefoot man.

"If they insisted on fighting [China], I'd surely fight back."

Zhou's newly felt patriotism has exacted heavy personal costs. After intense shellings last November, he sent his wife and child to live in a cave miles away while he stayed behind to harvest the rice fields and defend his village with the local militia.

"This is my home, this is my work place," said Zhou, who rarely sees his family these days. "We must stand fast."

While his militia platoon was digging ditches near the border two months before war broke out, Yu Guidong stepped on a Vietnamese land mine that exploded his dream of fighting for his motherland.

After losing his left leg in the blast, Yu spent the war making exhortative television and documentary film broadcasts from his hospital bed.

"I was so full of rage," said Yu, who had been a militia platoon leader, "that I wanted the Army and civilians to know about the barbarousness of the Vietnamese enemy."

Today, Yu, an intense, strapping man of 26 who drags along on an artificial leg, tends the graves of 500 less fortunate men at Pingxiang's largest martyrs' cemetery -- one of six military graveyards in the area.

The job, which pays $22 per month, was given him as a reward for his wartime service along with a monthly disability pay of $28 and a third-class award of merit.

The pay, however, is small consolation when the south China weather turns damp and his leg begins aching, reminding him of the wound that embittered his youthful years.

"I hope my friends will give them [the Vietnamese] a second lesson," he said. "I can't do it myself."

In his graying crewcut and faded, ill-fitting work clothes, Hou Guoan looks more like the struggling laborer he was before the war catapulted him into national stardom two years ago.

Despite a modest appearance, Hou, 49, is Pingxiang's most celebrated citizen, named "model militiaman" after the war and honored at a special reception in Peking given by China's top military leaders.

All over China school children read about his wartime exploits in a pocket-sized, illustrated book, detailing how he helped an Army unit blow up a huge Vietnamese arsenal, killing 1,000 enemy soldiers.

The story began in 1943 when his family, fleeing the Japanese occupation of Guangxi region, moved across the border to the Vietnamese border town of Dong Dang, then under French colonial control. There, he and his father were drafted to help build a large, stone fortification for French troops.

Drawing on his childhood experiences 36 years later, Hou, back in Pingxiang, volunteered to lead Chinese troops to the fort, then a well-stocked Vietnamese garrison, and to provide the kind of architectural details necessary to destroy it.

With his guidance, Chinese soldiers slipped undetected across the border into Ding Dang and battered the fort with artillery. Hou knew, however, that the job would be incomplete until the vast, underground network of the garrison was destroyed.

On Hou's instructions, the troops found an underground well leading to the basement area. After pouring gasoline down the shaft, they ignited the well with flame throwers and watched as the big arms cache below blew up the entire structure.

A Vietnamese survivor told the Chinese later that a thousand soldiers had been inside the fort at the time of the blast.

By the time he returned home, Hou, a short, wiry man whose top front teeth are silver, already had been proclaimed a national hero. Not only did he receive the rare first-class merit for his heroics, his salary nearly doubled at the power plant where he still works.

A kind of folk hero in Pingxiang, Hou, who had just two years of formal education, gets frequent invitations to tell his story to school and Army groups.

With him at all times is a dog-eared copy of the book glorifying his mission, written evidence of his heroics that he displays to his audience.

"Don't forget to give it back," he reminded his interviewers. "It's the last copy in the whole province."

At 28, Li Baofu, the nattily uniformed company commander of Narrow Pass, assumes the rank and respect of men many years his senior.

Li proved his mettle during the war when he led a squadron in fierce fighting at Lang Son, a provincial capital in North Vietnam eventually captured by Chinese forces.

"It normally takes four years to become a commander," said Li, whose squadron took five Vietnamese prisoners in the battle. "Because of the war, I did it in a year."

As the top military leader at the strategically important Narrow Pass that adjoins Ban Jun, Li commands more than 600 men responsible for the defense of several border villages.

When villages were shelled last November, Li's troops fought back with artillery and stood guard while peasants completed their harvest of the rice fields.

With his high rank and large Army salary of $56 per month, Li has enjoyed a fast rise for a barely educated man who joined the Army in 1973 because "it is the duty of every Chinese citizen."

Although he has seen hundreds fall in battle during his short career, he still expects to test his wartime valor.

"The last time we learned many practical lessons ourselves," Li said. "I feel we will use them again."