TONGBO, CHINA -- He was taken away at dawn on May 12, 1950, forced at gunpoint to leave his wife, 2-year-old son and elderly parents, and join Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist army on its retreat to Taiwan. It was 34 years before Lin Jiaoyi saw her husband, Huang Shouwang, again.
When they first spotted each other at their reunion, "all we did was cry," Lin recalled.
For Chen Dongshan, the separation from her mate, Huang Kaijin, lasted 36 years. Huang Kaijin, too, was conscripted into the defeated Nationalist army on that day and he, too, remained in Taiwan, taking another wife and raising a new family before returning here to seek out his past.
Both Huangs were among 153 men seized from 340 households in Tongbo, a small village on Dongshan island near China's south coast, which lost more than 4,000 men when the Nationalists evacuated after being routed on the mainland by the Communists in 1949. From that day on, Tongbo became known as "Widows' Village," its women left to struggle without knowing whether their husbands were really gone forever.
Until the 1980s, ties between Taipei and Beijing were cut, and many families had virtually no information about the fate of their loved ones less than 200 miles away on the other side of the Taiwain Strait. But in recent years, an easing of tensions has opened the way for thousands of reunions. Nearly all of the soldiers from Tongbo still alive -- 50 are known to have died during the past four decades -- have made their way back here.
Most have returned only for a visit, some accompanied by their second wives from Taiwan. The wealthier ones have provided money to build new houses for their families here.
But a few, such as the 82-year-old Huang Kaijin, have chosen to stay. Huang, whose second wife died more than four years ago, made that decision when relatives in Singapore told him that his first wife was still alive.
He returned to Tongbo in 1986. A retired fruit vendor, Huang now lives in the village with his wife, Chen Dongshan, and is supported by his two grown daughters and grandchildren. He has adjusted to the mainland's lower standard of living, he said, but he still misses his grandchildren on Taiwan and would like to visit them.
The Communist Party welcomes the old soldiers and their families to resettle in the hope that it will aid the party's goal of reuniting Taiwan and the mainland. Even the men who remarried on Taiwan are not considered bigamists "because these circumstances have been caused by history," one village official said.
Most of the women left behind did not remarry. They raised their children and learned how to work the land -- traditionally a man's job -- planting sweet potatoes and peanuts. Some became railway workers.
Lin vividly recalls the day her husband left, taken away by gun-toting soldiers. "My mother-in-law followed them, crying out for her son all the way until they reached the ship," Lin said. Her pleas were futile. During the decades of separation, their son married and started his own family, and Lin's in-laws passed away.
"I used to think about him all the time," said Lin. "After a while, I stopped. There was no point."
They were reunited in 1984 with help from relatives in Singapore who helped them find each other. Only then did Lin learn about her husband's second wife and his four daughters and son in Taiwan.
When she first saw him, she said, she was only able to recognize him from pictures he had sent. "He used to be thin," she said, struggling to control her emotions. "When he came back he was fat. All we did was cry when we first saw each other."
Huang arrived on his first visit with his second wife, an accountant. Like many other women interviewed here, Lin said she harbored no ill feeling toward the second wife, or her husband for deciding to remarry. On the contrary, she and other women said they were glad their husbands remarried.
"I wanted him to marry again," she said, adding that she has a good relationship with Huang's second wife. "He needs someone to take care of him."
Huang also met the son he had not seen in more than 30 years, Huang Jinyao, who now has two sons of his own, ages 13 and 10.
"He asked me whether we suffered during those years," said the younger Huang, 42, who has become prosperous by growing white asparagus for export to Japan. "I told him we did, but life is pretty good now."
Although he said he bore no resentment toward his father, he said he was jealous of the more comfortable lives of his half-sisters and half-brother on Taiwan.
The elder Huang has visited his family several times. Last year, he persuaded Lin to go to Kaohsiung, in southern Taiwan, to live with his Taiwan family. Each wife had her own bedroom, as did Huang, but after two months, Lin was homesick and returned to Tongbo.
"I could not get used to life there," she said. Every member of the family went to work each day, she said, and she was left alone in the house. "I missed my son and my two grandsons."
Huang, who owns a construction business, then sent money to build a house for his mainland family. Although many peasants here have become prosperous in recent years and built spacious two-story homes, Lin's house is the fanciest in the village.
Construction is nearly finished on the three-story house, which has eight bedrooms, three bathrooms with modern showers and flush toilets, a separate kitchen to prepare food for the pigs, and terrazzo floors. It cost 270,000 yuan, or nearly $52,000, to build, a fortune by Chinese standards.
The family is now busy putting on the finishing touches to the house in preparation for Huang's arrival for the Chinese New Year festival, which begins Friday.
Lin said so far, her husband has no plans to resettle in the village. But eventually, he plans to move back, she said, and he has purchased more land to build a house a few miles away.
"Right now his children in Taiwan are too young for him to leave them," she said. "But I think he will come back here. This is his home."