Xin Guofang, 89. Linying County, Henan Province. He joined the army in Baoji City, Shanxi Province at the age of 14, in heavy machine gun company, No 2 Battalion, No 506 Regiment, No 42 Division, No 98 Corps. (Li Qiang) Zhai Weidong, 95. He joined the No. 17 Regiment, No. 4 Corps where he was in the transportation unit. In Sishui in China’s Shandong province, he ambushed two Japanese transportation vehicles, seized more than 10 rifles and one light machine gun. (Li Qiang)
This year marks the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second Sino-Japanese War, and as the few remaining Chinese veterans reach their 80s and 90s, time is running out to record their personal experiences of history. Photographer Li Qiang, a former photojournalist at the Beijing News and vice photo director at China Newsweek wanted to celebrate their contributions without glossing over their often painful pasts. After locating more than 50 veterans through archives and non-governmental organizations, he spent a month traveling to remote villages and towns in four provinces to photograph them.
Though his use of flash isolates his subjects and creates a somber mood, Li thinks their faces are the best expressions of the darkness and violence they’ve witnessed. “I want to capture the intimacy and natural side of them, the moment that could bring the readers into their memories, through their wrinkles, their eyes, instead of obvious things like scars,” he said via e-mail.
Li’s portrait sessions tended to be emotional experiences, and the veterans he photographed often burst into tears as they recalled difficult memories from the war and its aftermath. While veterans tend to be lionized in television depictions of the war, Li said, the people he met spoke more of cruelties and injuries than victories. Li hopes his photographs shed light on these complex realities while highlighting the veterans’ service and dignity.
“On my way to a veteran’s home, he passed away. The people in my photos don’t have much time left. I am happy I could do something for them, let them feel the respect from the whole society,” he said.
Li Qian’s photography work can also be found through the break-out Chinese photo agency Yihe Image.
Li Zhiping, 97, from Jintan City,Changzhou City, Jiangsu Province. Zhiping was the communicant at Signal Operation battalion at No. 86 Military Headquarters. (Li Qiang) Xu Yuanpu, 92, Jintan City,Changzhou City, Jiangsu Province. After graduation, Yuanpu served as a Company commander of an engineer troop, later he became a staff of Staff Section at No. 11 Army Group. (Li Qiang) Wang Jie, 96 Zhengzhou City, Henan Province. He was in General Feng Yuxiang’s army since 1935. He also trained the Chinese Expeditionary Army in Calcutta in 1942, training over 300 drivers there. (Li Qiang) Ma Guangzhi, 96, from Xingyang City, Henan Province 16. At the age of 16, he entered the No. 7 Branch of the Huangpu Military Academy in Xi’an, the 16th Semester. After war, he returned to his hometown and became a farmer after his mother passed away. (Li Qiang) Zhu Xueming, 92. In 1943, when fighting with Japanese in “Taidong Yujiu Anti-Mopping Up Battle, he was captured, then rescued by a subverted soldier. In 1944, he was captured by Japanese again when collecting grains, a patriotic business man rescued him. He called himself a “lucky survivor”. (Li Qiang) Zhang Jichang, 88. He served in No. 2 Regiment, No. 29 Division, the New 8th Corps. (Li Qiang) Tang Dianmo, 94. After graduating from Huangpu Military Academy in 1942, he became captain in the Yunnan-Burma Battle in No. 8 Corps. The battle lasted for three month, and his battalion was victorious, and Burma Road was reopened. (Li Qiang) Wen Shuxian, 90. She joined in the Youth Corps in 1944, studying medicine in National Institute of Health in Gele Mountain, Chongqing City. After graduation, she served in the No. 215 Division. (Li Qiang) Wang Qixia, 90, left, and Zhang Guchu, right, served in the No. 614 Regiment, No 205 Division of Kuo Min Tang. (Li Qiang) Long Ruiqing, 87. In October 1994, Ruiquing was in charge of sending Japanese captives and their relatives back to Japan. Later, he was in charge of guarding Japanese army’s warehouses, and the ground service staff of the airport. (Li Qiang)