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A Soldier with Epithets

Viewed 545 times 2015-4-6 02:41 |Personal category:Literary writings|System category:Life| soldier, martyr, revolutionary



A Soldier with Epithets


Fisher East


Every year around the Qingming Festival in this century, my cousins will talk a lot about one of their old brothers, a revolutionary martyr, a Mr. Hemp Grass, or Mr. Grass Hemp, or Mr. Rope. “If we knew where he was buried,” they always say, “we would go and put a Qingming lantern-flag for him!”


Mr. Hemp Grass, or Mr. Grass Hemp, or Mr. Rope were not names, but epithets. He had Sun as his family name, and his father simply named him Seven as he was the seventh of the sons, and therefore, the people of the village simply referred to him as Sun the Seventh.


He was enlisted, at the age of thirty, in the early 1940s, as Sun Seven, to the National Revolutionary Forces. Five days after the initial military training, his comrades created these epithets for him.


In the first two days of training, the officer had much trouble helping Seven to stand straight and react correctly to the orders “Attention!” and “At ease!” He always set his heels apart at “Attention!” and put his heels together when he heard “At ease!” So the officer had to add something to the ordinary orders, shouting “Attention, heels together!” and “At ease, heels apart!”


In the third day, the officer had great trouble helping Seven to march with the orders. When he heard “Left foot forward!” he always stretched the right foot, and when he heard “Right foot forward!” he always stretched the left one. And when the orders “Left, right, left!” came repeatedly, he busied himself jumping with his heels stuck together, to every word. Soon the officer got to know that Seven had no idea of what was the left foot and what was the right foot.


Early in the morning of the fourth day, the officer asked someone to find a short hemp rope and a short grass rope, and fastened them to his feet, somewhere above the ankles, with hemp rope to the right and the grass rope to the left, and began a special individual training course.


“Seven,” the officer said, “remember, the foot with the grass rope is the left foot, and the foot with the hemp rope is the right foot. I will have your comrades helping you with the drilling.” The officer then asked some of his comrades to shout the orders in turn.


“Mr. Hemp Grass,” one of his comrades said, “let’s begin!” “Grass left foot forward, hemp right foot forward!” He shouted the orders to Seven for two hours.


“Mr. Grass Hemp,” another of his comrades said, after the break, “let’s continue!” “Grass left, hemp right, grass left!” He drilled Seven for another two hours.


“Mr. Rope,” the third of his comrades, for convenience, began the drilling of him.


“Mr. Rope,” the fourth began.


In the evening, Sun Seven became Mr. Hemp Grass, or Mr. Grass Hemp, or Mr. Rope, known to all soldiers of the unit, like a popular star.


Several of his comrades, all much younger than him, worked their throat hard for two days, and, finally, by the end of the fifth day, Mr. Hemp Grass, or Mr. Grass Hemp, or Mr. Rope had gained sound knowledge of the left foot and the right foot.


In the sixth day, Mr. Hemp Grass, or Mr. Grass Hemp, or Mr. Rope could, like a normal soldier, react well to “Left foot forward!”, “Right foot forward!” and “Left, right, left!”


Two years after Sun Seven left his village, two military officers, accompanied with two officials of the local government, came and paid his family a visit, in the afternoon.


“Mr. Rope,” one officer told his parents and brothers, “Mr. Sun, was a very brave soldier on the battle field. He died a martyr in this great war against invaders.”


“Yes, Mr. Sun Seven was a devoted comrade,” another officer said, “and a kind older brother to all of us. We will come to see you, if we survive this terrible war!”


The officers and officials stayed for supper. They talked a lot with his parents and brothers, and relatives and neighbours. When they left, Mr. Hemp Grass, or Mr. Grass Hemp, or Mr. Rope, a revolutionary martyr, was already known to all the people of the village.


My cousins never mentioned this brother in the 1950s and the 1960s and even the 1970s. They knew that a soldier of the National Revolutionary Force could be taken as a historical anti-revolutionary, and that a historical anti-revolutionary might mean great trouble to the big family. In those years, anti-revolutionaries were classified into two groups, the historical and the present.


Ideas about the Anti-Japanese War changed. My cousins changed, and the older cousins told the younger cousins the story of Sun Seven, Mr. Hemp Grass, or Mr. Grass Hemp, or Mr. Rope. They like to refer to him as a revolutionary martyr, and they are proud that they have such an old brother.



Author Note


Fisher East, pseudonym of Shaoxiong Zhang, or Shao-xiong Zhang (in Chinese).





(Opinions of the writer in this blog don't represent those of China Daily.)




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