Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Kuomintang cemetery in Chiang Khong

At Hua Wiang, on Chiang Khong’s northern outskirts, a decaying ‘Chinese Nationalist cemetery’ is an interesting singularity. Thailand integrates a large Chinese community, but this place is a monument with an historic value, linked to a specific immigration group, the Kuomintang 93rd Division soldiers.

When, at the end of 1949, Mao Tse-tung’s troops took control over Mainland China, the nationalist army, led by Chiang Kai-shek, escaped to Taiwan and founded the new “Republic of China (ROC)”. A last resistance bastion against the communist army (PLA) remained, however, in Yunnan, a southern province neighboring Laos and Burma. When that stronghold was also taken over, regiments of soldiers from the 93rd division refused to surrender and crossed to French Indochina (Laos) and to the Shan States (Burma).

In Indochina, the fighters were disarmed by the French and, finally, airlifted to Taiwan. In Burma, on the other hand, a sizeable army, well equipped and supported by the CIA, established itself near to the Thai border, with an airbase in Mong Hsat. Its mission was to penetrate China again; three of these suicidal interventions, however, aborted. Hosted in a leading poppy growing region, the remnants of the Kuomintang army, then took a strong grip on the heroin traffic in the Golden Triangle, a mean to finance their covered existence.

Over the years, with changes in the American government and policies, and with growing International pressure, the “Lost Army” became an embarrassment and was left without external support. When Burmese and Chinese troops attacked its base, in 1961, the remaining soldiers moved over the border into Laos and Thailand. Again, some were ‘repatriated’ to Taiwan, but others established themselves in border settlement, on Tai territory.

For a complete history of Mae Salong, the largest KMT dwelling in Thailand, see this compelling GT-Rider write-up:

At the beginning of the 70th, the Thai government engaged in campaigns to eradicate armed communist insurgencies, and it enrolled a number of well-trained former KMT fighters. Battles were fought in 1970 to 1974 and in 1981. In operations on hills, along the Mekong river, in Chiang Khong and Pa-Thang regions, the Yunnanese KMT soldiers had about 200 fatalities, a large number of them being lost in Doi Luang, north of Chiangkong. In order to provide a common burial ground for KMT soldiers killed in the clashes with the communist insurgents (CPT), the Hua Wiang graveyard was set up in 1990.

Now a day, the doors to the cemetery are closed and the compound is surrounded by barbed wires. For people interested in its historic value, it is a pity; from this hill they would also enjoy a precious view over the Mekong. Interestingly, the tombs, are aligned to face the deceased homeland. The Chinese community does not mind to have visitors but some degradation, like cutting the compound’s trees, have led to a tighter closure of the place.

At least once a year, at the occasion of the Qingming Festival (Tomb Sweeping Day) the hill gets some animation. On April 4th and 5th, relatives of the departed will clean and redecorate the graveyard. April 5th, also commemorates the passing of Chiang Kai-shek, in 1975.

Some references:

Around Lan-Na
Christian Goodden
Jungle Books 1999

The Politics of Heroin
CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade
Alfred W. McCoy
2nd revised Edition 2003
Lawrence Hill Books, Chicago

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