China's Battle for Korea: The 1951 Spring Offensive

China's Battle for Korea: The 1951 Spring Offensive

China's Battle for Korea: The 1951 Spring Offensive

China's Battle for Korea: The 1951 Spring Offensive

Synopsis

Between November 1950 and the end of fighting in June 1953, China launched six major offensives against UN forces in Korea. The most important of these began on April 22, 1951, and was the largest Communist military operation of the war. The UN forces put up a strong defense, prevented the capture of the South Korean capital of Seoul, and finally pushed the Chinese back above the 38th parallel. After China's defeat in this epic five-week battle, Mao Zedong and the Chinese leadership became willing to conclude the war short of total victory. China's Battle for Korea offers new perspectives on Chinese decision making, planning, and execution; the roles of command, political control, and technology; and the interaction between Beijing, Pyongyang, and Moscow, while providing valuable insight into Chinese military doctrine and the reasons for the UN's military success.

Excerpt

Chen Fulian (1931–2008) had died. I got this grievous news when his wife called and canceled our interview. “You don’t need to come,” she said and hung up the phone. I made the trip to the village anyway, leaving the Australian film director and his Korean War documentary crew in Nanjing, the capital of southeastern Jiangsu (Kiangsu) Province.

Simple and brief, Chen’s funeral was held in Shangzhuang, a small village on Tongkeng Mountain, in Lishui County, Jiangsu. Chen had been born in that same village; he was a peasant, a family man, and a Korean War veteran. Not many villagers attended his funeral on that rainy spring day. No one mentioned his service in the People’s Liberation Army (China’s combined army, navy, air force, and strategic missile force commonly known as the PLA). I was surprised by his tolerance of unfair treatment and humiliation: some villagers, in their eulogies, commented on how quiet Chen had remained when he was tortured and later mistreated as a “bad element” for more than twenty years after his repatriation. At that time China did not value its returned prisoners of war because it was the Chinese tradition to fight to the death, rather than be captured by the enemy. “He did nothing wrong,” his daughter said, choked with tears, as she showed me photos of her father in uniform.

In November 1950, at age of nineteen, Chen had gone to Korea as a “volunteer soldier” of the PLA. When the Chinese army lost the Spring Offensive Campaign (also known as their Fifth Phase Offensive) in 1951, tens of thousands of its soldiers became prisoners of war (POWs) in the hands of the United Nations Force (UNF). Chen was one of them.

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