Soldiers share the memories of serving their country they wish to forget: hunting down Uyghurs, killing Tibetan monks, “selective” rescue of earthquake victims.
by An Xin
“It was the summer of 2013 when we executed more than 100 people in a mountainous area,” an army veteran started his story. He agreed to talk to Bitter Winter under the condition of anonymity, like the other people mentioned in this text. The soldier also refused to disclose the specific location of the killing operation, afraid that providing more details would put him in danger.
“They looked like Uyghurs; some were young children,” he continued. “This was an order from our higher-ups who claimed that it was for the sake of stability maintenance. With the help of a drone, we were able to see wherever the Uyghurs ran, they were unarmed, but we shot them with QBZ-95s [China-made assault rifles]. They were doomed to die.”
The mission was top secret, the veteran added. They were told that this was going to be a military exercise, but it turned out to be a killing operation, which he calls “a nightmare I want to forget.”
A veteran from the southeastern province of Fujian recalled how a few years ago, his captain was sent on a mission to a Xinjiang village. “The captain told us that during the day, plainclothes soldiers went to the homes of Han Chinese, telling them to cover their windows with newspapers and lock their doors before going to bed,” the veteran said. “They were also instructed not to go out at night, not even look out the window or turn on the light, no matter what they heard outside.”
“There was a lot of shooting at night, and all Uyghurs were gone in the morning, the captain told us,” the veteran continued. “He thinks that all of them had been killed.”
Unrests in Tibet: Killing of monks rewarded with prizes
A veteran from the eastern province of Shandong was sent to the Tibet Autonomous Region to suppress monks in 2011. “Our superiors told us that Tibetan monks were rebelling and ordered us to quash the riot,” the veteran remembered. “We were not sure if it was true, but we were threatened to be punished if we refused to go. We were told that Tibetans are religious people, but religion is not allowed in China.”
“On the way, all our trucks were completely covered, with no light in them,” the soldier continued. “We were ordered to surround the area where monks were hiding, and no one was allowed to leave. We killed everyone who tried to protest. We did kill a lot of people. Those who killed the most monks were awarded prizes. The fewer monks killed, less-valuable the prizes.”
A veteran from northeastern China recounted to Bitter Winter the story of his comrade-in-arms who died during a mission in Lhasa, the capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region. “In 2008, we were both sent on a mission to put down a ‘riot’ in Lhasa,” the veteran said, adding that they were given explicit orders to kill the Tibetans, and anyone who refused to do so could have been executed himself.
“To fight back, protestors threw Molotov cocktails at soldiers, many of whom were injured, my comrade among them, who died after attempts to save him were abandoned,” he continued. “Some soldiers had 90% of their body surface burned. A tremendous amount of money was needed to care for them, so the government abandoned them, and their families were notified to take their ashes home after the cremation.”
“The hospital didn’t treat them properly,” the soldier continued. “I was talking to my comrade-in-arms, who was lying in bed and was conscious. But after a doctor injected something into his IV, he started losing his voice gradually.”
The 2008 Sichuan earthquake: “Don’t rescue minors and seniors.”
“Our captain stopped me from saving a kid who was about five or six years old,” a veteran from Shandong Province remembered a rescue operation amid the 2008 Sichuan earthquake in Wenchuan county. “He told me that we couldn’t rescue minors or seniors because they would be a burden for the government. Only people between 18 and 40 were to be rescued. We didn’t even check if people who lay still were dead or alive, we just piled them on trucks. Even those who were alive stopped breathing under the weight of so many bodies. TV reports claimed that all people who were pulled out of the ruins were placed on stretchers and were immediately taken for emergency treatments. Many of these reports were false.”
“The Communist Party is a big liar: what it says is always contrary to what it does,” the soldier continued. “Those in power in our country cannot be called human beings. If you refuse to go to places endangering your life, you will be shot dead, and no one will know about it. Then they will tell your family that you have died in an accident and give them some money to silence them. I always wanted to become a soldier and fight for the country, but this dream is dead now. After the Sichuan rescue operation, I stopped watching the news. It is nothing more than propaganda singing praises about the CCP and the ‘great prosperity of the motherland.’ It is all bullshit.”
Only veteran soldiers sent to Hong Kong
“During the height of the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong in July and August 2019, the government dispatched the outstanding armed forces from Xinjiang, Tibet, and Shandong to the Guangzhou Military Region for secret drills. They were later sent to Hong Kong,” a serviceman from the southern province of Guangdong told Bitter Winter.
He explained that, as a rule, regular forces would take shifts with new conscripts to be stationed in Hong Kong. However, in July and August, only experienced soldiers were sent to Hong Kong but were registered as the recruits of 2019. Everyone was ordered to sign confidentiality agreements to prevent information about this cover-up from leaking. Anyone who disclosed this fact was threatened to be punished.
“The government wanted to ensure that well-trained soldiers are there to suppress the protests,” the soldier added.