Chinese soldier trapped in India after war makes it back after 54 years

By Global Times - Agencies Source:Global Times-Agencies Published: 2017/2/12 19:03:39

A Chinese veteran who was stuck in legal limbo and trapped in India for more than 50 years has finally arrived home after the bilateral governmental efforts of China and India.

Wang Qi is warmly welcomed upon his arrival in Xi'an, Shaanxi Province. Photo: CFP

Wang Qi is warmly welcomed upon his arrival in Xi'an, Shaanxi Province. Photo: CFP

A man raises a banner to welcome Wang Qi back to China at Beijing Capital International Airport before Wang transferred to a flight to Xi'an on Saturday. Photo: Li Hao/GT

A man raises a banner to welcome Wang Qi back to China at Beijing Capital International Airport before Wang transferred to a flight to Xi'an on Saturday. Photo: Li Hao/GT

Source: Global Times - Agencies

Source: Global Times - Agencies

During the Lantern Festival this week, Wang Qi finally stepped back onto Chinese soil after being stuck in India for more than half a century. After landing in Beijing, he went straight to his long-missed hometown of Xianyang, Shaanxi Province.

His son, one of his daughters, daughter-in-law and granddaughter also came with him. His Indian wife and other daughter were delayed in India because of visa issues.

More than 40 of his Chinese family members and former army comrades waited to greet them at Xi'an Xianyang International Airport. Wang Zuguo, one of Wang Qi's comrades, said he had brought a gift for Wang.

"Though all those years have passed, we've not forgotten him," he said.

Wang Qi was a soldier dispatched to the China-India border in the 1960s to work as a surveyor building roads. He wandered into Indian territory by mistake one day and wound up behind bars for several years. After his release, he was not allowed to leave India and ended up marrying and having children. After years of efforts by his family, the media and the Chinese government, he finally came home this week. 

Sudden disappearance

Wang Zhiyuan, the 84-year-old eldest brother of Wang Qi, told the Xi'an-based Chinese Business View that they are two of seven siblings from Xuezhainan village, Xianyang.

Wang Qi was the third child of the family. He was born in 1937, attended a local elementary school and went to Xianyang for middle and high school with Wang Zhiyuan.

After graduating from high school, he played basketball for the Shaanxi provincial team. Then, in 1960, Wang Qi asked a mutual friend to tell Wang Zhiyuan that he was going to join the army in Northwest China's Qinghai Province.

After signing up, Wang Qi was only able to keep in touch with his family through letters.

In 1961, their mother told Wang Zhiyuan she missed Wang Qi. So he took her to Qinghai to see him. When they arrived, the commander said Wang Qi would soon be dispatched to another place, and granted Wang Qi a week's vacation to see his mother.

The three of them took a photo that week which turned out to be the last photo all three of them would ever take together.

Years later, Wang Zhiyuan realized that they visited just before his brother was sent to the China-India border, which was why the director granted his brother a week's leave to be with his family.

After this meeting, the family lost contact with Wang Qi. After the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) started, Wang Zhiyuan asked the army for news of his brother, and was told he had gone missing near the border. The army said it had looked for him without success.

In 1983, their mother died without ever finding out what had happened to her missing son. 

A strange letter

In the summer of 1986, Wang Zhiyuan, who was back working in Xianyang at that time, received a phone call from one of his other brothers, saying they had received a letter with some strange foreign writing on it. Wang immediately rushed home, hoping this letter might have something to do with his missing brother.

When he saw the writing on the envelope, his eyes immediately filled with tears, because he recognized his brother's handwriting.

Since nobody could recognize where the letter came from, Wang Zhiyuan asked around in Xianyang. Finally he was able to discover that the address was located in an Indian village.

The letter read, "Dear mother, dear brothers and sisters, how are you? It's been decades, now I've finally got the chance to write and tell you how I'm doing."

The letter was only one page long. Wang Qi told his family he had gotten married and had two sons and two daughters. He said that his children were in school and that he has a business which supports his family.

But his eldest son died from disease in 2007 as his family could not afford to pay for medical treatment.

The first thing Wang Zhiyuan did after receiving the letter was to burn incense at his mother's tomb and read the letter aloud there, he told the Chinese Business View. Then all of the siblings started writing to Wang Qi in India, updating him on their lives.

Stuck in India

In 1963, several weeks after India's defeat in the 1962 Sino-Indian war, 23-year-old Wang Qi accidentally strayed into Indian territory during the New Year's Day holiday.

Wang recalled to the Global Times that he got lost in a forest, and when he saw a car which belonged to the Indian Red Cross Society, he called out for help.

The Indian Red Cross Society, however, handed him over to a Indian military base in Assam. Over the six years that followed, Wang was moved between jails in Rajasthan, Delhi and Punjab, where he was interrogated by the Indian Army, who suspected that he was a spy. A 1968 document issued by the Punjab state authorities which Wang showed the Global Times says that he was arrested for "illegally entering Indian territory, threatening India's State security."

Wang was finally released in 1969, and was sent to a small village called Tirodi in Madhya Pradesh, Central India. At that time, the village, surrounded by lakes and forests, was the place where the Indian government sent domestic dissidents and refugees.

After the Indian police told Wang that he could neither return to China nor get Indian citizenship, Wang realized that he would probably have to spend the rest of his life in Tirodi. His legal identity was unclear, as he lacked documents proving he was a Chinese citizen, such as a passport, meaning he was unable to travel internationally.

He made a living by working at a local mill, built his own house in around 1970 using his savings, and eventually opened a shop. In 1975, Wang married a local woman, Sushila.

Despite starting his own family, he never stopped trying to get back to China. According to the Times of India, in the 1980s, Wang petitioned an Indian court, seeking a visa. He hoped that he could return to China at least once in his lifetime. But the petition failed.

Wang is not the only veteran that was trapped in India in the aftermath of the Sino-Indian War. Another soldier Liu Shurong, a Chongqing native that also lives in Tirodi, had a similar experience. But unlike Wang, who wants to return to China, Liu can no longer speak fluent Chinese, and said he is not willing to return to China as he no longer has any relatives in the country.

Getting home 

Wang Zhiyuan's son Wang Yingjun grew up listening to others in his family telling stories about his uncle Wang Qi. After the family finally got in touch with Wang Qi, he expressed desire to come back home, come back to Shaanxi, hoping his family can help.

In 2009, Wang Yingjun decided to visit his uncle in India with his family's support. They finally met in a hotel in New Delhi.

Wang Qi told his nephew about what had happened over the years, filling in the details about how he went missing and what he had done to survive. He said he has always been a foreigner in India. Because his legal identity was unclear, he was often been bullied by locals and he said his biggest wish is to return home.

Wang Yingjun then started helping his uncle get together the documents needed to apply for a passport and visa. After returning to China, he continued to help his uncle. In 2012, the army division Wang Qi used to be in sent someone to Xianyang to investigate his case.

The Chinese Embassy in India has been in contact with Wang over the past few years, making great efforts in smoothing the way for him to return and visit China which included communicating with the Indian side to process his exit and entry permits. The Chinese Embassy in India issued a 10-year Chinese passport to him in 2013 and has been providing him with a certain amount of money per annum since then.

His son Vishnu told the Hindustan Times in October last year that they were informed that "the Indian authorities might grant his father permission to travel to China provided he is ready to stay back there and not return to India."

On January 31, his story was picked up by the BBC, who ran a feature detailing his life and ongoing struggle to return home, bringing international attention to his case.

Finally, Wang Qi flew back to Xi'an Saturday after receiving an exit permit from the Indian government. He then visited his village, saying that he hopes he can spend his final years there.

Wang told Global Times early this month that he is prepared to stay in China for good. His wife and son also said that they will follow Wang wherever he goes.

Wang's village committee in Xianyang has decided that they will give him a piece of land and ensure he has a good life in his hometown.

But according to a Legal Mirror report on Sunday, due to cultural differences, Wang's children have met with some difficulties in adjusting to local dining and toilet habits on their trip.

Newspaper headline: Long road home

Posted in: IN-DEPTH

blog comments powered by Disqus