Retiree walking across China to North Korea to respect martyrs, reflect on friendship

By Hu Yuwei Source:Global Times Published: 2018/11/1 20:05:52

A descendant of martyrs at Kaesong Martyrs Cemetery lays a flower for the elder generations on April 6, in Kaesong, North Korea. Photo: VCG

 Wei Yongxiu has been walking for over a month, with 1,300 kilometers remaining to her destination, North Korea. This female retiree, 55, initiated a trek to North Korea in memory of the martyrs sacrificed in the Korean War.

On September 23, Wei Yongxiu, a retired factory worker from Qiandongnan Miao and Dong Autonomous Prefecture, Southwest China's Guizhou Province, began her "pilgrimage" from Guizhou to North Korea, a place that she remembers countless Chinese soldiers fought and shed their blood during Korean War (1950-53).

She has no knowledge of how to use a mobile phone to navigate, nor does she carry a map with her. Even so, she looks pure, firm and persistent, like a pilgrim traveling to the Mecca of her own world. She stops, lays flowers, sweeps tombs and worships at every martyr's cemetery she passes on the tour.

"Without these martyrs, there would be no happy life and peace for us today," she said, sobbing as she spoke to the Global Times. "In this way, I hope to honor my heroes, especially the Chinese martyrs who died in the Korean War. They paid for our peace today with their lives and blood."

With no route planning, only a few hundred yuan in her pocket, and no North Korean visa, her trek is seen by many as brash and crazy.

NK obsession

Wei seems to have some kind of obsessional, visceral friendliness toward North Korea. Although this woman with only a primary school education level does not even know the exact location of North Korea, it never affects her determination to go forward, heading to Northeast China, where a border line between two countries lies.

Her affinity for North Korea is rooted in her childhood memories. "When I was young, portraits of three people hung on the walls of my house - Mao Zedong, Joseph Stalin and Kim Il-sun. North Korea and China have always had a close relationship. That's why our martyrs shed their blood during the Korean War, because to protect North Korea is to protect ourselves," she told the Global Times.

Many martyrs died in that land and never came back, Wei said. "I do not want the blood of the martyrs to flow in vain. I hope this country can become stronger and stronger to fight together against the hegemony of the Western world."

When she learned in a telephone interview that it may be difficult to acquire a visa to North Korea, she sounded a bit frustrated.

But a few seconds later, she said, with renewed vigor, "I will go to the North Korean border with China, to look at the land I had dreamed about for many years, to pray for the people of that land, and to send my wishes across the air, and I will be satisfied."

Heroic deeds and stories of her father-in-law, a veteran of the Korean War, also greatly encouraged Wei's determination.

"I hope the trek can remind myself to never forget the national humiliation, and show my efforts to cheer up China," she said.

Wei is a nationalist in the eyes of many of her friends. In her WeChat chat group, anyone who celebrates a Western holiday will be expelled.

"I was very disappointed by how the United States has disturbed the South China Sea. By contrast, North Korea's Kim government looks more benign. We have helped each other, and I would like to see North Korea flourish like China," she said.

She has even prepared banners honoring martyrs in her small suitcase, written in both Chinese and Korean.

Wei Yongxiu visits Yang Zhicheng Memorial Hall in Southwest China's Guizhou Province on September 25. Photo: Courtesy of Wei Yongxiu

Difficult trek

Wei leaves every morning at 5:30 and doesn't finish until 8 or 9 pm. Her feet are covered with dense calluses and thick bandages. To save money, she spends most of her dinner on scallion dipping sauce or a steamed bun, and sleeps in a hostel bed for under 40 yuan ($5.70). But buying a wreath for the martyrs of the dead as she visits their cemeteries could cost her more than 300 yuan. She had visited more than 15 martyr cemeteries over the last month.

Walking day after day under the cold across six provinces with a limited budget would be a difficult task for someone young, let alone a middle-aged woman. Physical challenges such as leg cramps and blisters, the rain and the mental stress involved all required a strong will and determination.

"Sometimes when there is a heavy rain, I get wet all over. I had a bad cold a few weeks ago and took two days off. When there is no water to drink on the road, I have to drink from the water pipes of the public toilets."

As for why she chose walking as a means to commemorate martyrs, she explained that "I am not intend to romanticize my actions, but simply wished to use the trek to experience the hardships of soldiers during the war years. But today's conditions are far less dire," she said. "We should value peace brought by those heroes, and never forget the cost of war."

All the costs associated to her walks are mainly paid for by herself, with some supplies provided by her association, the Qiandongnan Love Volunteers Union. She said the money came mainly from her father's estate and from savings left over from his funeral.

This is not her first walking tour to promote public welfare. In April 2015, in order to publicize the civilization and local customs of the ethnic minorities in Qiandongnan prefecture, she and other members of her association set off from Yuping Dong Autonomous County to Beijing in local costumes. Along the way, they visited lonely old people, washed their clothes and hair for them, and also carried out an anti-drug publicity campaign.

"I never thought of giving up. I believe I can eventually go to North Korea and hopefully resonate with more people along the way. I am a Buddhist, but rather than entering into the temple, I prefer to dedicate myself in the earthly sphere," she said.
Newspaper headline: Pilgrimage to Pyongyang

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