In the autumn of 1937, Zhang Ruishu was enjoying a rare break from his 14-hour days on the frontline. One of very few, if not the only, Chinese in Madrid, he hadn’t asked for time off – there was so much to do – but his commander had insisted he take a break. The Spanish capital was decorated with defiant if raggedy banners reading No pasarán (“They shall not pass”) and Madrid será la tumba del fascismo (“Madrid will be the tomb of fascism”). Zhang had seen many such signs before. At a newsstand, however, a large promotional poster for Spanish news magazine Estampa caught his eye.
The intriguing poster featured a man’s face in profile. It wasn’t a handsome face, but ruddy and weathered, with tightly cropped hair, hollow cheeks and a muddle of crooked teeth in a mouth set slightly agape – the face of a no-nonsense man who had known hardship. Suddenly, a crowd was gathering around Zhang; eyes were widening and fingers pointing. “That’s him!” they cried, lunging forward to shake the stranger’s hand.
The Chinese soldiers who fought in the American civil war
Almost 20 years to the day since he had first set foot on European soil, the humble 44-year-old from Shandong province, now a medic with Republican forces fighting fascism in the Spanish civil war, was being hailed as a hero in a country almost 10,000km from home.
Just over a year earlier, on July 17, 1936, at the same time as militaristic Japan was becoming increasingly assertive in China, a group of right-wing officers in the Spanish Army, led by General Francisco Franco, rose against the democratically elected Republican government. The move marked the beginning of a civil war that was to last for two years and eight months and provide a prelude to an even greater conflict in Europe.
While Franco’s Nationalists were openly assisted by the German and Italian forces of fascist dictators Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini, democratic nations including France and Britain operated an official policy of non-intervention, to the disgust of many of their own people, who saw the struggle as a…..
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