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Monday, 17 July 2017


War Trash is a novel by the Chinese author Ha Jin, who has long lived in the United States and who writes in English. It takes the form of a memoir written by the fictional character Yu Yuan, a man who eventually becomes a soldier in the Chinese People's Volunteer Army and who is sent to Korea to fight on the Communist side in the Korean War.
The majority of the "memoir" is devoted to describing this experience, especially after Yu Yuan is captured by United Nations forces and imprisoned as a POW. The novel captured the PEN/Faulkner Award and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

Plot summary

Yu Yuan was originally a cadet at Huangpu Military Academy, an important part of the Kuomintang military system. However, when the Communists gained the upper hand in China, the academy went over to their side, and Yu was made a part of the PLA. He is eventually sent to Korea as a lower-ranking officer in the 180th Division. Since he knew some English, he is made part of his unit's staff as a possible translator. He left behind his mother and his fiancee, a girl named Tao Julan.

Yu Yuan's unit eventually crosses into Korea and engages the South Korean and UN forces there. After the unit is encircled and destroyed, Yu Yuan is injured and is captured. He spends some time in a hospital, where the ministrations of the medical staff impress him with the humane nature of the medical profession.

Subsequently, Yu Yuan is put in a prisoner of war camp. A major political fault line ran through the Communist prisoners, both historically and in the novel. On one side are those who are "loyal" and wish to be repatriated to the Communist side, either North Korean or Chinese; these are called "pro-Communists". On the other side are those who wish to be released to the "Free World", whether that be South Korea or the remaining Chinese Kuomintang bastion of Taiwan. This group is called "pro-Nationalists". Violence often flares between these two groups, and the chief tension in the book is the narrator's attempts to navigate this political minefield...

Download the book: War Trash.pdf

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