KMT soldier report

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Correspondent Yuen Chan tells the story of a Chinese man whose life has followed the twist and turns of the tense relationship between China's Communists and the remnants of the Chinese Nationalist army.

MARCO WERMAN: China's Communist Party declared the founding of The People's Republic in 1949. That's after Mao's Army defeated the Chinese Nationalists known as Kuomintang, or KMT. The KMT retreated to the island of Taiwan, vowing one day to retake the mainland. That hasn't happened. More than 60 years on, the once bitter enemies are more like uneasy bed fellows. The two sides are even expected to sign a free trade style agreement in June. One man who will welcome that agreement is Liu Yi. He's a Chinese national living in Bangkok, and his entire life has echoed the twists and turns of the relationship between the KMT and the Communists. Yuen Chan has his story from Bangkok.

YUEN CHAN: Modern Bangkok is a world away from the poverty of China's Yunnan Province when Liu Yi was growing up there in the 1950's and '60's. Liu was the son of KMT officer. So Communists in Yunnan branded his entire family bad elements. Sitting in a Bangkok coffee shop Liu remembers a childhood blighted by class, politics and struggle.

INTERPRETER: When the Communist Party liberated my home town, my grandmother killed herself by jumping into a reservoir. My grandparents, aunts and uncles were all labeled as bandits. They were arrested, persecuted or jailed. Even as a small child, I couldn't hold my head up high.

CHAN: Liu yearned to overcome his family's counter-revolutionary background, so he jumped at the chance to prove he could be redder than red. In 1972 he ran away to Burma and became a Communist guerilla fighter.

INTERPRETER: I wanted to make a mark in the Burmese Communist Party, to prove that I wasn't just the product of a counter-revolutionary family. That revolution was always in my heart.

CHAN: The dream didn't last long. Liu became disillusioned with the Burmese Communists. Liu ran again, but he was soon captured by the Burmese government. They threw him in jail. Eighteen months later they decided to deport him to China, but Liu never reached his homeland. The Burmese Communists had learned that a deserter was being released. They lay in ambush as he and other prisoners were being ferried across a river.

INTERPRETER: I was the first to jump into the water. As I dived in, the soldiers on the other side started firing and then everyone else jumped in too.

CHAN: Liu made it ashore and spent the next six months on the run in Burma. Finally, some farmers took him in. They arranged for his escape with smugglers who ran drugs, guns and gems between Burma and Thailand. It was a trade controlled by remnants of the KMT. The smugglers delivered Liu to one of the largest KMT settlements in Northern Thailand, Reshuitang. Liu, who spent his youth trying to escape the shadow of the KMT, wound up marrying the daughter of a KMT officer and teaching in a school for children of KMT soldiers. These days, Liu Yi no longer yearns to leave Thailand. His daughters have good jobs in Bangkok. The family owns a home there. He still considers himself a proud Chinese patriot though and he's visited his hometown in Yunnan regularly since 1987. He's impressed with the changes there and is upbeat about the chance of a peaceful reunification of Taiwan and the Chinese mainland.

INTERPRETER: I think the resumption of transport links across the strait, and improving relations between the two sides shows that we're going in the right direction. It's what the Chinese people have been hoping for. Our hope is for a reunified motherland and for a strong China rising in the east.

CHAN: For Liu Yi, whose life has been so shaped by the labels Communist and Kuomintang, that distinction is no longer meaningful. He says he thinks the Communist Party and the Nationalist Party are just terms in history. China has moved on. For The World, I'm Yuen Chan, Bangkok.