by Xinhua writers Wang Ruoyao and Yuan Xuelian
KUNMING, Aug. 15 (Xinhua) -- No flowers, no monuments, not even gravestones: A cemetery of more than 400 Chinese airmen who fell in battle against Japanese invaders during World War II has been severely neglected.
On Saturday, Chinese magazine, People, posted an article on the their Weibo microblog, revealing the dilapidated condition of the cemetery on the outskirts of Kunming, capital of Yunnan Province in the country's southwest.
The posting, accompanied by startling pictures, sparked online fury. The post has been forwarded some 21,000 times and drawn about 2,000 comments.
Netizens paid tribute to the martyrs by posting images of candles and lamented their deplorable treatment, accusing the local government of negligence and disrespect for history.
"Look how they are suffering! This is truly a great sorrow for our nation and our times," Weibo user "Kekelifang" commented.
"We simply want a place to mourn them, so please restore the cemetery and take care of it," said Xu Jiabao, 80, a Kunming resident.
Civil affairs authorities in Kunming told Xinhua on Wednesday that they intended to repair and protect the cemetery "as soon as possible."
Thursday marked the 68th anniversary of Japan's surrender in World War II.
On Changchun Hill, 16 km from downtown Kunming, the graveyard is covered with a thicket of weeds and shrubs. Some tombs have sunk or been dug up and coffins broken up.
The 1,300-square-meter plot houses the remains of young Kuomintang (KMT)soldiers who died defending China's southwestern border, according to Wei Ligong, deputy director of Kunming's civil affairs bureau.
Those buried at the site include translators and ground staff who worked for the famed "Flying Tigers", a band of volunteer U.S. fighter pilots sent to China to help repel the Japanese invaders.
Originally located in nearby Xiaomaju village in 1938, some members of the "Flying Tigers" were buried there. In 1953, the cemetery was moved to the Changchun Hill.
The current site of the graveyard remained forgotten until it was spotted in 2007 by Sun Guansheng, founder of the Yunnan Flying Tigers Research Association and former editor-in-chief of a local newspaper.
The 71-year-old said he found the cemetery by piecing together clues in a book by the widow of a "Flying Tiger."
"On seeing the tombs the first time, we cried. Bleached bones were lying in plain sight and broken caskets tossed aside," recalled Sun. "That day happened to be our traditional Tomb-Sweeping Day," he said.
In late 1950s, headstones were taken for materials to build a reservoir. In the following years, the site suffered several wild fires.
"Without the gravestones, we can't tell who is who," Sun said, adding that he had collected some pieces of the slates and preserved them personally.
"Six years has gone by since my discovery and the condition of the final resting place of the heroes is still miserable," he said with a sigh.
Responding to the criticism, Li Yulian, a local civil affairs official, said they had done "basic" protection work since Sun's discovery, reburying scattered human remains and coffins, restoring sunken tombs, clearing weeds and patrolling the area regularly.
However, the cemetery continues to be ravaged by downpours, livestock and grave robbers, she said. "After all, it has been in disrepair for such a long time."
The local government has decided to surround the cemetery with barbed wire, erect a memorial wall and build a path in the compound.
"We hope this will comfort the souls of these warriors who sacrificed for our nation," Wei Ligong said.
A lack of knowledge of history was a key factor in the damage to the cemetery, said Jin Ziqiang, a politics professor with the Yunnan University.
"Only when people understand history, will they genuinely respect history," he said.
The blood KMT troops shed in expelling the Japanese invaders was not properly acknowledged when they lost the civil war against the Communist Party of China in the following years.
The turning point came in 2005, when President Hu Jintao spoke highly of the contribution KMT troops made in the war against Japanese invaders.
Last month, the Ministry of Civil Affairs issued a statement suggesting local governments attend more to the needs of KMT veterans, widely hailed as further recognition of the KMT's role in safeguarding national territorial integrity.