Heroine Remains True to Original Aspirations
Ma Maojie, 86, a witness to and participant in the People's Liberation Army's (PLA) campaign to cross the Yangtze River in 1949, became one of the 29 recipients of the July 1 Medal on June 29, 2021. The medal was presented by Chinese President Xi Jinping, also General Secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee and Chairman of the Central Military Commission, during a grand ceremony in Beijing. Ma's story of helping PLA soldiers cross the Yangtze River — in a hail of bullets and mortar shells, to liberate Nanjing from Kuomintang forces — was read during the ceremony. "We should firm up ideals and always follow the Party, because our happy life is created by the Party and the people," says Ma, who has been a witness to the continuous progress the country has made under the leadership of the CPC.
Helping PLA Cross River
Ma was born into an impoverished family in 1935. The family lived on the north bank of the Yangtze River, in Wuwei, a county in East China's Anhui Province. Ma's parents made a living by fishing. A thatched cottage, a slice of infertile land and a boat were the family's only belongings. Several of Ma's siblings lost their lives, because of poverty and disease.
The arrival of the PLA, in the spring of 1949, brought new hope to Ma and her family. The newly established people's government in Wuwei distributed land to impoverished villagers. Like many other families in the county, Ma's family received more farmland and crops at that time.
Many of the residents volunteered to transport military goods, repair roads, dig trenches and collect boats for the PLA, to help the army fight the Kuomintang forces.
Ma told her older brother, Ma Shenghong, that she would transport PLA soldiers across the Yangtze River after they read a notice that more boats were needed to transport the soldiers. Ma and her brother volunteered together, and they persuaded their neighbors to join the effort.
On the night of April 20, 1949, area fishermen were mobilized to help the PLA soldiers cross the Yangtze River, when the PLA launched the Yangtze River Crossing Campaign, a major offensive against the then-ruling Kuomintang during the war that led to the founding of New China.
The PLA initially declined Ma's offer to join the fishermen, because she was too young. Ma insisted she was brave and good at rowing a boat, and she eventually snuck onto a boat with her brother. They worked together, with three other boats, to transport 30 soldiers across the Yangtze River. Ma remained at her post, even after a bullet injured her right arm. Ma and her brother travelled across the Yangtze River six times, and they delivered three groups of soldiers to the south bank of the Yangtze River that night.
He Shusen, who took part in the battle, said in a recent interview that he was deeply impressed by Ma's bravery and strong will that night.
Ma received an honorary title, first-class heroine in the Yangtze River Crossing Campaign, in recognition of her heroic deeds, after the PLA successfully took control of Nanjing in 1949. Since then, her story has become widely known in China. There is a statue of Ma in a memorial hall (in Hefei, capital of Anhui Province) commemorating the Yangtze River Crossing Campaign.
President Xi commended those who made contributions during the Yangtze River Crossing Campaign when he visited the memorial hall in August 2020. Xi said the campaign's victory was the result of the boats being paddled by the people.
|A photo of Ma Maojie (when she was young)|
Like a 'Ray of Kindness'
In 1951, on the eve of National Day (October, then-16-year-old Ma received an invitation, signed by Chairman Mao Zedong, to attend a grand celebration in Beijing to mark the second anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China (PRC). Ma was overwhelmed by the opportunity to meet Mao. During their meeting, Mao praised Ma for her bravery, especially at such a young age, and for not showing fear of death. He wrote, "Study hard and make progress every day" in a notebook, which he presented to Ma.
Ma says she has always kept in mind the encouragement she received from Mao, and she incorporated that encouragement into her studies, work and life.
Ma applied to join the CPC when she was 18. She formally became a member of the CPC in June the next year. "It is the Party that has liberated the country, lifted the Chinese people out of a miserable life and helped them lead a life free of hunger and the cold. All of my belongings come from the Party. Therefore, I will always follow the call of the Party, and I will serve the people wholeheartedly," Ma says.
Before she retired, in 1990, Ma worked at several factories in Hefei. Her former colleagues recall how she always took the lead in moving heavy objects in the factories, and how she found solutions to the problems of others.
Liu Guanglin, Ma's daughter, says her mother is like a "ray of kindness" in her heart. "I seldom found my mom at home…because she was always expected to attend a meeting or take part in agricultural production activities in rural areas. She would offer financial assistance to others, even when our family was short of cash," Liu recalls.
As people around Liu often spoke highly of her mother's sacrifices, Liu gradually came to understand her mother, who always put the interests of others first, and who always represented the virtues of traditional Chinese women.
Making Red Stories Known
Since her retirement, Ma has volunteered to promote revolutionary stories of the Party. She has persisted in visiting local government agencies, schools and factories to tell young people about the stories of the revolutionaries, and to enhance patriotism in the younger generation.
When people have shown their concern about Ma and her health, and especially when they have advised Ma to stay at home, Ma has replied that it is her responsibility to help young people learn about the Party's revolutionary stories.
During the opening ceremony of the Memorial Hall of Yangtze River Crossing Campaign, Liu asked her mother if the documentary film, shown in the memorial hall, reflected the reality of the battle. With tears in her eyes, Ma said many boats were sunk by shells from the Kuomintang forces during the campaign.
Liu mourned the lives of all the martyrs who died during the campaign. "It was very fortunate my mother survived the battle. And it is the love of the Party, the government and the people that has created a better life for her," says Liu.
Ma visited her hometown on the eve of Qingming Festival, or Tomb Sweeping Day, this year. She told children the Party had created a better life for the people, and she called on the children to cherish their lives, have grateful hearts, follow the Party and make a commitment to serve the people in the future.
During the ceremony, when Ma received the July 1 Medal (the Party's highest honor), Ma decided to donate the medal to the Memorial Hall of Yangtze River Crossing Campaign.
Ma now lives with her daughter in Hefei. She likes watching the news on TV, and she follows the latest developments in national affairs.
|Ma Maojie speaks with students about the battle.|
Photo Supplied by Zhang Dagang, Interviewee and Memorial Hall of Yangtze River Campaign
(Women of China English Monthly December 2021 issue)
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