This photo shows four death certificates.
Wang Aifu, now 83 years old, was enlisted at the age of 18 and served in the military for 19 years, fighting two wars. Over the past 27 years, Wang weaved his life closely with the death certificates for 84 martyrs who died during the Taiyuan Campaign (part of the War of Liberation) between Oct 5, 1948 and April 24, 1949. During the years, he has traveled more than 150,000 kilometers to deliver the death certificates of 52 martyrs to their families, and helped find families for 200 more martyrs.
Name lists of martyrs
One day during the Spring Festival of 1996, Wang, then retired, was wandering in an antique market when he saw four registers of service members who died in the Taiyuan Campaign in 1949. The registers listed out the names, ages, places of origin, time and place of death of 866 fallen ones, with death certificates of 84 fallen soldiers found between the pages that were yet to be delivered.
A soldier for 19 years who experienced life-or-death moments, Wang knew clearly the importance of these martyrs' certificates to their families. Wang, whose monthly pension was only 300 yuan at that time, did not hesitate to spend 3,000 yuan to buy all the files.
After sorting, Wang found that most of the martyrs were recruits in their 20s, and the youngest had just turned 18. Driven by a passion to do something for the martyrs, he decided to deliver the certificates to the families of these martyrs, no matter how much difficult it will be.
Traveling more than 150,000 km in 27 years
In 2017, Wang Aifu handed over the death certificate of the martyr Wang Yushan to his family in Yu County, Hebei Province.
When he started the work, decades have passed after the war. Some addresses on the registers no longer existed, and some relatives of martyrs had moved to other places. However, Wang didn't give up. He continued to write letters to the hometown of the martyrs and made phone calls to the local civil affairs and public security departments.
He also employed a hard method to do the job. He visited all the martyrs' cemeteries in Taiyuan, checking the names on the registers against those on 3,900 tombstones. Eventually, Wang found dozens of martyrs in these cemeteries whose names and native places matched those on the lists.
In 2005, Wang organized a photo exhibition on the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression and the Taiyuan Campaign. The exhibition attracted media attention. Wang's story was reported, and information about the 84 martyrs was published.
Shortly after that, the family of Hao Zaihu, a martyr from Wuhan, contacted Wang through the media. Wang took the certificate of Hao and went to Hubei in person, embarking on his legendary journey of delivering the martyrs' death certificates.
After that, more and more families contacted Wang, and the death certificates of 52 martyrs have been sent back home.
Over the past 20 years, Wang has traveled 150,000 km, covering Shanxi, Hebei, Inner Mongolia, Henan, Gansu and other provinces. When asked what the relationship between him and the martyrs is, and what drives him to come all the way, he always proudly answered that "they are my family".
More and more social resources involved helping find families for martyrs
Wang Aifu tells revolutionary stories to children.
So far, Wang has found families for 200 martyrs. While continuing with the endeavor, he also collects and collates documents related to the war.
Wang said he is not alone to help the martyrs return home. Over the years, more and more people and government agencies have become his teammates and fellow travelers.
In recent years, the society has seen improved policies to publicize martyrs' deeds and support the lives of martyrs' families. In April 2021, the Ministry of Veterans Affairs opened a public service platform to help find the relatives of martyrs through information and new media means. There will be more and more stories on martyrs' "coming home".