Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
War Trash is ostensibly the memoir of Yu Yuan, an aging veteran of the Chinese Communist army that fought in Korea against the United Nations forces. Writing near the end of the twentieth century, Yuan feels compelled to leave a record for his grandchildren to let them know the truth about his service and about the life of those Chinese unfortunately captured and detained during the conflict.
The bulk of his memoir records his life from 1951 until 1953. Yuan has been educated at China’s premier military academy before the communist takeover of his country in 1948. Yuan is allowed to remain in the army under the Communists but is sent with his unit to Korea in 1951, leaving behind an aging mother and a sweetheart who promises to await his return. Shortly after he arrives in Korea, he is captured by American soldiers and is interned as a prisoner of war.
Yuan’s experiences in the prison camp are nightmarish. Much to his surprise, the Americans who he had been told were soft turn out to be remarkably determined fighters and tough prison masters. Worse, he realizes that he and his fellow prisoners are little more than “war trash,” pawns in an international game of chess in which their lives mean little either to their captors or to their own government. Many prisoners realize that if they return home to China, they may face a fate worse than the camp, as returning prisoners of war (POWs) would be looked upon with suspicion of...
(The entire section is 618 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of War Trash Summary. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Yu Yuan, now seventy-three years old, is visiting his son’s family in the United States and is completing his documentary-style memoir in English about his experiences as a Chinese prisoner of war, or POW, during the Korean War. He hopes that someday his grandchildren will read his memoir and fully understand the meaning of the long tattoo on his belly that reads “F—— . . . . U . . S .” (the mutilated outcome of having removed part of the tattoo).
Yuan’s story begins in 1949, when the Communists come to power in China. Yuan is a sophomore at the elite Huanpu Military Academy in the southern city of Chengdu. This academy, the equivalent of West Point in the United States, had played an important role in the Chinese Nationalist regime, so its students are viewed with suspicion by the new regime. Consequently, Yuan is required to take special courses in Marxism and undergo mutual and self-criticism. After graduation, he is assigned as an officer with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
The Korean War breaks out, and he tells his mother and his fiancé, Tao Julan, a student at a teacher’s college, that he will return home in one or two years. After traveling for four days, Yuan’s division arrives at the North Korean border. Before the trip, the division’s commissar, Pei Shan, orders him to bring along an English-Chinese dictionary, explaining that it will serve as a special weapon. Yuan is assigned to help Chang Ming, a...
(The entire section is 1137 words.)