Platoon leader recalls the time PLA rescued his family from their rooftop during deluge of 1998
As Jiang Ping jumped into the floodwaters to repair a
broken dike last week, other soldiers from the People's Liberation Army
followed his example.
A platoon leader, Jiang had been fighting the floods with his unit
in Anhui province, which had been hit with severe flooding since early
From neighboring Jiangsu province, more than 1,000 troops had rushed
to Tongling, a city situated along the Yangzte River, on July 11 in
response to an urgent call for help.
After 12 days, the floodwaters there had been brought under control,
but the work of the troops was not done. They were ordered to Hefei,
the provincial capital, as Chaohu Lake was at risk of overflowing.
"Many houses and fields were submerged in both Tongling and Hefei,"
Jiang said. "The desperate situation is carved into my mind."
Born in 1992, Jiang experienced a wild moment in 1998, when a flood
hit his hometown in rural Zongyang county, Anhui. The violent floods
were among the worst on record in southern China.
One summer day, floodwaters suddenly rose in Jiang's village, which
lay beside Pogang Lake, not far from the main channel of the Yangzte
"Most of my house, which was made of brick and tile, was on a single
floor. It was quickly submerged but the water kept rising. My father
lifted me and my elder brother to the roof," Jiang recalled.
"We were on the roof for nearly three hours and desperate, in fear
of our lives," he said during a break from flood relief work on Thursday
on the broken dike at the junction of the Baishitian River and Chaohu
Lake, the country's fifth-largest freshwater lake.
He remembered his fear as he huddled with his family on the roof.
And he remembered the surge of hope as a team of soldiers frantically
rowed a rubber boat to the family carrying ropes and steel cables to
rescue them. "An officer took me into his arms and tried to ease my
panic. He said, 'Don't be afraid. We are here with you.'"
Jiang never forgot those words.
As the boat was nearly full, the young brothers were taken first.
Their parents waited on the roof. He saw them in the distance as the
soldiers rowed the boat away, wondering what would become of them in the
Jiang said the rescue was the first time he had met a real soldier.
"Since then, I always think of soldiers as tall and big," he said.
Jiang's family members were all safe, but when the floodwaters
receded their house collapsed. It was another calamity for a family that
had had more than its share. When a previous flood struck the area in
1954, some of the local villagers, including Jiang's maternal
grandparents, fled to other areas and never returned.
But Jiang was inspired by the bravery of the soldiers he had witnessed in action.
Inspired to join
In his village, a student who could pass the national college
entrance examination was a rarity. Most of the young men sought jobs in
cities, but Jiang joined the PLA after his graduation from high school
"As a new recruit, I found the training very tiring. But every time I
wanted to quit, I found strength in my childhood memory of the
soldiers," he said.
After finishing his compulsory term of service in 2012, Jiang stayed
in the army. His commanders recognized his good performance.
As an adult, he had wanted to find his savior from those many years
ago, though that seemed impossible. "At an exhibition of my unit's
history, I found it was this very unit that had rescued my family in
1998," he said as he described how the tears had come.
Despite the sentimental connection, Jiang is aware that the same unit must answer the call again 22 years later.
Now, working on the dike in Hefei, he wears a red armband, showing
he is part of a commando team of members of the Communist Party of
"The 20-member team was organized during the flood relief work, and
its members are expected to take the lead on the most difficult and
dangerous tasks," he said.
Talking with a reporter on Thursday atop the dike, Jiang seemed shy.
He struggled for words. When a tractor with bags of earth arrived on a
muddy road below the dike, Jiang rose briskly and walked down to meet
His platoon stood in a line to relay the bags by hand to an area of the river that had been reinforced by timbers.
Water had been found leaking from the dike and they had to stop it urgently.
The water by the timbers was still deep. Once the bottom was filled,
making the water waist-deep, a group of soldiers jumped in to
consolidate the bags. Jiang led the way.
His association with floods and the consequences seems inevitable.
As he rushed to Tongling on July 11, he wept when he saw the flooded
houses. He knew all too well the fear and hardship that accompanied the
Those memories have been an inspiration.
After the flood of 1998, Jiang's family moved to Chizhou, another city on the Yangzte. There they joined his grandparents.
Floodwaters seem to have a cruel memory. In a repeat of history, the recent storms have flooded their current home.