Sun Li-jen (1900-1990)

Photograph of Sun Li-jen (Sun Liren)

Wikimedia Commons

Sun Li-jen (Sun Liren) was born in 1899 in Anhui Province. The child's mother died when he was five years old and his father, a local governor, sent him to a German missionary school for his earliest education. Sun graduated from Tsing Hua College in 1923 and traveled to the United States to further his education as an engineer. However, Sun decided he could do more for his country as a soldier, and he graduated from the Virginia Military Institute in 1927. He returned to China in 1928 and, after a brief apprenticeship as an enlisted soldier, was commissioned as a colonel in 1930. Shortly afterwards he was given command of a brigade

Sun fought in the Battle of Shanghai (1937) and was severely wounded by a rifle grenade. Promoted to major general and lieutenant general the next year, he organized and commanded New 38 Division in Yunnan by the time war broke out in the Pacific.

Sun was one of the best Chinese division commanders, performing well in the first Burma campaign. Here his ability to speak excellent English served him well. Slim found him "honest, calm, pugnacious" (Lewis 1976) and gave Sun tremendous "face" by placing British artillery and armor units under his command. His performance in the Battle of Yenangyaung won him an honorary knighthood from the British, and New 38 Division formed the rearguard of the retreat into India. Sun later helped direct the training of Chinese troops at Ramgarh in India, though Slim reported that he initially feared loss of face with his men if they were trained by American instructors. Sun's New 38 Division was composed largely of former customs troops who had enforced the Chinese government's salt monopoly, and Romanus and Sunderland (1953) hint that these men were more loyal to T.V. Soong, the Kuomintang finance minister and brother-in-law of Chiang Kai-shek, than to Chiang himself. In 1943 Sun became commander of New 1 Army, leading it for the rest of the war.

Postwar Sun became the commander-in-chief of the Chinese Nationalist Army in Taiwan. However, his popularity earned the enmity of Chiang, who placed him under house arrest in 1955. Sun was not released until 1988, following the death of Chiang's son.

Sun was unusually solicitous of his men. An American missionary doctor recalls Sun's "tall, handsome figure, looking much younger than his years, going round his wounded in the hospital wards, listening patiently, treating the enlisted men much more courteously than their sergeants or lieutenants would have done" (quoted in Allen 1984).This doubtless explains the unusually high morale and tactical ability of New 38 Division, evident even before it received American training at Ramgarh.

Service record




Major general     
Commander, New 38 Division, Burma
Lieutenant general     
New 1 Army, Burma



Allen (1984)

Chung (accessed 2010-11-24)

Fenby (2003) (accessed 2008-1-21)

Lewin (1976)

Romanus and Sunderland (1953)

Sih (1977)
Slim (1956)

Wilson (1982)

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