It is pure coincidence that I started to read War Trash, by Ha Jin, just as I was getting ready to study about the Korean War. Although it is a work of fiction, you get the basic dose of information needed to have an overall opinion about the conflict.
The start of the Korean War did not involve China from the beginning, but soon, seeing that the communists from Korea were loosing the battle, they joined along with the Soviet Union in fear that the Americans will come after the Chinese next. This conflict was one of ideologies, fought with the gun not with the mind. Most of the book describes how life as a POW (prisoner of war) was. Many Chinese and Koreans had this fate. The Chinese especially gone through a weird situation, two camps were formed, the Communists and the Nationalists. Its easy to guess what this meant. Many soldiers and officers sent to fight wanted to go to Taiwan, where Chiang Kay-shek managed to form a government and an independent country controlled by nationalist forces. The reason for this is that they have been educated in nationalist schools before the Civil War.
Conflicts appear in this camps that originated from blind faith in ideologies and raising them to the rank of religion. Yu Yuan soon gets important roles to play, mainly as translator and representative. He knew English and this made him an important pawn in the game, so important that leaders from both camps needed him. Knowledge is power. He did not have the fanaticism characteristic to many others, he only wanted to have a normal life without useless conflicts. In his free time he pursued activities like reading and improving his English, while others gambled and wasted their time basically.
Yu Yuan is really a great character compared to all the others, he managed to stay loyal to his heart and mind through all the hard times. I must stop here, the reason why people make books is for others to read them so I think this short review will convince you to read this marvelous novel.