A history largely forgotten
It started in 1999 in China when a photograph caught Zhang Dongpan’s attention, and it eventually led to 23,000 photos that tell the story of US-China collaboration to fight the Japanese in World War II, Cai Chunying reports from Washington.
Four years ago, the US National Archives and Records Administration in suburban Maryland just outside of Washington received unexpected visitors. About 10 people, mainly Chinese, came to look for photographs taken during World War II. During the next two months, the team was in the building whenever it was open. They brought with them advanced photo scanners and worked quietly with an occasional burst of surprise and joy. archives, obtained 200 or so photos and some video footage for the documentary. They also learned that the entire collection consisted of the 23,000 or so photos.
After rallying volunteers and getting financial support from private citizens, Zhang and his team showed up at the archives in early 2010.
Zhang recalled his emotions upon seeing the photos for the first time:
“We truly were left trembling....For how many years before that I had not even dared to dream that so many images from our parent’s generation could exist so clearly and vividly before our eyes.”
Not long after the team returned to China, enlarged photos from the archives were put on exhibit in several Chinese cities, and people got to see a history so dear to their past yet so largely forgotten.
The close collaboration between Americans and Chinese in the CBI is vividly shown in those photos. US Army officers use sand tunnels to teach their Chinese counterparts battle strategies; Chinese soldiers learn to use new American weapons; American nurses treat Chinese soldiers’ wounds; Chinese children give thumbs up to passing American tanks.
“It is absolutely wonderful. There appears to me to be a great thirst for information on that part of the history of the Chinese people,” said Easterbrook, who was invited to a couple of exhibitions in China. Taiwan exhibit
Wang Miao, vice-president and chief editor of the Hong Kong China Tourism Press, a longtime friend of Zhang, helped to take the exhibition to Taiwan in March 2013.
Many of the Chinese generals in the CBI later retreated to Taiwan along with Chiang Kai-shek after he lost the battle with the Communist Party following WWII. Some of them are still alive.
“The enthusiasm toward the exhibit went well beyond our expectation,” said Wang, who is a renowned photographer in China. “Through these powerful photos, people now know that we have so many heroic generals and soldiers and we had such glorious victory during WWII.”
While in Taiwan, someone suggested that Wang take the exhibit to the US so American people could also see that the US and China were deeply connected during that period.
Formerly a scholar at the Institute of American Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and now vice-chairman of UBS Investment Bank, Wang’s husband, He Di, actively looked for a US partner to sponsor the exhibit.
Finally, the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States of the Wilson Center, a leading think tank in Washington, became the US sponsor, and the China Overseas Exchange Association, the outreach arm of the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office of the State Council of China, sponsors the exhibit as a Chinese partner.
The project soon gained support from other leading organizations active in promoting US-China relations, including the National Committee on United States-China Relations, the Committee of 100, the General Joseph W. Stilwell Scholarship and the Scowcroft Group. The Asia Culture and Media Group provided logistical support.
“When Americans tell stories of WWII, the war in Europe comes first and the war in the Pacific came second. So, the result is that they do not know very much about the war on the Asian mainland,” said Robert Daly, director of the Kissing Institute, who hosted the exhibit’s opening ceremony. Attending the event were descendants of CBI veterans, including Easterbrook, McMurrey’s daughters, Shan Stodter, US military officers and China experts.
“The most important thing to know is that the United States and China have a joint history. We have worked for common interest. That is worth celebrating and remembering,” Daly told China Daily.
Zhang said the exhibit will be taken to New York, San Francisco and Hawaii next year, the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII.
While the exhibit was up in Washington, Jill Elkins, a Maryland resident, happened to be passing by with her two children, and they stopped to look at the photos. Elkins’ father was with US Army Air Corps in the CBI.
“The old pictures are amazing. There are a couple of photos showing American soldiers doing some radio work. I believe my father did some of that, too. I will keep looking to see whether I can find him. I wish I knew more of his time there,” she said. Contact the writer at email@example.com.
This photo is one of the 23,000 photos stored by the US National Archives about the US’ participation in the China-Burma-India Theater during World War II. To the left is the original caption slip pasted on the back of the photo. It reads: Liaison Officers of the Y-Force staff and Chinese Army Officers check the progress of Allied artillery fire from an observation post overlooking Tengchong in Southwestern China. Gateway to Burma, the ancient walled city was liberated on September 14, 1944 by Chinese forces aided by Y-Force men and US airmen.