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.

China Daily (Canada) - - IN DEPTH -

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 charlenecai@chi­nadai­lyusa.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.

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