The big­gest lit­tle hero of World War II

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - PAGE TWO - Chris Davis

I just went through the or­deal of mov­ing and vowed to put my pack rat days be­hind me, never again to tuck away keep­sakes, sou­venirs or knick­knacks un­til they form an ocean suit­able for drown­ing in.

But I learned about one case where I bet peo­ple are wish­ing a hoarder had been at work.

Much of the his­tory of World War II in China may be lost for­ever, and a new doc­u­men­tary il­lus­trates the mon­u­men­tal task of re­cov­er­ing mere scraps of it.

Find­ing Kukan chron­i­cles fourth-gen­er­a­tion Chi­ne­seAmer­i­can film­maker Robin Lung’s quest to re­cover at least one copy of the 1941 film Kukan: The Bat­tle Cry of China, the first doc­u­men­tary to ever win an Academy Award — and the only Os­car-win­ning

This Day, That Year

Item­fromDec21,1987,in Chi­naDaily:Bei­jing’sho­tels areget­tin­gready­forChrist­mas,an­dare­dec­o­rat­ed­with flow­er­sand­in­par­tic­u­larthe dragon,thesym­bol­ofthe Touris­mYearof1988.

AgroupfromtheFeng­tai DistrictofBei­jing­willper­form­lion,dragon,stil­tand boat­dances.San­taClaus will­trav­el­from­roomto room­to­p­re­sent­gift­son Christ­masEve.…

Christ­mas is not for­mally cel­e­brated on the Chi­nese doc­u­men­tary with no known copies in ex­is­tence.

Kukan — the Chi­nese term for heroic courage un­der bit­ter suf­fer­ing — takes view­ers be­hind the scenes of the Ja­panese in­va­sion and oc­cu­pa­tion of the Chi­nese main­land start­ing with the af­ter­math of the Nan­jing Mas­sacre and end­ing with har­row­ing footage of the Aug 24, 1940, Ja­panese bomb­ing of Chongqing.

But the new doc­u­men­tary is re­ally about the “un­sung hero” be­hind the old film, Hawai­ian-born Li Ling-Ai, who is named as a tech­ni­cal ad­viser in the cred­its, but was re­ally a pro­ducer, fi­nancer and in­spi­ra­tion for film­maker Rey Scott.

Scott, a St Louis-born free­lance pho­to­jour­nal­ist, met Li Ling-Ai in Hawaii in 1937 and she con­vinced him to go to China and get the real story be­hind the Ja­panese oc­cu­pa­tion to make the world un­der­stand what was re­ally hap­pen­ing there.

Scott made four trips to main­land, and Dec 25 is not a pub­lic hol­i­day. How­ever, Christ­mas ap­pears to be gain­ing ground as a sea­son for shop­ping and cel­e­bra­tion in China.

And to the younger gen­er­a­tion, it has also be­come a spe­cial day to ex­press good wishes and ex­change gifts with some­one they love, boost­ing the “hol­i­day econ­omy”.

As a sea­son for shop­ping, Christ­mas is gain­ing trac­tion in ma­jor cities, with many re­tail­ers of­fer­ing dis­counts.

Christ­mas-re­lated sales China over the next four years, with Li Ling-Ai hock­ing her jew­elry to buy him film and boat tick­ets and set up con­tacts.

She told Scott she was sick of movies show­ing China as noth­ing but smoky song clubs. “Take pic­tures of the real peo­ple fight­ing for China’s free­dom,” she told Scott. “That’s the story of China I want. Life goes on, re­gard­less.”

Scott and Li Ling-Ai be­gan to screen footage around the United States to raise aware­ness — and money — for United China Relief.

“The idea of peace is the se­cret be­hind China,” she told a re­porter in Bos­ton. “Through count­less cen­turies the Chi­nese have been trained in the ways of peace. And they are fight­ing to­day to main­tain that ideal.”

The footage cul­mi­nated in the doc­u­men­tary, which pre­miered in New York City on June 24, 1941. It was the first ever full-color movie about China and a hit in theaters.

Af­ter Pearl Har­bor, Scott booms have been recorded in the past decade in me­trop­o­lises such as Bei­jing and Shang­hai, ac­cord­ing to a sur­vey con­ducted by the Chi­nese Academy of So­cial Sci­ences. The trend is now spread­ing to smaller cities, the academy said.

The sur­vey also found that the pop­u­lar­ity of Christ- joined the Army, sign­ing away the rights to Kukan for three years. By the time he re­turned from the war, the com­pany had gone un­der and all copies of Kukan were lost or de­stroyed.

But one print passed un­no­ticed and poorly stored to one of Scott’s four sons. Restora­tion ef­forts came up short, un­for­tu­nately.

But some stun­ning footage of the bomb­ing of Chongqing did sur­vive, and the story comes full cir­cle as Lung takes the VCR to Chongqing and screens it for the first time there.

As one city of­fi­cial said af­ter view­ing it, “China is still miss­ing a lot of knowl­edge about this part of its his­tory. This film is pre­cious.”

He thanked Li Ling-Ai, who died in New York in 2003 at the age of 95.

“He­roes come in dif­fer­ent sizes,” he said. “A lit­tle wo­man can be a big hero.”

time to do what in­ter­ests them at their own pace. The most pop­u­lar semi-guided tour des­ti­na­tions for this New Year’s Day hol­i­day are Xi­a­men in Fu­jian prov­ince, Sanya in Hainan prov­ince, Sin­ga­pore and Thai­land. The pop­u­lar pack­ages are for four to six days, as many peo­ple pre­fer to take a cou­ple of days off to ex­tend the hol­i­day.

Con­tact the writer at chris­davis @chi­nadai­lyusa.com mas with the younger gen­er­a­tion has noth­ing to do with Chris­tian­ity. In­stead, it gives them one more ex­cuse to hang out with loved ones and to en­ter­tain and re­ward them­selves.

HAO QUNYING / FOR CHINA DAILY

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