Au­thor uses wartime ro­mance to preach a mes­sage of peace

China Daily (USA) - - LIFE - By XING YI xingyi@chi­

HustlenHazel is a novel that strad­dles tur­bu­lent times in mod­ern Chi­nese his­tory — WorldWar II and the “cul­tural rev­o­lu­tion” (1966-76). And coun­tries — China and the United States. Yet it is a sim­ple story, as all it talks about is how we should cher­ish peace.

Writ­ten by Chi­nese-Amer­i­can writer Yuan Jin­mei, it was re­leased by Bei­jing Oc­to­ber Arts and Lit­er­a­ture Pub­lish­ing House on Fri­day.

The novel is about a wartime ro­mance told through a se­ries of flash­backs.

It starts with the search for a fam­ily his­tory through a dust­laden col­lec­tion of love let­ters.

The sen­der is a Kuom­intang mil­i­tary pi­lot, and the re­ceiver is a cap­i­tal­ist’s daugh­ter in the 1940s.

“I was about to write a sim­ple love story,” Yuan says in the pref­ace. “But a love story can’t be sim­ple in China … So, the ro­mance was set against a war, dis­as­ters and tur­bu­lence.”

The main play­ers in the book are the pi­lot, Fan Ji­ahe, who flies a B-24 bomber in the Chi­nese-Amer­i­can Com­pos­ite Wing, a joint US and Chi­nese Air Force dur­ingWorldWar II, and his lover Shu Nan.

Due to mil­i­tary re­stric­tions, Fan’s let­ters are not de­liv­ered to his lover till the war ends.

Each let­ter is a story, in which Fan de­scribes his mis­sions, speaks of the cru­elty of the war, tells of the broth­er­hood be­tween the Amer­i­can and Chi­nese pi­lots and yearns for love and a peace­ful life.

Al­though it’s fic­tion, Yuan says she did her best to re­main faith­ful to his­tory.

Yuan says she read a lot of ma­te­rial on the war, in­clud­ing about the “Fly­ing Tigers”— or the 1st Amer­i­can Vol­un­teer Group of theChi­nese Air­Force un­der the com­mand of Claire Lee Chen­nault, which was a pre­de­ces­sor of the Chi­ne­seAmer­i­can Com­pos­ite Wing — and even in­ter­viewed some US veter­ans.

Two of the veter­ans she in­ter­viewed passed away re­cently.

In the book, Yuan also writes about post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der that veter­ans of­ten en­dure.

“I want peo­ple to re­flect on the im­pact of vi­o­lence. It (war) is not like kids’ fight­ing. It (the psy­cho­log­i­cal im­pact) takes a long time to over­come,” says Yuan.

In the book, Fan and Shu don’t end up to­gether af­ter the war — each of them has fam­i­lies, and each fam­ily goes through harsh times in the “cul­tural rev­o­lu­tion” be­cause of their back­grounds.

Yuan says that her novel was in­spired by the story of a friend whose mother fell in HustlenHazel, love with a Kuom­intang pi­lot in the CACW.

The pi­lot later joined the Com­mu­nist Party of China af­ter the civil war ended in 1949, and flew a plane from Tai­wan to the main­land.

The mother, who was born to a se­nior Kuom­intang of­fi­cial, then aban­doned Tai­wan to es­cape to the main­land in 1954 to look for her beloved.

“That’s the start­ing point of my novel,” Yuan says dur­ing the book launch in Bei­jing.

In Yuan’s book, Fan and Shu’s off­spring un­cover their par­ents’ story from the let­ters.

Another part of the novel de­scribes the off­spring’s ex­pe­ri­ences dur­ing the “cul­tural rev­o­lu­tion”, such as be­ing trans­ferred to the coun­try­side, forced la­bor, and en­coun­ter­ing the twists of hu­man na­ture.

This bit is largely based on Yuan’s fam­ily ex­pe­ri­ences.

Yuan is the daugh­ter ofYuan Chuanmi (1926-95), a well­known bi­ol­o­gist at Nan­jing Univer­sity.

Dur­ing the “cul­tural rev­o­lu­tion”, Yuan’s fam­ily was sent to a farm in Liyang, in Jiangsu prov­ince. Yuan worked with farm­ers to raise pigs. Later, she was as­signed to work in a fac­tory which pro­duced bath­tubs.

“Our par­ents’ gen­er­a­tion ex­pe­ri­enced a lot of vi­o­lence. Af­ter World War II, it was the civil war, and then waves of po­lit­i­cal move­ments,” says Yuan.

“The vi­o­lence af­fected peo­ple and made peo­ple ner­vous and distrust­ful of each other.”

Af­ter the “cul­tural rev­o­lu­tion”, Yuan joined a univer­sity and stud­ied phi­los­o­phy.

In 1989, Yuan­wona schol­ar­ship and went to do herPhDat the Univer­sity ofHawaii.

Cur­rently, Yuan teaches logic at Creighton Univer­sity in Ne­braska.

“When I write pa­pers, I use English. WhenI write nov­els, I use Chi­nese, be­cause I don’t want to for­get the Chi­nese char­ac­ters,” says Yuan, whose ear­lier nov­els and short sto­ries have won lit­er­ary awards.

Be­fore Yuan fin­ished the first draft of Hustlen Hazel in 2014, she went to Hengyang, in­Hu­nan prov­ince, to visit one of the most im­por­tant air­fields of the CACW­dur­ing the war.

It is­nowa train­ing field for a driv­ing school.

“Ear­lier generations have sac­ri­ficed a lot for peace. If we for­get this and fight each other, their sac­ri­fices will be worth noth­ing,” says Yuan.


Yuan Jin­mei’s lat­est book, be­gin­ning in the 1940s.

is a wartime ro­mance

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