Redis­cov­er­ing friend­ship

Re­cent fi nds re­lated to Fly­ing Tigers air unit un­cov­ers his­tory of Sino- US co­op­er­a­tion

Global Times - - Front Page - By Xu Ming and Zhang Yu

A re­cent dis­cov­ery in Yun­nan Prov­ince re­vealed relics re­lated to the Fly­ing Tigers, the US vol­un­teer air squadron

While they helped China de­fend it­self against Ja­panese in­vaders, many vet­er­ans faced per­se­cu­tion af­ter the war ended

Their rep­u­ta­tion has been re­stored in re­cent years, due to the eff orts from both the so­ci­ety and gov­ern­ment

Fur­naces, rem­nants of a com­mand build­ings and a troop en­camp­ment. His­tory was un­cov­ered when the largest clus­ter of relic sites found so far re­lated to the Fly­ing Tigers, the US vol­un­teer air squadron which helped China fi ght off Japan in the 1940s, was re­dis­cov­ered ear­lier this month on the out­skirts of Kun­ming, South­west China’s Yun­nan Prov­ince.

These fi nds, unearthed in Wu­longpu vil­lage, are a re­minder of a part of his­tory that’s not of­ten men­tioned in China or the US as the re­la­tion­ship be­tween Bei­jing and Wash­ing­ton has changed over time. But many Yun­nan lo­cals and his­tory lovers are still thank­ful to the US vol­un­teer team who pro­tected their homes over half a cen­tury ago.

One of them is Sun Guan­sheng, di­rec­tor of the Yun­nan Fly­ing Tigers Research In­sti­tute who led the team be­hind the dis­cov­ery. As one of the few ex­perts in China today who’s en­gaged in re­search­ing this chap­ter of his­tory, he is calling for more pro­tec­tion for the sites and recog­ni­tion of these air­men’s im­pact.

“Fund­ing and policy sup­port are ur­gently needed. It’s a press­ing task to pro­tect these his­tor­i­cal build­ings and the Fly­ing Tiger cul­ture, which orig­i­nated here,” Sun, also the founder of the Yun­nan Fly­ing Tigers mu­seum, said.

Glo­ri­ous past

It was 1941, and the War of Re­sis­tance against Ja­panese Ag­gres­sion ( 1931- 45) en­tered its fourth and maybe most diffi - cult year in China. Ac­cord­ing to sta­tis­tics from the Yun­nan Fly­ing Tigers Research In­sti­tute, from Septem­ber 1938 to De­cem­ber 1941, Ja­panese planes struck Kun­ming, a city of strate­gic im­por­tance in South­west China, 51 times, and nu­mer­ous peo­ple were killed and in­jured.

China’s ill- trained and poor­lye­quipped air force wasn’t able to re­pel Japan’s ae­rial as­sault. In 1940, Kuom­intang leader Chi­ang Kai- shek sent Claire Lee Chen­nault, a for­mer US Army Air Corps offi cer who had come to train Chi­nese pilots, to Wash­ing­ton to lay the ground­work for a US- led air unit with the ap­proval of President Franklin D. Roo­sevelt.

In 1941, over 200 young Amer­i­cans re­cruited by Chen­nault ar­rived in Kun­ming, join­ing the Amer­i­can Vol­un­teer Group. In the be­gin­ning, the group con­sisted of around 100 air­craft and around 200 pilots, mostly from the US Army Air corps. They be­came the fi rst group of elite US pilots to par­tic­i­pate in the front­line de­fense of China.

Chen­nault used Wu­ji­aba Air­port as his com­mand post. The sud­den ap­pear­ance of de­fend­ing air­craft caught the Ja­panese off guard. Dur­ing the bat­tle for Changde, the Chi­nese army coun­ter­at­tacked only fi ve days af­ter the area was oc­cu­pied and killed 15,000 of the in­vaders. The Fly­ing Tigers also car­ried at­tacks against the Ja­panese air­base in Shang­hai. The co­op­er­a­tion be­tween China and the US led to vic­to­ries in China and South­east Asia.

In March 1943, the Fly­ing Tigers be­came the US Army’s 14th Air Force, with Chen­nault ap­pointed its ma­jor gen­eral. By the end of World War II, the 14th Air Force had shot down 2,600 Ja­panese planes, sunk or ren­dered use­less 44 war­ships and 13,000 in­land wa­ter ves­sels, and killed 66,700 Ja­panese troops, ac­cord­ing to the mem­oirs of Chen­nault. In the mean­time, over 500 Fly­ing Tigers air­craft were lost, and over 2,000 mem­bers died.

The Fly­ing Tigers were not only Amer­i­cans, but also Chi­nese trans­la­tors, ground staff and later pilots, which Chen­nault trained in a fl ying school on the out­skirts of Kun­ming. The 14th Air Force, for ex­am­ple, had over 20 Chi­nese pilots, many of which later fl ew “the Hump,” an iconic air sup­ply route to send des­per­ately needed men and ma­teriel into south­west­ern China.

For­got­ten heroes

Com­pared to the glo­ri­ous achieve­ments of the Fly­ing Tigers in the war, their fate af­ter death has been some­what ig­no­min­ious.

The heroes used to be prop­erly re­spected. As re­vealed by the Yun­nan Fly­ing Tigers Research In­sti­tute, af­ter 1943 a ceme­tery for Fly­ing Tigers was es­tab­lished in Xiao­maju vil­lage in Kun­ming. The de­ceased were hon­ored with qual­ity coffi ns and tomb­stones, and a me­mo­rial hall with carved stone tablets was es­tab­lished. The hall was fi lled with the scent of burn­ing in­cense year- round be­cause lo­cals wanted to memo­ri­al­ize the fallen heroes.

But this grandeur was tem­po­rary. Af­ter the Com­mu­nist Party of China de­feated the na­tion­al­ist Kuom­intang party in 1949, the topic of the Fly­ing Tigers be­came sen­si­tive as it risked giv­ing credit to the achieve­ments made by the Kuom­intang in re­sist­ing the Ja­panese in­va­sion.

The ceme­tery was moved to a re­mote moun­tain­ous site in the 1950s. The old hall be­came a ware­house and the me­mo­rial tablets be­came chil­dren’s play­things.

Sev­eral years later, the tomb­stones were used as the foun­da­tion of a lo­cal reser­voir.

In late 1980s, the name­less coffi ns were opened by grave rob­bers and the heroes’ bones

were ex­posed to the el­e­ments.

Sun shared with the Global Times that he cried when he saw the bones of the Fly­ing Tigers scat­tered amid grass and rub­bish in 2007.

The Chi­nese vet­er­ans ex­pe­ri­enced diffi cul­ties in post- war China. As Li Shangjin, the son of Fly­ing Tigers trans­la­tor Li Tong re­vealed to Guangzhou Daily that his fa­ther worked as an English teacher af­ter the war. How­ever he was driven out of the school due to his work with the US mil­i­tary and had to be­come a man­ual la­borer to sup­port his fam­ily.

In 1960s, Li Tong was placed un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion again and was sent to a la­bor camp for nine years. Li Shangjin was aff ected too. Due to his fa­ther’s iden­tity, he could not join the army or be hired by Sta­te­owned fi rms and had to work in small fac­to­ries.

Lin Shaom­ing, an­other Fly­ing Tigers team mem­ber, was sent to a la­bor camp too, for more than 20 years. Zheng Song­sheng, also a team mem­ber, fi rst worked in a brick fac­tory af­ter the war was over. Later, af­ter his ex­pe­ri­ence in Fly­ing Tigers was re­vealed, he was de­moted to a front­line worker and even­tu­ally had his right leg am­pu­tated af­ter be­ing in­jured at work.

Late jus­tice

Luck­ily, these once- for­got­ten heroes have been ap­pre­ci­ated once again in re­cent years, due to the eff orts from both so­ci­ety and the gov­ern­ment.

While it was a 2005 speech by then Chi­nese President Hu Jin­tao in which he paid trib­ute to the air­men’s spirit of Sino- Amer­i­can co­op­er­a­tion that brought wide­spread at­ten­tion to them, Sun had been work­ing to re­store their rep­u­ta­tion for years al­ready by that point.

Af­ter years of research, Sun es­tab­lished the Yun­nan Fly­ing Tigers Research In­sti­tute in 2007, and started more in­ves­ti­ga­tions into the sur­viv­ing traces of the team in Kun­ming. In 2011 he opened the fi rst mu­seum about them in his own house.

“We should remember the Sino- US friend­ship at that time. We should be grate­ful for their as­sis­tance,” said Sun. “Confl icts are in­evitable in the Sino- US re­la­tion­ship, but the friend­ship be­tween the two coun­tries never changes.”

Since see­ing the mis­er­able con­di­tion of the tombs in 2007, Sun has been work­ing hard to push the rel­e­vant depart­ments to re­store them.

“Since then, af­ter our ap­peals, ev­ery year around Qing­ming Fes­ti­val ( a day on which Chi­nese peo­ple cel­e­brate their an­ces­tors), there were calls for the ceme­tery to be re­paired from the me­dia and so­ci­ety,” Sun said.

How­ever it took un­til 2013 for the ceme­tery to be re­stored.

In 2016, an offi cial Kun­ming Fly­ing Tigers Mu­seum was opened thanks to the over 2,000 do­na­tions made by the de­scen­dants of the team mem­bers, to al­low more peo­ple to learn about the his­tory and achieve­ments of the Fly­ing Tigers.

Zhao Shen­grong, adopted daugh­ter of Fly­ing Tiger Zheng Song­sheng, was for a long time un­will­ing to tell oth­ers that her fa­ther was a mem­ber of the team. Now she re­al­izes the heroes should not be for­got­ten and hopes to tell his fa­ther’s sto­ries to more peo­ple.

In 2009, Li Shangjin started to learn about the his­tory of the Fly­ing Tigers af­ter see­ing me­dia re­ports about them. He started to feel proud of his fa­ther in­stead of com­plain­ing. “At that time, they were cho­sen by his­tory,” said Li.

In 1979, his fa­ther Li Tong man­aged to be­come a teacher again. As Li Shangjin rec­ol­lected, even in the worst times of his fa­ther’s life, he still be­lieved that re­spect would come sooner or later.

In 2009, the tombs of Li Tong, Zheng Song­sheng and sev­eral other sol­diers’ were moved to Jin­ling Ceme­tery in Kun­ming. Ev­ery Qing­ming Fes­ti­val, cit­i­zens come to remember what they did for China.

“Fund­ing and policy sup­port are ur­gently needed. It’s a press­ing task to pro­tect these his­tor­i­cal build­ings and the Fly­ing Tiger cul­ture, which orig­i­nated here.” Sun Guan­sheng di­rec­tor of the Yun­nan Fly­ing Tigers Research In­sti­tute

Pho­tos: CFP

A re­tired Amer­i­can Fly­ing Tiger touches a photo about his fel­low vol­un­teers in an ex­hi­bi­tion ded­i­cated to the air­men in Kun­ming, South­west China’s Yun­nan Prov­ince. In the box: Uni­forms of Fly­ing Tigers

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