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"Flying Tigers" and Joseph Stillwell: the Anti-Japanese War remembered

Viewed 1719 times 2014-4-29 12:11 |Personal category:Chongqing life|System category:Life

Last Sunday I went with my friends Charlie and Sophie to two small history museums near Fotuguan (佛图关) subway station. They are on a quiet narrow road that clings to the steep hills of the peninsula. Both of them cover the history of the Anti-Japanese War in Chongqing, when Chongqing became the capital of China temporarily, as Beijing and Nanjing had both been captured by the Japanese.

The first museum we visited was the “Flying Tigers” museum, dedicated to a volunteer group of American airmen that defended Chongqing from air attacks and protected British and American troops bringing supplies into China via India and Burma. The museum has maps and lots of photographs, and details of the aircraft used by the unit. There were also some objects left by the pilots such as uniforms, mess tins and a baseball bat. (I presume the latter was for recreation, rather than hand-to-hand combat with the Japanese!) To the rear of the museum there is a small art gallery with paintings for sale. This works are painted by someone who works at the museum and before I leave Chongqing I think I will go back and get myself something.

Just a few metres away from the “Flying Tigers” museum is the house of Joseph Stillwell, the American commander based in Chongqing during the war, which has been turned into a museum. His task was to work with Generalissimo Chaing Kai-shek and represent American interests in China. The two did not have a great working relationship: they never trusted each other fully and Stillwell refers to Chiang as “Peanut” in his diary. Stillwell was significant for co-ordinating American and Chinese forces in their limited operations together in Burma and China.

In the museum you can see the rooms Stillwell lived in, all his furniture, desk, telephone, wireless set and so on. The house is in a great location, with stunning views over the river but I can imagine it was less tranquil when Japanese bombs were raining down. The walls of the lower floors of the house are lined with photographs showing the events of the war, which are real treasure trove.

Both museums were pretty good in terms of their English coverage and the staff at both were friendly. The connection between the Americans who fought in Chongqing has been maintained and some former servicemen and their relatives have returned to the city on special occasions. I'm glad that this personal connection has been kept alive over the years. I'm not sure if I would have felt different going around the museum if I was American, perhaps I would have felt a sense of pride or involvement. I did have a small wish that there had been a British unit based in Chongqing that had fought alongside Chinese forces to defend the city. What was particularly significant about the museums was the acknowledgement that this was a fight between Chinese Nationalist forces and the Japanese, and that Communist forces were not present as they were based far away in Yan'an. How this presentation of history has changed over time I think is extremely significant in terms of how modern China sees itself.

If you're interested in learning more about the Anti-Japanese War then I would highly recommend reading China's War With Japan, 1937-45: The Struggle for Survival by Rana Mitter, who is professor of the history and politics of modern China at the University of Oxford. The introduction of the book starts with the bombing of Chongqing, and the book contains lots of information about the tense relationship between Chiang and Stillwell and gives an account of the largely forgotten Burma campaign against the Japanese in which Chinese forces were involved. It also gives details of the large scale land battles that took place between the Japanese and the Nationalists. In short, it is a superb book, very informative and readable.

I'm glad that these two museums show Chongqing's importance in the Anti-Japanese War and I hope that more people can learn about its history. Chongqing is not just the home of hot pot, it has a fascinating past well worth learning about.

(Opinions of the writer in this blog don't represent those of China Daily.)




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