Eric's Insight: Flying Tigers catalyze China-US friendship for decades
A Flying Tigers pilot and the shark-faced war planes
As Chinese President Xi Jinping is set to meet US President Joe Biden in San Francisco, the Flying Tigers are again proved to be a catalyst for positive changes in Sino-US relations.
Flying Tigers is an honorary title that the Chinese people granted to the American Volunteer Group (AVG) and other US military presence in China in the 1940s, who contributed a lot to China’s war effort against the Japanese fascists, as well as to the the Allies’ victory over WWII.
Pupils and teachers in Yunnan perform for the Flying Tigers veterans on November 3.
Shortly before China and the US announced the much-anticipated meeting between heads of state of the world's two largest economies, the Flying Tigers of Harry Moyer and Melvin McMullen, as well as Jeffrey Greene, chairman of the Sino-American Aviation Heritage Foundation (SAAHF), led an American delegation to China for a tour.
The week-long whirlwind tour was inspired by President Xi’s letter in reply to the Flying Tigers in September. "In the past, our two peoples fought the Japanese fascists together, and forged a deep friendship that withstood the test of blood and fire," Xi said.
Pupils and teachers in Yunnan pose for a group photo with the American delegation on November 3.
The visit took the US delegation to Beijing, Chongqing, Guangxi and Yunnan, leaving behind quite a few touching moments. In Beijing, Harry Moyer had a party for his 103rd birthday, and in Yunnan the centenarian was moved to tears when he was surrounded by local pupils offering him flowers and singing Auld Lang Syne.
Yunnan province is where the Flying Tigers are historically bonded. From 1941 when US general Claire Lee Chennault was invited to Yunnan to form the AVG to the recent visit by the Flying Tigers veterans in early November 2023, Yunnan has witnessed the friendly exchanges and cooperation between China and the US for more than 80 years.
"My father was born in a little town in Pennsylvania. At the age of 19, he joined the American aviation volunteers and flew halfway around the world to China," said Clifford R. Long Jr., son of a Flying Tiger pilot, adding the father’s experience in China allowed him to have a deep affection to the Chinese people.
A group of Flying Tigers veterans visit Yunnan in 2015.
So where is the affection from? It’s from the Chinese people’s respect and love to the tigers in the air, over 2,000 of whom even sacrificed their lives in China for the cause of peace. And for such noble souls, Yunnan people also paid their highest tribute. In warring days, the folks in Yunnan were readily rescuing and saving the wounded pilots.
In northwest Yunnan’s Lanping, a runway was paved with plain farming tools and bare hands of the local villagers in three consecutive days and nights just in time to allow lieutenant Robert, a seriously wounded Flying Tiger, to be taken away by a helicopter and access medical treatment.
In the days of peace and development, the Flying Tigers revisited China many times, mostly on the occasions of the anniversaries marking victory of the anti-fascists WWII. Large groups of Flying Tigers veterans visited China in the years of 1995, 2005 and 2015.
A Flying Tigers plane flies over the Hump air route.
Since the inception of the SAAHF in 1998, some 500 Flying Tigers and their descendants have visited China, and such visits have greatly increased people-to-people exchanges in the two countries.
As Yunnan is where the Flying Tigers came into being and Kunming is a most important headquarters and strategic center for distributing military supplies in the warring 1940s, the province has been a must-visit stop in the veterans' tours in China.
The SAAHF delegation visits the Hump Spirit monument in Yunnan on November 3.
In 2005, the veterans witnessed a salvaging site on the Dianchi Lake, into which some Flying Tigers planes had crashed during their exercising or fighting. In 2015, some veteran tigers were entitled as honorary citizens of Kunming. Such moving tours by the Flying Tigers have boosted folk friendship between China and the US over the years.
The healthy and stable development of China-US relations in the new era requires the participation and support of "a new generation of Flying Tigers". As President Xi is setting foot on San Francisco for a meeting with President Biden and more Chinese and American teenagers are being attracted to the ‘Flying Tigers Friendship Schools and Youth Leadership Program,’ we have reason to be optimistic about the future of the Sino-American relations.
A China-US friendship tree is planted in Yunnan on November 3.
Writing by Wang Shixue; Proofreading by Zu Hongbing and Wang Huan; Photos by Yunnan Daily and others