Memorial Day in a U.S.-China Relations Context
You might have recently been disturbed by reports from the South China Sea. Currently the national forces of the United States of America and the People’s Republic of China are interacting in increasingly dangerous ways.
But there is still plenty of hope for secure relations between our countries. Why? History.
This Memorial Day, join The Tai Initiative in educating Americans and Chinese alike on our shared history and how it unites us. This weekend, many of my fellow Americans are taking time and energy to remember the sacrifices of those who gave their lives in defense of others. In this new century, these remembrances should include the thousands of Chinese and Americans who fought alongside one another in battle seventy years ago. Together, we shed blood and gave everything we had to defend one another against fascism in the 20th century.
Often we remember such deeds with monuments. The Tai Initiative was recently privileged to be escorted to the fabulous new monument you see pictured here. We are happy to report it is a monument to both Chinese and foreign heroes alike. You can find it by traveling (physically or virtually) to 24°44’23.31″N 98°54’20.34″E, near the peak of Songshan and the World War Two battlefield which it commemorates. In that battle, General Stilwell, depicted here among Chinese troops and American advisors, led the Chinese Expeditionary Force in a bloody struggle to destroy a key Japanese stronghold overlooking the logistically critical Huitong bridge over the Nu (then Salween) River.
Those who know their Chinese history will likely also recognize the other significant contribution this monument makes to the national narrative in China: the Chinese being honored are solely Nationalist. Twenty years ago such a monument would have been impossible to erect, but no longer. Mainland Chinese are learning to honor the Nationalist contributions to their history; this is a crucial kind of change on which to reflect as Americans, and to be thankful for.
Likewise, Chinese remember and are thankful for the sacrificial efforts of Americans and other foreigners in their defense. This is particularly true in the southern portion of China, where a mere two generations of story-telling (accompanied by large numbers of P-40 Warhawk parts & supplies) has contributed substantially to the otherwise limited public education on the complete history of their War Against Japanese Aggression.
Remembering Americans who defended China is only half the equation. Chinese have defended America as well. Many of the heroes to be remembered this Memorial Day were first- and second- generation immigrants from China defending America and its allies. The Chinese American Forum, Cathay Post 384 & Kimlau Post 1291 of the American Legion, the National Council for Chinese Americans, the Committee of 100, and many other subnational institutions have dedicated themselves to understanding and reporting this proud heritage.
This Memorial Day, reflect proudly on the intangibles manifested so powerfully in our nation’s monuments and cemeteries. Do so with the understanding that our American monuments do not stand alone on this Earth.