Unrequited Patriotism: From Yue Fei 岳飛 to the USA
Despite decades of legal and social discrimination that included the Chinese becoming the first ethnic group to be excluded from immigration to the U.S., the percentage of Chinese Americans serving in WWII was nearly twice that of the population as a whole. And nearly half of them were not even citizens.
Patriotism is easy for the privileged, but why would these people risk life and limb for a country that had treated them and their ancestors with distrust and hostility? As is often the case, a story from Chinese history can help deepen our understanding…
Yue Fei 岳飛 (1103-1142 CE) is the iconic figure of patriotism in China. When he was a baby, Yue’s parents legendarily saved him from the flooding Yellow River 黃河 by encapsulating him in a clay jar. Yue grew up working the fields as a peasant’s son and joined the army at age nineteen. His skill in archery was unsurpassed and he eventually received the highest score in the imperial military exam at the Southern Song capital of Kaifeng. But one year later, the Jurchen 女眞 people to the north (ancestors of the Manchus) conquered Kaifeng 開封 and took the Qinzong 欽宗 Emperor prisoner, ending the Northern Song Dynasty 北宋. Thus, the emperor’s half brother proclaimed himself the Gaozong 高宗 Emperor and established the Southern Song 南宋 capital at Lin’an 臨安, the modern city of Hangzhou 杭州.
|A painting at Yue Fei's tomb in Hangzhou|
Just when Yue had scored a string of victories and was poised to attack Kaifeng, corrupt ministers advised Gaozong 高宗 to sue for peace and recall Yue, lest his success in battle win freedom for the Qinzong emperor, who would depose the upstart Gaozong. The great patriot obeyed the imperial order and reluctantly returned to the capital where the notorious official, Qin Hui 秦檜, had him imprisoned for treason, and later, executed. Today, one can visit his tomb in Hangzhou, where visitors spit upon and revile kneeling statues depicting Qin Hui and his wife.
|San Diego Chinese youth enlist in the Army Air Corps, 1942|
|Guests at the 14th Annual Veterans Day Luncheon, 2009|