Several times a week, school buses pull up in front of a single-level, pagoda-like building in Suzhou Industrial Park, a joint Chinese-Singaporean economic zone some 60 miles northwest of Shanghai. Built in the style of old China—its tiled and upturned roof supported by numerous red-painted columns—the pagoda looks decidedly out of place among the modern office blocks and manufacturing facilities that dominate the high-tech enclave on the banks of Lake Jinji.
As red-scarfed Young Pioneers pour from the buses they come face to face with a tall marble statue of the man whom the pagoda and the displays within it memorialize. The figure wears 1930s-style flying coveralls open at the neck, has a fur-collared coat draped over his left arm and in his right hand clutches a leather aviator’s helmet. The statue’s face is turned upward, looking into the sky with steely resolve.
The man whom the statue represents was obviously a pilot, and just as obviously a hero whom China wants its people to remember, honor and respect. What is also immediately obvious, however, is that the aviator was not Chinese. As odd as it may seem in this time of increasing economic and military rivalry between the United States and the world’s largest communist nation, the man whom the statue and pagoda commemorate was an American.