Women Writers, Women's Books
Wings of a Flying Tiger is a heroic tale in which ordinary Chinese risked their lives to rescue and safeguard a downed American pilot in WWII in China. It is a work of fiction. But to me, a Chinese-American, it is also personal.
My mother and grandma had lived in Nanking and escaped from the city just days before the Nanking Massacre when the Japanese soldiers slaughtered 300,000 innocent Chinese and raped 20,000 women in six weeks. Both my mother’s and father’s families fled to Chungking, where Japanese frequently bombed the wartime capital. My father told me the repulsive smell of burning flesh, and as a young child, he had nightmares about the raids for several years.
A good friend’s father drowned when the Japanese attacked his boat; even unable to swim, he jumped into the Yangtze River to avoid being blasted. A Japanese friend sincerely apologized for the atrocities her fellow countrymen had committed. She knew a former soldier who forced naked Chinese women to march with them to bring up their morale.
China was an isolated country while I was growing up. We were told that the American soldiers were crude and coward. I didn’t read anything about the Flying Tigers, a group of American volunteer pilots who helped China fight Japan in WWII until I came to the States. I was touched once I learned the truth. And the more I read, the more I was touched. I wanted to thank the Flying Tigers. What is a better way to show my gratitude than writing a book about them?
As a Chinese, I’m thankful for the Flying Tigers’ bravery and sacrifice; without their help, the course of the Chinese history might have been changed, my family might not have survived, and I might not have existed. As a U.S. citizen, I’m honored to write a book about the American heroes. It’s a privilege. A duty.
But writing historical fiction in English wasn’t easy for me.
Born and raised in China, I learned English as a foreign language in school. The learning was limited and sometimes even wrong. I came to the U.S. in my early twenties as a graduate student for a career in science.
My first English “teacher” in the U.S. was TV. I didn’t even know the concept of the commercial. I thought accidentally I touched the remote control or there was something wrong with the TV when a program suddenly jumped to unrelated subjects. In China, at the time, there were two stations, broadcasting from 6pm to 10pm. There was no commercial. It took me a while to figure out what was going on.
Growing up in a family of professors, I’ve always loved reading. Even before I was born, my parents and grandparents had bought tons of books for me. During the Cultural Revolution, however, Red Guards took most of them away. I read the very few books left behind over and over and traded books with friends. There weren’t many books available—libraries were closed, bookstores had nothing except political works.
My hometown, Wuhan, is one of the “Three Furnaces” in China. We had no air conditioning or electric fans. In the summer evenings, we sat outside. Surround by neighboring kids, my father told us lots of stories—Chinese and Western classics. Romance of the Three Kingdom, The Monkey King, The Great General Yue Fei, Sherlock Holmes, Spartacus, Robinson Crusoe… His words took me all around the world, and I fell in love with literatures.
But creative writing was a dangerous career in China. As famous writers, my grandmother and aunt were wrongfully accused as Counter-Revolutionary Rightists. I had to choose science—a safer path. Fiction writing was only a faraway dream; writing it in English was beyond my wildest dream.
I started “writing,” not because I wanted to write any books, but because I desperately needed help. I was a very negative person in an unhappy marriage, and I tried hard to change the situation. One book I read said that if you keep writing down five positive things a day, in twenty-one days you can change your negative thoughts.
So I jotted down five positive things a day. It started with words or simple phrases. In time, words became sentences; sentences turned into paragraphs; paragraphs grew into pages. All positive. I didn’t change in twenty-one days. It took me two years. But the end result is remarkable. I’m no longer a negative person.
The “side effects” of this practice? I started writing short stories, then novels.
Writing changed my life!
I learned fiction writing by reading lots of books. When I wrote my novels, I’m sure I spent more time than most people. I had to check two dictionaries—Chinese to English and English to Chinese. Even so, no matter how hard I tried, I still made grammatical mistakes. That frustrated me. There were plenty of times that I laughed and scolded myself for being so stubborn to embark on this journey that seemed almost impossible to succeed. Nowadays, so many people write; everyone has an advantage over me.
I wish I’d grown up speaking English. I wish I’d had proper education or training. Since I can’t change the past, I just have to work harder.
Writing this book made me a better person. I learned that I could do the “impossible,” and dreams do come true when one works hard enough.