Xiaobing (Max) Tang, Helmut F. Stern Professor of Modern Chinese Studies and author of Origins of the Chinese Avant-Garde: The Modern Woodcut Movement and Visual Culture in Contemporary China: Paradigms and Shifts, is an expert on Chinese printmaking in the 20th century. In April 2016, he was contacted by Ms. Deborah Hanlon from Washington, D.C., with information on a set of Chinese woodblock prints from the 1940s. These works of art were gifted to Ms. Hanlon's father, Lt. Colonel George Hanlon of the US Army Air Corps, in Yan'an, seat of the Communist government, in early 1945. They had been with the family since Hanlon's return to the US in 1945, and Ms. Hanlon was interested in seeing them exhibited and, eventually, in donating them.
On September 8, 1944, Lt. Colonel Hanlon and his crew took off from an airbase near Chengdu in west China and flew east on a bombing mission against Japanese targets in occupied Manchuria. On their return, their B-29 bomber, named "My Assam Dragon," was hit by Japanese fighter planes and crash-landed. Seven of the eleven crew members survived and were rescued by Chinese villagers. In the following four months, the American servicemen were protected and escorted by Chinese villagers, guerrilla fighters, and Communist troops on a 1500-mile journey across the country to the northwest. They walked, rode on horses, donkeys, and ox-wagons, and traversed some highly inhospitable terrains in severe winter weather. Eventually they arrived in Yan'an in early 1945 and were welcomed as heroes. Before they were flown to Chongqing, wartime capital of China, on their way back to the US, Mao Zedong, the Communist leader, treated the American servicemen to a banquet to thank them for their contribution to the Chinese fight against Japanese aggression.
The set of 16 prints that Lt. Colonel Hanlon brought back was made by prominent printmakers in Yan'an. In that era, prints were be given as souvenirs to foreign visitors to the Communist base area. Professor Tang is familiar with these works of art and the practice of printmaking during this period. After learning about the extraordinary story, which Lt. Colonel Hanlon told in vivid detail in a self-published book called China Walk, Professor Tang decided to help the Hanlons find a permanent home for these prints.
In early 2017, based on information provided by Professor Tang, Fudan University Library in Shanghai reached out to Ms. Deborah Hanlon and the two parties quickly arrived at an agreement. In April 2018, a special exhibition was held in Shanghai to display these rare and storied prints, along with documents and archival materials about "My Assam Dragon." The exhibit also included a short video, a portion of which documents the transfer of the prints that took place on September 30, 2017, in Park City, Utah.
The following news stories detail the event:
In teaching undergraduate as well as graduate courses on modern Chinese culture, such as ASIAN 261 and ASIAN 585, Professor Tang regularly incorporates visual arts, including woodblock prints, as course material and objects for analysis and appreciation.