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Flying Tigers: Chinese American Aviators in Oregon, 1918-1945

Pak On Lee
Pak On Lee, from Portland, OR

This exhibit highlights military and commercial Chinese American aviators in Oregon through the end of WWII, exploring the interweaving factors of the activism of Portland’s Chinese American community, political tension and change in China and the US, and development and promotion of an aviation industry in Oregon.

Chinese Americans in Oregon were extensively involved in aviation from the late nineteen-teens through the end of the Second World War. This period of roughly three and a half decades, what could be called a “golden age of Chinese aviation’’ in Portland, corresponded to significant developments in both China and Oregon. As China witnessed the final collapse of imperial rule in 1911 and founded a nascent republic that saw aviation as a key to modernization and protection from Japanese aggression, Portland promoted itself as the leader in commercial aviation in the Northwest, built a modern airport on Swan Island, and established aviation schools that trained Chinese Americans as pilots and mechanics. Portland’s Chinese community had both the political and economic clout to forge relationships between the Chinese military and the Portland aviation schools, and responded to the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931 by founding a school to train Chinese American pilots to serve in China’s air war against Japan. When the US eventually became drawn into WWII, Chinese Americans served in all branches of the US military, including the Army Air Corps and Air Force. Chinese American aviators became heroes and heroines whose achievements were heralded in both the local and national press.

The exhibition of photos, documents, and memorabilia follows Portland heroes and heroines of flight, including teenager Henry Wong, who built a plane in 1918 and attempted to enlist in the US Army Air Corps in WWI; Major Arthur Chin and Hazel Ying Lee, graduates of the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Society’s Aviation School in 1932-1933, who distinguished themselves in service to both the US and China; commercial pilot and mechanic Leah Hing, the first Chinese woman to earn a commercial pilot’s license in Oregon; and Pak On Lee, a new immigrant in 1935, who returned to China in 1941 as a member of the US military and one of just eleven Chinese members of the American Volunteer Group --the original Flying Tigers--under the command of General Claire Chennault.

The exhibit is co-curated by Dr. Ann Wetherell, Portland State University, and Jim Carmin, curator of the John Wilson Special Collections, Multnomah County Library, and draws materials from the Multnomah County Library, Oregon Historical Society, Portland City Archives, Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association, Oregon Aviation Historical Museum, Museum of Chinese in America, and several private collections.

Exhibit runs: August 30 - October 28, 2012
Library hours: 11am-8pm (Tue-Wed), 10am-5pm (Thu-Sat), noon-5pm (Sun).
Opening Reception: Wed., Sept. 5, 6-7:30 PM
Open to public, light refreshments
Multnomah County Central Library
Collins Gallery, 3rd floor
801 S.W. 10th Ave.
Portland, OR 97205
Free, and open to public


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