|Li Ling-Ai in the 1930's.|
Tuesday, March 13, 2018
Coming Up Next: Filmmaker Robin Lung & Finding Kukan, A Salute to Li Ling-Ai and Women's History Month
“… Brilliant, indolent, and beautiful. She comes to the class arrayed like a princess of Cathay in long Chinese gowns. She has been over the world intellectually and physically. She is a dramatist and a dancer, cynical, gay and withering in her powers of intuition,” so said Harry Carr, a Los Angeles Times daily columnist and journalism teacher in Hawaii of the one and only Li Ling-Ai.
It’s Women’s History Month across the USA. On the upcoming March 17, 2018 broadcast of Marvels of China: Pathways to the Pacific Rim I’m featuring an encore interview first broadcast on the show in 2016.
Hawaii-based Robin Lung was just introducing her award-winning documentary Finding Kukan to 21st century audiences. Through her persistence and diligence we were treated to a history like no other and to a vivacious and spirited Chinese American woman named Li Ling-Ai.
Born in 1908 as the sixth of nine children, Li Ling-Ai’s foundations in Honolulu were anything but conventional:
Her parents were among the first Chinese doctors practicing western medicine in Hawaii during the late 1800s. Her mother Kong Tai Heong was a popular obstetrician and way ahead of her time. Choosing to keep her maiden name, Dr. Kong kept a busy professional practice while raising nine children.
Li Ling-Ai’s father was Li Khai Fai, a principled physiologist who was vilified by many Chinese for reporting one of the first bubonic plague cases to the authorities in 1900, resulting in what author James C. Mohr calls “the worst civic disaster in Hawaiian history” next to the 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor — the accidental burning of the entire Chinatown district and the forced quarantine of all its inhabitants.
Though she defied tradition in many ways, Ling-Ai identified closely with her father and his efforts to bring reform to China. After the Japanese invasion of Manchuria, it became her mission to bring China’s plight to the attention of the western world. Educating Americans about the history and culture of China was an integral part of that mission, and she would employ her dramatic personality and exotic beauty to do so. (Read more here)
In 1937 Li Ling-Ai’s picture appeared on the front page of the Honolulu Star Bulletin. Flying a plane was not a common activity among women of any background -anywhere. She was lauded for her desire to fly a plane to support China’s resistance to a militarized Japan’s invasion.
She remarked, “I like the wind in my face.”
That story and her picture brought her to the attention of Honolulu Advertiser reporter Rey Scott who would become her filmmaking partner on the film Kukan.
It was this film that jolted Americans into action through a remarkable new medium: 16mm Kodachrome color film. Li Ling-Ai hired Rey Scott to travel to China and capture on film the massive bombings taking place -including the Japanese bombing of China’s wartime capital Chongqing.
Their film Kukan received an Academy Award in 1942 -only the first time an Oscar was bestowed on a documentary shot in color. It was screened in the White House by President Franklin Roosevelt and called “awesome” by the New York Times.
But Li Ling-Ai never received the credit she was due -and the film itself seemed lost forever.
That is until Robin Lung set out on what would be a seven-year quest to find Kukan and shed light on the remarkable Chinese American female firebrand from Hawaii who defied convention, calling attention and action to saving China from the horrors of war.
Lung’s documentary has earned awards and recognition, so we salute Robin Lung and Li Ling-Ai.
I’ve set up a page on MarvelsofChina.Blogspot.com where you can learn more.
Tune in this coming Saturday, March 17, 2018 on 1490 WGCH and anywhere via live streaming on WGCH.com Greenwich, Connecticut USA.
You can be sure that we’ll have the show online and ready to listen at your convenience on our channel on podcasts.com and on the Shows & Hosts section of WGCH.com. We’ll feature my conversation with Robin Lung and so much more!
Everything Chinese is all the rage these days. No exceptions. We promise.
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