Local history enthusiasts searching in the southern outskirts of Kunming recently identified a forgotten command center and barracks once used by the World War Two-era Flying Tigers. Those involved in the find tout it as the best preserved and "largest grouping of intact buildings" relating to the famous air squadron and hope it can be protected.
The discovery was made in the village of Wulongpu (乌龙浦), which sits about 23 kilometers southeast of Kunming's city center. Researchers from the Flying Tigers Research Institute and the Flying Tigers Museum identified the site in early August 2017. Their discovery was made possible when local historians translated the memoirs of American Lieutenant General Claire Lee Chennault, the man responsible for overseeing the creation of the Flying Tigers.
The area where the find was made is part of Chenggong (呈贡), and is sandwiched between the eastern banks of Dianchi Lake (滇池) and an enormous collection of recently built apartment blocks. However, 75 years ago, Chinese and Western airmen used Wulongpu as a base and secondary airfield. It was selected because it provided an easily defendable position surrounded by seven low hills. At a time when Japanese bombers routinely targeted Kunming's major airport, Wujiaba (巫家坝机场), the Wulongpu location provided servicemen a safer alternative.
Sun Guansheng (孙官生), founder of the Flying Tigers Research Institute, pinpointed the location using Chennault's diary descriptions. The general used the proper name of the village where he and the Flying Tigers lived and worked, which today coincides with a collection of buildings only a few hundred meters from Dianchi. In his memoir, Chennault wrote of the spot:
In the eyes of the volunteers, Wulongpu and the airfield are very nice places. The weather is dry and cool — a nice relief from the heat, swarms of bugs and primitive conditions we experienced in Burma. [In Wulongpu] the barracks were built on a gentle slope overlooking the airport. They were lovely rows of brown brick bungalows, surrounded by a lush forest of tall eucalyptus and cypress trees.
During his time at Wulongpu, the general oversaw 110 pilots — who had spent the previous five months training with Chennault in Burma — and another 150 support staff and mechanics. They were tasked with harrying Japanese fighter bombers in the skies over Yunnan from autumn 1941 until summer 1942.
Sun spent several weeks this year attempting to find the exact location of the old barracks, which he feared may have been demolished to make way for Kunming's urban sprawl. Ten years ago, he had located remnants of the accompanying airfield but was unable to positively identify any related buildings.
He knew he was close when he found a likely collection of buildings with huge round stones outside. These turned out to be rollers employed to smooth and flatten the neighboring airfield used by the Flying Tigers. Sun spoke with several local residents who confirmed the area was once home to the "famous foreign pilots".
GoKunming called the Flying Tigers Research Institute to find out what may now happen with the Wulongpu site. The organization does not have enough money to buy and preserve the site, which today sits unused. However, Sun and his colleagues at the Flying Tigers Museum have already compiled a step by step list of recommendations for how to preserve and promote the site, which they plan to submit to the district government of Chenggong.
After the Flying Tigers departed Kunming and World War Two ended, the one-time barracks were converted to factories. The first of these assembled furniture, and was later taken over by a company manufacturing boards and stones for the game Go, or weiqi (围棋). Sun would like to see a museum created, one that he says would not only help people remember history, but also encourage them to look forward, explaning:
We should remember the Sino-US friendship at that time. We should be grateful for their assistance. Conflicts are inevitable in the Sino-US relationship, but the friendship between the two countries never changes...Funding and policy support are urgently needed. It's a pressing task to protect these historical buildings and Flying Tiger culture.