Flying Into History is the story of the search for my ancestral roots at a time of great significance both for me and for China.
Months before I was born, my biological father, a military officer in Chiang Kai-shek’s National Army, died in the most savage battle against the Japanese invasion. Given the political climate in mainland China, my mother considered it too dangerous to tell me about him at that time. The thaw between Beijing and Taiwan in the last decade finally gave her the chance. On May 12, 2008, with plane ticket in hand, I was getting ready to fly to Sichuan when a severity 8 earthquake hit just 50 miles from my father’s hometown.
After much uncertainty and flight delays, I made it to my destination. Meeting me at the airport in the wee hours of May 14 were county officials and two cousins, who I had not even known existed in this world just two years before.
My account of the seven days following the shocking news of the massive earthquake covers the initial confusion and desperation to find out if I could still make the trip, and then visits in Pi County to elderly members of the family clan, my grandmother’s grave, and the sites of my grandparents’ houses. All through the narrative, the stories of my family are interwoven with details about the earthquake: rumors of a chemical plant explosion, nervous Sichuanese staying away from high buildings at night, conversation with a cousin from the heavily damaged city of Dujiangyan, and national mourning for the victims. Most dramatic of all was the last night of my visit, when authorities issued a forecast of a big aftershock and everyone spent the night outside waiting for it to happen.
Weaving two extra-ordinary events together, Flying Into History is truly a living record of an important page of Chinese history. Marking the 5th anniversary of the great earthquake, it honors the bravery of my father and the courage and resilience of the Chinese people who have suffered so much adversity over the last century. The book includes photos of the aftermath of the earthquake and of ancestral sites that I visited.