One project I hoped to work on during any free time on the cross cultural trip to China was genealogy research. As explained in a previous post, I have a family history tie to the city of Hangzhou, were we spent two weeks. My great-uncle, Ellis Shannon was an aviation instructor at the Central Aviation Academy in the 1930s.
I initially attempted to go to the Municipal Archives. Unfortunately you need a letter of invitation to enter any Archives in China. Because I do not have the proper relationships, and everything depends on relationship in China, I could gain entry. However, a friend in China called the Archive and determined that most of the documents are in fact online; I simply need to hire a research fluent in Chinese to help me with my work.
My attention then turned to the actual site in Hangzhou. I determined through TripAdvisor that the school site existed and was open for visitation. Stella’s cousin, Gailing, offered to go with me. We caught a cab, and on the way, she explained why we were going to the site. to the cab driver. He already knew about this history and asked if we realized it was on active military base. Neither of us knew that, but decided to go forward with our travels.
When we arrived at the base, Gailing and I asked if we could enter the base to see the school site. As expected, the base is closed to foreigners, including Americans. I started to ask if we could get permission for a future trip when the cab driver came up and started talking with the guards. He explained the situation and they allowed us into a waiting room at the base entrance. They then took my passport; I because a bit nervous because I was an American sitting in a Chinese military base without a passport! But the guards were unfailingly kind. As we waited for permission, they brought us hot water to drink, and talked with Gailig and the cab driver. The cab driver waited with us in the waiting room; we would not have gotten as far as we did without his help. He said that he knew the story of the American aviation instructors and that they were heroes. He thanked me for my great-uncle’s service to China.
The guards returned and asked if they could take pictures of all of my documentation to send it to the base general for permission to enter. We waited a little longer, but it became clear we would not be able to get permission on such short notice. The guards said I could apply for permission and they thought I had a good chance at receiving it. They said that it would be an “honor” to take me on a tour of the school grounds because of what the American aviators did for China in the 1930s.
So while I may not have made much progress on family history this trip, I learned firsthand about the importance of relationships, was helped by a cab driver, and spent a morning sitting in a waiting room at a Chinese military base! On future trips, I hope to obtain permission for a tour. Perhaps Chinese or American media would be interested in the story as well. Until then ,back to Ancestry.com!