Chennault – Carter – Lei          
Written by Mary Warpeha, Co-President of the Minnesota Chapter of US-China Peoples Friendship Association


These three men have influenced US – China relations over the course of 73 years.  Read on to see how their lives and destinies are tied together.

My story began when an invitation was extended by the China Peoples Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries (Youxie) to US-China Peoples Friendship Association members Joyce Cox, Linda Hanley, Rosemary Thompson, and Stanley Yon and Mary Warpeha to attend a dedication in Zhijiang, Hunan on September 6, 2010.  This invitation was to present a fantastic lesson and moment in history for us all. The theme for the 2010 International Peace Festival we were to attend was a celebration of US efforts to protect the people of China during World War II by memorializing an American hero in China, General Claire Lee Chennault.  Our destination city of Zhijiang had been the base for Chinese and American air operations against the Japanese in Southern China and was also the site of the eventual Japanese surrender to China.  This dedication ceremony marked the 65th anniversary of the surrender.

US General Claire Lee Chennault had a tumultuous career in the US military and after retiring in 1937 traveled to China to be an air advisor to the Kuomintang Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek in the war against the increasingly aggressive Japanese.  The Chinese Air Force was losing its battle in the skies and Russian bomber and fighter squadrons were commissioned to take over but were not affective against the overpowering Japanese air attacks.  The air attacks were causing physical devastation as well as efficiently killing hundreds of thousands of people through the distribution of germ and biological weapons perfected by the Japanese in secret research facilities in Harbin (facilities established as early as 1931).   In 1941 Chennault was successful in procuring a promise from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the US War Department to deliver shipments of P-40C fighters with necessary pilots, mechanics, and aviation supplies. Chennault was able to recruit 300 American pilots and ground crew who were notorious as mercenaries and/or adventurers to enlist in a squadron which was to become known as the Flying Tigers.  Under Chennault’s strategic guidance they developed into a crack fighting unit always going against superior Japanese forces.  Flying Tigers were based in Burma, Yunnan and Hunan and became famous for their “defensive pursuit”.  Chennault was also commander of the Chinese air training school.  Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the US government’s declaration of war, the Flying Tigers were formally incorporated into the American Army Air Force and given appropriate rank.  Their air strike missions continued well into the War.


The remainder of the Chennault story is fascinating, wrought with dissention and conflict, and can be read in books, magazines and, of course on the internet.  He stayed an advocate of anti-communism, had two marriages and ten children – his second wife was a young Chinese reporter who became influential in lobbyists’ circles of Washington.

It was an historic moment which we experienced when on the 65th Anniversary of the surrender of Japan to China in Zhijiang a remarkable statue of General Claire Lee Chennault was dedicated.


Now on to Carter – that is - Former US President Jimmy Carter.  On September 6, 2010, Mr. Carter was in Zhijiang, Hunan by the invitation of Ms. Li Xiaolin, Vice President of the Chinese Peoples Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries and the 2010 International Peace Festival hosts.  During ceremonies held in the 110 degree September sun, Mr. Carter and Festival officials unveiled a stunning statue of General Claire Lee Chennault and planted trees in a garden at the memorial site.  In the audience were Chinese representatives of the National People’s Congress, Chinese Peoples Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries, Beijing Aviators Association, Party Committee of the Hunan Peoples Congress, Information Office of People’s Government of Hunan, Foreign Affairs Office and Friendship offices of Hunan and elsewhere, a huge contingent of media from all over China.  In addition to the five USCPFA members, the US was represented by Former President Jimmy Carter and Mrs. Rosalynn Carter, administration of the Carter Center, the US Consul General from Wuhan, scholars of US-China relations, several elderly Flying Tigers and their families and Nell Calloway, Chennault’s granddaughter.  The published guest list included 319 names – and that did not include the swarms of security guards from both countries.   

Unveiling Ceremony

President Carter has had his eye on China since childhood when Baptist ministers returned to Georgia sharing their stories of China and its people.  As a young naval officer, Carter first experienced China while commissioner as a lieutenant on a Navy vessel in the Shanghai harbor prior to the official US involvement in Asia during World War II.  While in office as the 39th President of the US, he worked diligently to continue the normalization of relations with China.

He was an appropriate dignitary to attend the 2010 International Peace Festival having been chosen in 2002 as a Nobel Peace honoree.  After leaving presidential office, Mr. Carter created and has remained committed and active in the Carter Center with its mission of: Waging Peace.  Fighting Disease.  Building Hope.  You can read President Carter’s personal report of his recent trip at


The third man in this historic trio is Lei – Changsha Master Sculptor Lei Yixin!  Upon entering the International Peace Park, one sees this large veiled statue looming 15+ feet high against the backdrop of photos of Chennault, Children of China and elderly Flying Tigers and Beijing Aviators.  When the event programs were distributed and the honors were read over the loud speaker, to my amazement I learned that Master Lei Yixin was the sculptor for this important historic commemoration of peace and the American commitment to the Chinese people.  Though Mr. Lei and I do not share a language and had no time to talk that day as the security guards commanded us around, we did have time for a photo together.

Minnesotans know Mr. Lei very well. He was the Changsha sculptor representing St. Paul’s Sister City in the MinnesotaRocks! project sponsored by Public Art St. Paul for six weeks in the summer of 2006.  His creation, “Meditation” stands elegantly in Lake Phalen Regional Park in St. Paul and is the first installation of what will become the St. Paul - Changsha Friendship Garden.  In his continued effort to enrich our friendships and sister relations, Mr. Lei headed a delegation of fifteen Hunan government officials and artists visiting St. Paul this summer.  A special exhibition entitled “Harmonious Hunan” was held at the College of Visual Arts in July during the visit.  During the St. Paul visit, USCPFA-Minnesota hosted the delegation to a relaxing evening on the deck of my home on Rice Creek. 

Mary & Sculptor Leei Yixin

Mr. Lei will soon be recognized nationally when the memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is dedicated on the National Mall in Washington in October.  Lei Yixin was contacted for this commission while working in St. Paul on the Public Art St. Paul project.  Learn about Mr. Lei at and view progress on the Memorial at

Chennault, Carter and Lei share important historic roles in the development of peace and friendship between Americans and Chinese people.  Each has historically played their own unique part.  Fortunately for us all, Former President Jimmy Carter and Mr. Lei Yixin continue to have an opportunity to continue their people-to-people diplomacy. 

USCPFA members were indeed honored to be included in this the 2010 International Peace Festival in Zhijiang.  We will continue to be inspired to do our part in bringing peace and friendship to our global community.

Mary and the Tree Planting

Copyright USCPFA