Rediscovering his homeland through the eyes of war veterans

Beijing native Wu Qu, a UI undergraduate student in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, recently traveled back to his home country to research the motivations behind Chinese involvement in the Korean War. His trip to China was supported by a Stanley Award for International Research. Qu researched Chinese political leaders’ perception of the war, Chinese domestic propaganda during the war, and spoke with several Chinese Korean War veterans to get their unique perspectives. Here, Wu comments on his several aspects of his research trip, which at times left him feeling like a foreigner in his own country.

Wu Qu

Archival research in China was a great experience, but my first one was not as easy as I thought due to intensified security. The Foreign Ministry Archives of the PRC is located at the south side of the Foreign Ministry main building. Without proper ID, no one can enter the premises. The archive was like any of the information technology centers on campus at the University of Iowa since all documents were digitalized.

In order to gain access to the archival material, I had to apply for a personal ID and password. Even though I am a Chinese citizen, the front desk asked for an institutional support letter and several other foreign documents when they learned I came from an American university. As I could not offer all the documents they required, my access was denied on my first visit.

Fortunately, one of my friends is a university professor in the Beijing International Studies University (BISU), and helped me applying for an archival ID in the name of her institution. With the help of my friend, I was lucky enough to obtain an institutional support letter from BISU. As I carried that letter, I could easily get through the document check when I visited other archives.

Consulting war veterans was a great experience. I met Mr. Bosheng Xu through my cousin, a journalist from China Central Television (CCTV). A retired Chinese pilot, Mr. Xu witnessed the beginnings of the Chinese air force. Before meeting him, I was a bit nervous: I thought people from Mr. Xu’s generation would be very serious concerning history and critical toward the United States. I selected my words carefully at the beginning of our meeting. As our conversation developed, I realized that he was not as serious as I had initially thought; he told me his experience of the five battles before the negotiation was initiated.

Besides archival materials, listening to veterans telling their own stories was another great experience. Though personal experience might not reflect all that facts and data accurately, it really gave me a unique impression when I came across similar archival record, and a better perspective. Veterans’ memories and the archival materials gave me a more vivid picture over that historical period.

The summer of 2012 was the first time I did independent research in a nation other than the United States. This valuable experience made me realize how different things are in different parts of the world. The trip to China laid a foundation for my future research, as I intend to continue my academic career on the Sino-American relations. I was lucky enough to be sponsored by the Stanley Foundation to become familiar with the Chinese archival system as an undergraduate student.

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