My grandfather passed away about three months ago, and about two months ago I started this Dragons program. Strangely enough these two things are related. My grandfather lived a pretty eventful life, born near Shanghai but raised in Kunming; most of his adolescence was spent escaping the Japanese troops invading China during WWII. Later he went to Taiwan and then the U.S. where he started a family. Right now I’m in Yunnan, the province where my family has lived for generations. For me this trip is not only traveling in China and practicing Mandarin; it is also retracing my family’s history that I hope to understand by actually being in China.
Here in Kunming, I’ve been spending my free time going to museums, historic sites, and asking around for information. One particular place was the Yunnan Military Academy which is where my great-grandfather studied, and he later became a general for the Nationalist Party (Kuomintang). The academy, now a museum, is a group of buildings in a beautiful European style surrounding a courtyard. I saw artifacts ranging from letters and badges to cannons and rifles.
While there was information about teachers my great grandfather studied under and events he took part in, nothing much came up. I wasn’t too disappointed since my great grandfather wasn’t famous and was part of the party that opposed the CCP (Chinese Communist Party). However, I’ve found bits of information that tell me more of this area, and I hope to find more.
From learning about the Tea Horse Road to the rapidly changing city of Kunming, I’ve been thinking about what it would have been like for my family, especially my grandfather. I’ve been a bit sad at some points of the trip thinking about him. I do miss him, but I’m more sad wondering if he ever wanted to go back to China at all in his final years. When he passed away there was a sense of emergency in my family to preserve his story and beyond as best as we can. I’ve felt that this trip has been helpful in reconnecting with my grandfather, and I hope that what I find here in China will be passed on to the future of my family.
Pictured: Yunnan Military Academy