When American pilots fell out of the Chinese sky


Unbelievable stories of the Doolittle Raiders and the Hump flyers during World War II, told by Melinda Liu and Jonathan Kaiman.

Credit: L1/Japan, Tokyo Raid/1942/pho 12

Everyone knows, or at least recognizes, the image of the Flying Tigers (飞虎队 fēihǔduì). The shark-faced noses of these American airmen’s planes streaked across the skies of China, as they racked up an impressive string of successes in defending China from Japanese forces from 1941 to 1942.

They are so recognizable, in fact, that their story has obscured the equally fascinating stories of other American pilots who landed in China — or, in the case of the two stories on this podcast, crash-landed.

Melinda Liu, the Beijing bureau chief for Newsweek, joins Kaiser Kuo and David Moser to tell the story of the Doolittle Raiders, whose unprecedented — and successful — mission to bomb Tokyo from an aircraft carrier ended with scattered landings throughout Japan-occupied eastern China. Melinda’s father, it just so happens, met some of these pilots and was able to translate for them as they continued to sneak through occupied territory.

Jonathan Kaiman, the Beijing bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times, relates an incredible tale of how a blond, blue-eyed American pilot flying the “Hump” from India to Chongqing allegedly found himself enslaved by the Yi minority in southwest China.

Melinda has a 10-minute video documentary of the Doolittle Raiders’ story in China, and John’s piece in the LA Times on the legend of the American slave can be found here.


David: A Chinese state-media-run YouTube channel called zuǒyòu shìpín 左右视频, which has amazing and rare videos of people speaking early modern Chinese language, historical stories (from a state media perspective, but with unique source material), and much more.

Melinda: Dick Cole’s War: Doolittle Raider, Hump Pilot, Air Commando, by Dennis R. Okerstrom, about the last surviving Doolittle Raider — 102 years old now! And Target Tokyo: Jimmy Doolittle and the Raid That Avenged Pearl Harbor, by James M. Scott, which includes fascinating details from Western missionaries who were paired up with some of the fallen pilots.

Jon: Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI, a historical mystery by David Grann about a Native American tribe in southwest Oklahoma that struck oil beneath its land and was among the richest people in the world — until the murders started.

Kaiser: “The risk of nuclear war with North Korea,” by Evan Osnos at the New Yorker. The Retreat of Western Liberalism, by the Financial Times’ Edward Luce. And as a counterpoint to Luce’s view of liberal identity politics, “The first white president,” by Ta-Nehisi Coates at the Atlantic.