For the past four hundred years, reigned by three different Chinese regimes and xeno-Japanese colonist, the Han Chinese in Taiwan have grown a peculiar feeling toward the land underneath their feet and their rulers. What Lai Tai-an, the author of Move Out! Junior Air Cadets 《出發吧！少年飛行兵》, had been through could be representative of such complicated sentiment.
Born in 1929 in Chiayi, Taiwan, then under Japanese colonization, Lai, a Taiwanese, did not have much of a chance to run neck and neck with Japanese until the breakout of World War II. In 1943, the fifteen-year-old Lai passed a difficult test and became a junior air cadet of Imperial Japanese Army Air Corps.
On his way to Japan for training, the ship he boarded was torpedoed and sunk by a U.S. submarine. Fortunately Lai survived. The life of the following two years at the air academy was hard, rigid, and Spartan-like. With honor and determination in mind, Lai became a flyer and was selected to the “Special Attack Unit”, the Kamikaze, a desperate try by the Japanese to win the war by suicide planes. Luckily for him, the war ended before he could see any actions.
What was more surprised to him was how the Allied occupation forces treated him. He was an Army flyer of surrendered Japan, but his Han Chinese identity entitled him better treatment and more rations, for the Republic of China (ROC) had won the war. And Taiwan was not Japanese colony any more but a province of China.
Returning to Taiwan in 1946, Lai was recruited into Army Non-Commissioned Officers Training Corps set up by General Sun Li-jen to fight Communist Chinese. But the Chinese civil war ended before he was shipped out.
In 1950 Lai entered Republic of China Air Force Academy and graduated third place of his class with honor. In 1958, at the time of the 823 artillery battle, a Red China’s futile attempt to take Kinmen, an ROC outpost only four thousand meters from mainland China, then Captain Lai flew various supply sorties under fire in his U.S.–made C-46 transport to support the garrison. He was highly decorated for his bravery and devotion to his duties and he and his father were received by President Chiang Kai-shek.
Retiring from the Air Force, he worked in a publishing office and wrote this book in exquisite Japanese, a language he was more familiar with. Lai died in 2012.
We are glad to read about the Chinese translated version of Lai’s book which gave us yet another picture of how the Taiwanese of last generation lived in the roaring tide of history.