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Descendants of Stilwell stay true to legacy

By Lia Zhu in San Francisco, Xu Wei in Beijing,Xu Wei and Tan Yingzi in Chongqing | China Daily | Updated: 2023-09-12 07:18
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John Easterbrook, grandson of the late US general Joseph Stilwell, explains to visitors family pictures on the wall on July 27 at his residence in Saratoga, California. CHANG JUN/CHINA DAILY

Xi's exchanges with late US general's grandson boost nations' friendship

One of the most important aspects of the legacy of the late United States Army General Joseph Stilwell — his enduring bond with the Chinese people — continues to resonate strongly within his family and China's top leadership.

The family's engagements with China, which have spanned nine decades, were recently recognized by President Xi Jinping as he exchanged letters with John Easterbrook, the late general's grandson.

"What struck me the most in President Xi's letter was his words about General Stilwell being an old friend of the Chinese people, and that his contributions to the friendship between the Chinese people and the American people will always be remembered," Easterbrook told China Daily.

This year marks the 140th anniversary of the birth of Stilwell, who fought side by side with the Chinese people while serving as commander of US forces in the China-Burma-India Theater from 1942 to 1944, during the latter part of the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (1931-45).

Easterbrook recently wrote a letter to Xi, recalling Stilwell's exchanges with China and the Chinese people, and sharing the efforts of Stilwell's descendants to continue that friendship. Xi replied to the letter on Aug 29.

Easterbrook, 82, a retired Army colonel, said he was honored and moved by "President Xi stating that it was gratifying to him that the fifth generation of the Stilwell family is now carrying forward the cause of China-US friendship".

"I was very impressed by President Xi's strong support for people-to-people activities, his knowledge of the commemorative events recently held in Chongqing, and his humanity in noting that the fifth generation of the Stilwell family is being immersed in the Stilwell legacy," he added.

In the letter, Xi said the foundation of China-US relations lies in the people, and the source of strength lies in the friendship between their peoples.

Easterbrook said, "We will continue to look for ways to engage with the Chinese people and promote friendship, understanding and goodwill.

"The more we get to know each other, the more we realize that we have much in common with basic wants, needs and dreams. With that understanding, we should be able to build on common objectives to make the world a better place," he added.

Easterbrook first visited China in 1980 and still remembers the "warmth and friendliness" of the Chinese.

"You'd walk down the street and say, 'ni hao' (hello in Chinese) — a big smile, just everybody. It's wonderful," he said.

"As the years went by, we got to know people and they became friends with us, and then we'd go back to see these friends," he said.

Easterbrook said he expected his grandchildren, the fourth generation of Stilwell's descendants, to carry on the family's friendship with China by getting involved in people-to-people activities.

Last month, a series of commemorative events were held in Southwest China's Chongqing municipality to mark 140 years since Stilwell's birth on March 19, 1883. The events were attended by Easterbrook's two daughters and their husbands and children — a total of nine people.

"That was their first trip to the country," Easterbrook said, adding that he hoped his grandchildren would experience the warmth of the Chinese people and give some of that warmth back to the Chinese.

Zhou Yong, deputy director of the Chinese Academy of History of Chinese Resistance Against Japanese Aggression, said that the Chinese people do not forget the precious support from the people in the US in the fight against Japanese aggression.

Another key factor for the Chinese in continuing to commemorate the general is that Stilwell, who lived in China for 12 years, had always developed a sincere friendship toward the Chinese people, Zhou said.

He added that from his research, he developed a friendship with Stilwell's daughter Nancy, who has made major contributions to the museum dedicated to General Stilwell in Chongqing.

The research "reminded us that the people-to-people exchanges between our two nations should not and cannot be interrupted by political factors".

Zhou described Stilwell as a man who had a keen interest in Chinese culture and language.

The former US general set an example for learning the real picture of China through his collection of cultural relics and Chinese language textbooks, Zhou added.

Tao Yan, curator of the Chongqing Stilwell Museum, said, "The museum not only bears witness to the years of China-US cooperation during the war against Japanese aggression, but also encapsulates the sincere emotions between the peoples of both countries."

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