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Flying Tigers' history echoes through today's US youth

By MINLU ZHANG in New York | China Daily Global | Updated: 2023-12-07 10:01

Danny Casale

If a representative of contemporary US internet digital artists could be found, Danny Casale would be one of them.

Casale, also known as "Coolman Coffeedan" on the internet, is a contemporary artist who has traveled back in time to discover emotional resonance in the aviation artists of the 1940s.

In the 1940s, Claire Chennault, a US military aviator who led the Flying Tigers during World War II to help China resist Japanese aggression, had the ground crews paint a row of shark teeth on the noses of their airplanes.

They spent weeks doing so. But "they actually look a lot like tigers", a TikTok video about the Flying Tigers says. The group gained recognition with a winged Bengal Tiger logo designed by Walt Disney, and the term Flying Tigers debuted in Time magazine a week after their first combat mission in China on Dec 20, 1941.

"Nobody even thought they looked remotely like sharks, but it didn't matter. The Flying Tigers did their job so well that the US sent more planes and the Chinese helped protect US troops during that, working together," says the TikTok video, made by Casale.

"They helped end World War II. Peace has lasted. If it was able to happen then, it's able to happen now, just like the Flying Tigers," the video says.

"When I was doing my research specifically on that topic, it sort of made me realize that there's so much more opportunity for things exactly like that to continue happening between the US and China," Casale, a US YouTuber and animator who has millions of followers across YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and the Chinese video-sharing website Bilibili, told China Daily.

"It was a heartwarming read to hear that one specifically revolved around something art-related, with this painter just painting on airplanes," he said.

Flying Tigers is a funny visual, said Casale. "And I thought, how cool is this that an artist, all the way back during that period, could have such a profound effect on the world and on different countries and the outcome of an entire war."

Crucial supplies

During World War II, the Flying Tigers transported crucial supplies for China's fight against Japan. More than 2,000 Flying Tigers' airmen sacrificed their lives, and more than 200 US pilots were rescued with the help of the Chinese, who also lost lives in the rescue operations.

"I think learning more about what happened, say a generation or two ago, and then applying it to today's climate — there's so much that could be unpacked there. The partnership that occurred back then could be an inspiration for what can happen nowadays," said Casale, who was one of Forbes magazine under 30 individuals in 2020, a list created by Forbes to recognize individuals under the age of 30 who made significant accomplishments in their respective fields.

"Learning about current events and historical happenings, but in a fun way, is how I feel people can learn and be educated best," he said.

Casale has also received positive feedback from his audience on TikTok and friends.

"This is the best story I've ever heard," one TikTok user left the comment under the video.

A lot of young people on TikTok may know a little bit about World War II history, and they may know a little bit about China-US relations, Casale said.

"When you dial it into something as simple but also fun, like a visually engaging airplane painted to look like an animal, it grabs people's attention, especially young people," he said.

"I think it's a beautiful thing where something that happened at one point throughout history, it's not a far-fetched idea that it could happen again and again," he said.

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