My Chinese Husband, the Military Fan

My Chinese husband standing next to the USS Cassin Young in Boston
Beneath my Chinese husband's compassionate exterior lived a "military fan" -- and a story of nostalgia surrounding the anti-Japanese films of his childhood.

For my husband, Boston’s historical ground zero was nowhere to be found on the Freedom Trail. In early June, 2010, we’d spent the entire day tracing the footsteps of the revolutionaries, shaking the city of Boston, and the fabric of America forever — but John wasn’t moved. Not until we caught a glimpse of that weathered old gray hull across from the USS Constitution. Then, like the greedy seagulls hovering around us, he dove straight towards this morsel of forgotten history, one without swarms of tourists or a song to forever memorialize its great accomplishments. His hungry eyes devoured all of it, from the industrial strength metal panels bolted together to the rather auspicious “793” painted on the side.

“It was hit by kamikaze fighters in the Pacific,” I pointed out. Nothing could have been sweeter to my husband — to see a retired US Navy Ship that fought against the Japanese during World War II. Because, after all, he is a “military fan.”

When I first met John, nothing about him suggested a hidden love of tanks and fighter planes and battleships. I knew guys like that from my past, in secondary school and college. They were the ones with the utilitarian-chic gray T-shirts with “ARMY” printed on them, who claimed to have their own guns, and play paintball for fun. The diehard military guys, of course, ultimately signed up with the real forces, or joined ROTC in college, their dogtags hanging around their necks like medals of honor.

John, on the other hand, loved the humanistic philosophy of Carl Jung, Erich Fromm and Rollo May, detested gun ownership, and held altruistic dreams of opening a “humanistic care center” where he could provide psychological support to needy Chinese.

So, a few years ago, when I caught him with the latest news on one day, where he was talking about F-7 versus F-15 fighter pilots, I wondered just who had come in and swapped my Chinese husband.

But, no, I was the one all wrong. “I’ve always been interested in the military,” he grinned.

As a child, every summer vacation marched into his life with a platoon of anti-Japanese movies, turning the land of the rising sun into a call for patriotism encapsulated in two characters — kangri (抗日, resist Japan). The stories of Communist heroes at war with the Japanese gave the military a sort of nostalgic patina as the years went by. For John, it was as if the military itself brought him back to these simpler years in his life, when he could fritter away those endless summer days with everything from catching fish in the creeks to films that re-imagined warfare on the shores of East Asia.

That day in Boston, I shot a photograph of John standing before that destroyer, the USS Cassin Young. He flashed me this boundless, insouciant smile, and I knew deep down it was more than just about finding something connected to World War II and the Japanese. It was about John returning, if just for one moment, to his own nostalgic ground zero.

Are you “a military fan?” Do your Chinese loved ones or friends have fond memories about watching anti-Japanese films (and were you surprised)?

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11 Replies to “My Chinese Husband, the Military Fan”

  1. omg, are we married to the same man? My husband, this free thinking open minded musician LOVES all things military. He devours military history books, has visited the military museum here in Beijing twice and still wants to go back, and whenever he gets a chance our TV is on the war/guns/army channel on TV. I find it kind of endearing simply because it is so out of character otherwise. I think it might be something guys of this generation have in common (John is close in age to my husband, right? Mine is 37) probably like you said due to childhood memories and growing up hearing old war stories from parents and grandparents. There’s a certain nostalgia about it I guess.

    1. Hi Jessica, thanks for the comment! Wow, that’s hilarious that your husband is the same as mine — a die-hard military fan. Yes, I think it is something about their generation — John is 32, and he just told me they always played nothing but Anti-Japanese movies in the summertime (I guess in the 1980s, maybe 1990s). You still see traces of it from time to time in the dramas on TV (I remember one a few years back with something about Chairman Mao during the war, fighting the Japanese) — but I’d guess it’s nothing now like it used to be.

  2. Jocelyn,
    I am the same age as your husband. I think I had some interest in military when I was very young. But I don’t like Chinese anti-Japanese films. They’re just tools to educate chinese citizen and cover up the facts.

    1. @Adam, thanks for the comment. I’m sure my husband would agree with you. He knows what the movies really are — but I really think it’s just more about nostalgia, remembering the experience of watching them in his childhood, and somehow connecting that with the military.

  3. I’m 56 years old and grew up with everything WWII. The Japanese invasion of China was the last of a series of attempts to colonize the nation and the most atrocious. The Jews have not forgotten the Holocaust, the Brits still remember the Blizt and the Chinese are unlikely to put kangri behind them any time soon. Many men are boys with more expensive toys. I’m building a collection of 1/48 scale models of WWII combat aircraft of U.S., Japan, Germany and Britain. I had no desire to join the military.

  4. hi jocelyn, you know what ? inside every man there is a big boy. we men are obsessed with machines, ok well, not all of us, but most of us.

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