In an era when Chinese women weren’t allowed to drive cars, Li Xiaqing already flew in the sky. However, aviation wasn’t her first career choice. Her fame started at the age of 14 as a popular movie star of the time. Even Hollywood noticed her that she appeared in movie “Disputed Passage”. Remuneration was served as donation to Chinese refugees.
Her life was like a riddle even to her own son. People believed that she died in the World War Ⅱ, until Patti Gully, who wrote a book about Li, found that the actual end date was 1998 in her tombstone in Canada. From that on, Li’s riddling life was gradually disclosed to more and more people.
From actress to aviator
Li Xiaqing was born in a wealthy and patriotic family in 1912 in Guangdong province. Her father Li Yingsheng, was a patriot during the Revolution of 1911. As a young lady of a big family, she received advanced education in HK and Shanghai, studying with other young ladies such as the soong sisters. At age 14, when she was still a student, wandering into a movie set by coincidence. Though lack of experience, she quickly won the admiration of audiences for her beauty and purist. Later she capitalized on for six more films, and becoming a famous film star.
Li Xiaqing (right)
However, at age 16, she accidentally ended her smooth acting career, and headed to Europe to continue her education. She married a Chinese man in Geneva. Unlike most of the married women, she decided to start her new career.
It was watching an air show in Paris that set Li’s life on aviation. Immediately upon returning to Geneva, she enrolled in flying lessons. One year later, Li made her first solo flight and was the first woman to receive a private pilot’s license in Geneva. In order to become a more proficient pilot and mechanic, she enrolled at the Boeing School of Aeronautics in Oakland, California for advanced training. On November 5, 1935, Li was the first woman to graduate from the prestigious Boeing School of aeronautics.
With a diploma, private pilot’s license and professional experience, she returned to China.
Endeavor to save her country in the World War Ⅱ
In 1937, Japan invaded China. Li was anxious to use her skills to help her country. However, women weren’t allowed to fly in China at that time. But she found another way to serve, by founding the First Citizens’ Emergency Auxiliary and using her own money to convert a hotel into the Red Cross Emergency Hospital. She did everything, from administration work to assisting with surgery to organizing a refugee camp.
The popularity of bubble gum paper of Li’s cartoon image proved her national wide awareness in the United States.
Japanese noticed Li’s actions, and then forced her to leave Shanghai. But Li still found a way to serve her country in America. She decided to fly around the United States to raise money. She sold $7,000 worth of jewelry to buy an airplane and finance her excursions. Everywhere she went; Li received a grand reception. Audiences were surprised and captivated by her beauty and style. Even Hollywood noticed her that she appeared in movie “Disputed Passage”. Remuneration was served as donation as well.
By 1939 Li had flown 10,000 miles and raised $10,000 for Chinese refugees.
Three romantic stories
Patti, the author of Heaven once said that Li was a thorough adventurer, even for her love life. Li had three marriages. The first marriage left her a son and a daughter. In 1935 she divorced Zheng (her first husband) under the new constitutional laws which made Zheng lose face. As a result, Li had to forfeit seeing her children until they were adults. Her second marriage lasted 8 years with a doctor.
After the war, Li settled down in Oakland with her third husband. Li was 86 years old when she died in Oakland. For her final resting place she wanted to feel the same expanse she felt while flying. She had bought four adjacent plots in the Mountain View Cemetery and insisted that she be buried right in the center with lots of space around her.