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Profiles In Badassery: Sun Li-Jen

So far in this series I have profiled a ton of astronauts, an excellent basketball coach, the creator of the Wiki concept, a man who rose from the dead to become the Governor of Indiana, and other engineers. These have all been great men and women, but they have never had to do what today's subject did. The United States has not been invaded since the War of 1812, and other than Pearl Harbor, a foreign nation has not fought on U.S. Soil since the Mexican War from 1846-48. Part of the reason we were so badass during World War II comes from being so far from the actual fighting, so our industrial capacity could barely be attacked.

China, however, had a much different problem. During World War II the Chinese suffered bitterly, losing between 10 and 20 million people in the fighting. The Japanese invaded and took over large parts of the country. Their treatment of the Chinese people was not exactly polite, with wonderful things such as the Rape of Nanking, which is about as pleasant as it sounds, occurring. Naturally, the Chinese were pretty pissed off at the Japanese after awhile.

Enter Sun Li-Jen. Li-Jen was a Boilermaker badass who returned to his home country after graduating from Purdue and led the New 1st Army in defeating the Japanese and returning his homeland to Chinese rule.

Early Life:

Li-Jen was born on December 8, 1900 in Jinnu, Lujiang, Chaohu, Anhui China. He can trace his ancestry to Shuching County. At the time of his birth China was in the middle of the Boxer Rebellion, a movement that stemmed from the Chinese population rebelling against colonial powers and the United States Open Door policy. I have been reading about this in a fascinating book called The President and the Assassin by Scott Miller which details the beginning of the American Century, as it is called when the United States first became a world power. The Open Door policy was our attempt to facilitate our growth as a power by opening all spheres of influence in China for everyone as opposed to the battling French, English, Russian, and Japanese colonies.

The Boxer Rebellion was the resistance to that. As often happened during the era of European Colonization, the local people were the last people consulted about who should govern them. In fact, if they were consulted at all it would have been a rare courtesy. The movement was started by the Righteous Harmony Society and it was against said colonial powers as well as Christianity. It lasted from the fall of 1899 until September 7, 1901cost the Chinese nearly 39,000 lives.

Eventually, an alliance of British, American, Japanese, German, Fench, Australian, Austrian, and Italian troops put down the rebellion by force. Among those saved during the invasion was future President Herbert Hoover, but the invading forces didn't exactly behave themselves. Virtually allt he invading nations plundered China once it was over. This would be a key fact in leading Li-Jen to Purdue.

Headed to the United States:

Li-Jen was an ardent Chinese Nationalist from the beginning. In 1919 he marched as part of the Scouting Movement in China during the May 4th Movement. At just 18 he was already involved in protesting against the Chinese government and their weak response to the Treaty of Versailles. It was the beginning of Chinese Nationalism, and Li-Jen was at the front of it.

It should also be noted that at this time Li-Jen was a heck of a basketball player. While he studied Civil Engineering at Tsingshua University he also played basketball. He led the Chinese National Team to a gold medal at the 1921 Far Eastern Championship Games. That would mean he would fit right in when he came to the Midwest.

In 1923 he transferred to Purdue as part of something called the Boxer Rebellion Indemnity Scholarship for his final year of schooling. Basically, this was the United States' way of saying, "We're sorry for invading and looting your country. Please, come study in our country." While he was at Purdue he his ideological nationalism become one of his dominant traits. After graduating from Purdue in 1924 he decided to pursue a military career. He lied about his age to enroll at the Virginia Military Institute and graduated in 1927.

Back to China:

After graduating from VMI Li-Jen returned to China, where he joined the Nationalist Army Finance Department. His time in the United States, specifically his military training at VMI, would come in handy ten years later when he served as a colonel in fighting the Japanese during the Battle of Shanghai. He would be badly wounded by mine fragments during the battle, but he would returned to become one of the top generals in the Chinese Army during the second Sino-Japanese War.

It was far from an easy war for the Chinese. They would fight against the Japanese from July 7, 1937 until September 9, 1945. In that time the Chinese people faced brutal atrocities committed by the Japanese, who often viewed the Chinese as subhuman. As mentioned about, somewhere between 10 and 20 million people died over the course of the war. The Chinese death toll was second only to the Soviet Union, which lost over 23.4 million people during the war.

They continued to fight, however, as the population of China was more than 500 million at the time. Li-Jen would become known as the Rommel of the East for his tactics as a general in battle. He was instrumental in protecting the Burma Road, which was the land supply route to China from the Indian Ocean:

After two years training, Sun's New 38th Division was part of the forces Chiang Kai-shek sent into Burma to protect the Burma Road under General Du Yuming. Sun led Chinese forces to the relief of 7,000 British forces trapped by the Japanese in the Battle of Yenangyaung. Although unable to stop the Japanese from cutting the Burma Road, Sun gained the respect of General William Slim, the Commander of the British 14th Army for his competence. Sun and his division retreated into India and became a part of 'X Force', the Chinese forces under the command of Joseph Stilwell, the American commander of all American and Chinese forces deployed in the "China Burma India Theater". Sun's division spearheaded Stilwell's 1943 drive to reconquer North Burma and re-establish the land route to China by the Ledo Road.

After World War II:

All was not well in China after the war. Once the fighting with the Japanese stopped the Chinese Civil War between Li-Jen's Nationalist Factionled by Chiang Kai-shek and the Communist factions led by Mao Zedong battled from March 1946 until May of 1950. In reality, it had been going on since April of 1927 until the Japanese rudely got in the way by invading the country.

Li-Jen would serve as one of Chiang Kai-Shek's top generals during the full-scale war from 1946-1950:

As the commander of the Army Training Command and deputy commander of the Republic of China Army in 1947, Sun moved one training facility to Taiwan, independent from the on-going civil war. Sun trained new officers and troops for the Nationalist government, hoping to change the tide of the civil war. The effort was too little too late in comparison with the massive numbers of troops defeated, but one of the division trained (201 Division of the 80th Army) was sent to Quemoy to help defend the communist invasion in 1949. It was the front line defense force against the invasion of the communist troops. Later in 1950, Sun was named the Commander in Chief of the Republic of China Army, while also the commander of the Taiwan Defense Command, and the Army Training Command.

Unfortunately, political intrigue got in the way. After the Nationalist forces were forced to Taiwan in exile some thought that American favoritism to Li-Jen would lead to him replacing Chiang Kai-Shek as the leader for the Nationalist government. He was court-martialed in 1955 and placed under house arrest for the next 33 years. The government believed the CIA was behind a plot to put him in power, but it was false. Li-Jen was too much of a hero to the Chinese people to execute, so he was placed under house arrest until Chiang Kai-Shek's son died. He was exonerated on March 20, 1988, and lived until November 19, 1990.

This past January the Taiwanese government formally apologized to his family and opened the house of his exile as a museum and memorial. He is survived by two sons and two daughters.

As is usual with this series, we profile heroes. Li-Jen is not much of a hero in the U.S., but for half a billion Chinese he was a great general that fought first against the imperialistic advances of the Japanese, then against Communism. It was not an easy fight, as often his side was ill-equipped in either fight, but he is credited with defeating the most Japanese troops in battle.

For him, the fight was personal, and he decided to become a badass and do something about it pretty much from the time he was a teenager on. Let's salute him for that today.