Wartime woodcut prints back home after 73 years

Children of Lieutenant Colonel Geroge A. Hanlon of US Air Force donated 15 woodcut prints sent by Chairman Mao Zedong to their father.
Mu Liang / Ti Gong

Geroge A. Hanlon's children, Diane Ealy (first left), Dennis Hanlon (middle) and Deborah Hanlon (first right), donate woodcut prints to Fudan University in Shanghai on April 21, 2018.

Mu Liang / Ti Gong

Donations also include a silk map used by Geroge A. Hanlon's crew during the wartime.


Fifteen woodcut prints sent to an American pilot 73 years ago when China and US united against Japanese Aggression during the World War II returned home on Saturday.

Yan’an of northwest China’s Shaanxi Province, hailed as the “red cradle” for the Communist Party and China, served as the Party’s revolutionary base in the 1930s and 40s. The 15 paintings are legacy of that era.

They were sent as gifts to Geroge A. Hanlon, pilot of US Air Force, after he and his crew survived the Japanese attack.

It occurred on September 8, 1944, when the 29-year-old Hanlon and 10 of his crew members just bombed the Japanese state-run Showa Steel institute in Anshan City, Liaoning Province.

On the way back to the base, they were attacked by Japanese fighters. Seven of them, including Hanlon, survived and escaped by parachute. They landed in the China’s coastal county of Changli, Hebei Province. They started the emergency plan and managed to get in touch with the Party’s guerrilla.

Escorted by the guerrilla members and disguised as peasants, they spent four months and trekked 1,500 miles, about 2,414 kilometers, all along to Yan’an.

On January 12, 1945, top Party leaders including Chairman Mao Zedong met them.

Hanlon wrote in his book “China Walk” that the crew was treated coffee, jam and bourbon whiskey. Also, he received 15 woodcut prints made by top artists between 1941 and 1944 to portray the landscape and living of Yan’an.

Hanlon retired from the Air Force in 1965 with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. He died of a stroke in 1996, leaving the prints to his three children.

Li Qian / SHINE

A file photo of Geroge A. Hanlon (first right, back row) and his crew members. Eleven of them took part in the mission to bomb the Japanese steel factory.

Li Qian / SHINE

One of the 15 printings

“It’s an amazing experience for our family. It cost 73 years that they finally returned home,” said Hanlon’s son Dennis Hanlon.

“The woodcut print collection was always displayed prominently in our home. They were both a focal point as well as a conversation starter for guests,” He added. “He often spoke of his time in China. And because he had stayed in China, we were taught at an early age how to use chopsticks.”

His daughter Deborah Hanlon said it was the collection of woodcut prints that triggered her interest in Chinese history and culture.

“Dad had a story about each print and described how the prints depicted life in China in the 1940s.”

She said three of them decided to donate the printings and started to seek the perfect one since 2015. They had tried to get in touch with American institutes, schools and museums, but their efforts went into vain.

In 2017, Tang Xiaobing, a Chinese culture professor at the University of Michigan, helped them to contact Fudan University.

“The paintings were so well-preserved. When I took them out from the photo frame, I slightly touched them, which made me feel that I was touching the history,” Tang said.

Through April 28, the paintings will be displayed at the library of the Fudan University. After that, they will be stored for better preservation, and exhibits will be replaced by copy-prints.

Also on Saturday, the Hanlon family also donated a silk map used by Hanlon during the wartime. According to the university, it was such a surprise as no one knew it before.

“The map was made from silk because it was very quiet when people used it, which was important during wartime. It indicated where to hide and escape if incidents occurred. My father had used it,” said Dennis Hanlon. 

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