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LI XIAQING (1912-1998) Aviatrix & Actress

In adventure, Biography, Chinese history, Feminists, Movies, People, People from China, Pilots, Trivia, Uncategorized, women on May 3, 2010 at 9:02 PM

Li XiaQing

 

Li was born in the Canton province of China to a wealthy, patriotic family. She was given the nickname “Dandan,” a homophone for the Chinese word for “bomb,” because her family used her baby carriage to stealthily transport explosives.  

At age 14, she wandered onto a movie set, and the director was smitten with her stunning looks.  He offered her the opportunity to act in a silent film, and she thought it would be fun.  Despite her lack of experience, Li, using the stage name Li Dandan, quickly won the admiration of audiences, which she capitalized on for six more films.   

Her most famous role was the title character in Hua Mulan Joins the Army in 1928.  Hua Mulan was the young girl who dressed as a boy to go to war, the basis for the Disney animated movie Mulan.  In order to play the role convincingly, Li learned martial arts, archery, boxing, fencing and horseback riding.  

Li XiaQing as Mulan

 

These new skills gave her an edge off the set as well and made her a hero to the production company.   One night while they were on location, robbers snuck into the camp and stole the production money.  Li jumped on a horse, prevented the thieves from crossing a bridge, and after fighting with them for a while, tossed them over the bridge into the river.  

Li’s father wanted her to continue her education, so he sent her to Europe.  He was also ready to pass off responsibility for her to a husband.  He changed her name back to Li Xiaqing and hired a matchmaker.  She picked Zheng Baifeng who was educated at the Sorbonne in Paris and worked for China’s Foreign Service. This seemed like a match made in heaven, and the couple was married in 1929 and made their first home in Geneva.  Li was 17 years old and Zheng was almost 30.  

By 1932, Li had become a mother to a son and a daughter.  This new responsibility did not, however, interfere with her love of travel.  In 1933, Li attended the Paris Air Show and was enamored by flying.  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.  

Li’s reason for learning to fly was patriotic: to help her country advance through aviation.  In order to accomplish that, she needed to become a more proficient pilot and mechanic.  She enrolled at the Boeing School of Aeronautics in Oakland, California for advanced training.  By the time she graduated she could dismantle and reassemble an airplane engine and was versed in aerodynamics, meteorology, aircraft design and radiotelephony.  

The biggest thrill in flight for Li was aerobatics.  On May 15, 1935 she went up with instructor LeRoy B. Gregg over San Francisco Bay.  At about 2,200 feet Gregg started a barrel roll and turned the plane upside down.  When he looked back, he saw Li falling out of her seat trying to hang on.  Then, in shock, he watched her fall.  After a free fall of about 900 feet, Li remembered to pull the rip cord and activate the parachute she was wearing.  This eased her splash down into the icy cold bay.   

Li was an experienced swimmer, but her water-logged leather suit and the freezing water made it difficult for her to move.  Gregg dropped life preservers, but Li couldn’t get to them.  Luckily, airmen at the U.S. Naval Reserve Base in Alameda saw her fall and were on their way to rescue her in a Loening amphibious plane.  Unfortunately, the pontoons were stuck on this aircraft, and Li had to continue to tread water until a second one could arrive.  Li was in the water for 20 minutes until she climbed aboard the rescue aircraft.  A credit to her gender, Li only had two complaints: she was cold, and she lost a shoe.  In order to “get back on the horse,” Li went up over the Bay in the same stunt plane the following day.  Apparently, the cause of Li’s involuntary ejection was a broken seat belt, although she admitted to a reporter many years later that it was possible she had forgotten to fasten it.  

This harrowing experience earned Li membership in the Caterpillar Club, an exclusive organization of about 100,000 people with only one requirement to join.  You must have saved your own life through an emergency parachute exit from an airplane.   

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 impressive experience, she returned to China.  

In 1934, General Chaing Kai-shek authorized private flying in China for the first time. After passing a demanding test, Li was the first woman to be issued a government pilot’s license, handed to her by General Chaing himself.  With this honor came responsibility.  She was given the use of a government plane and charged with inspecting all the airfields throughout China.   

Li didn’t really have time for family, and didn’t live with her husband and children. This independence had consequences.  In 1935 she divorced Zheng under the new constitutional laws which made Zheng lose face.  As a result, Li had to forfeit seeing her children until they were adults.   

Li wasn’t at a loss for romance, however.  She had met Peter Doo when she was in Europe and they corresponded while she was lived Oakland.  With Li finally a free woman, Doo went to work for her father to encourage a commitment from her.  The most she was willing to commit to was a long distance romance for eight years.  

In Shanghai, Li primarily taught flying and continued to be an example for women. For Chaing Kai-shek’s fiftieth birthday celebration she performed the first aerobatic flight by a woman.  For the finale, she dove straight at the podium full of dignitaries and pulled up at last minute, just a few feet above their heads.  Her popularity skyrocketed.  

In 1937 Japan invaded China.  Li saw this as the ultimate opportunity to use her skills to serve her country.  She was crushed when she was told she would no longer be allowed to fly because she was a woman, not even on courier missions. 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 was driven, doing everything from administration work to assisting with surgery to organizing a refugee camp and orphanage to running the radio station that broadcast propaganda.   

The Japanese were not so appreciative of Li’s contributions and they put her on their black list, forcing her to leave Shanghai. She ended up back in San Francisco where she started working on her idea to fly around the United States raising money to support China.  She sold $7,000 worth of jewelry to buy an airplane and finance her excursions.   

Everywhere she went, Li was given a grand reception.  Audiences were surprised and captivated by her beauty and style.  The Idaho Statesman in Boise described her outfit of sharkskin slacks, no hose, leather sandals, finger and toenails polished to match the lipstick and a carnation behind her ear.  This flower became her trademark.   

Hollywood noticed her, too.  She revived her acting career as a Chinese aviatrix in the movie Disputed Passage starring Dorothy Lamour.  She took time out of her flight schedule for the three-day job, and she did her own stunts, donating her earnings to the war refugee fund.  

By 1939 Li had flown 10,000 miles and raised $10,000 for Chinese refugees.  She extended her efforts to two fundraising tours of South America, returning to Shanghai in May 1946.   

Back in Asia Li only flew for pleasure.  She met international businessman Li GeorgeYixiang (no relation).  Together they shared a love of travel, golf and horseback riding.  They settled in Oakland near where Li had studied at Boeing.  By this time, Li’s American pilot’s license had expired, and the Federal Aviation Administration would not recognize her license from Hong Kong.  So, in 1966, at 54 years old, Li began flight instruction to become recertified.   

Li never lost the thrill of flying.  One day while she was out driving, she saw a crop duster in a field.  She stopped and asked the farmer if she could take it for a spin.  She did tricks and aerobatic maneuvers, pushing the plane to its limits.  When she landed, she thanked the flabbergasted owner and walked away.  

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.  

QUESTION: What nickname do people call you?  What significance does it have?  How has it influenced your relationship with them?  

                         ©2010 Debbie Foulkes All Rights Reserved  

Sources:  

Gully, Patti.  Sisters of Heaven.  San Francisco: Long River Press, 2008.  

http://www.airspacemag.com/history-of-flight/Chinas_First_Lady_of_Flight.html  

http://160.111.252.58/research/arch/findaids/pdf/Lee_Ya-Ching_Papers_Finding_Aid.pdf  

http://www.chinesemirror.com/index/2009/10/in-search-of-li-dandan-aviatrix.html  

http://softfilm.blogspot.com/2009/01/lee-ya-ching-flying-for-victory.html  

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caterpillar_Club  

http://www.caterpillarclub.org/irvin/irvin.htm  

EADWEARD J. MUYBRIDGE (1830-1904) Inventor of the First Moving Picture

In Horses, Inventions, Motion Pictures, Movies, Photography on February 16, 2010 at 9:10 AM

Eadweard Muybridge was not always “Eadweard Muybridge.”  He was born in England as “Edward James Muggeridge,” and after several attempts at creating a satisfying moniker, he settled on the surname “Muygridge” for a while.  Not only was he dissatisfied with his name, he wanted a different life, so he immigrated to San Francisco  in his 20s  and established himself in book publishing.

He was successful until fate intervened.  In 1860, a stagecoach accident left him with a serious head injury, and he returned to England to recover.  While he made a full recovery physically, his personality become noticeably eccentric, which manifested itself in some dramatic ways. 

 While convalescing in England, Muybridge was introduced to photography which he pursued passionately.  He returned to San Francisco in the mid-1860s and re-established himself as a photographer named “Muybridge.”  He specialized in landscape and architectural subjects and gained a reputation and following for his breathtaking reproductions of Yosemite.  This led to a government contract to shoot the new Alaskan territories, and he expanded his work to other locations in the West.

 With a burgeoning career, he was able to finally settle on an identity.  He changed the spelling of his first name in the 1870s to “Eadweard” and thus branded himself as “Eadweard Muybridge.” 

 Muybridge came to the attention of Leland Sanford, former governor of California, president of the Central Pacific Railroad and horse breeder.  Sanford solicited his help in solving a popular debate among the equestrian set.  Sanford believed that at some point while a horse is trotting, all four legs are off the ground at the same time, but he didn’t know how to prove it.  Legend has it that a $25,000 bet was a motivating factor in Sanford’s urgency to getting this question resolved.  

 Muybridge was intrigued by this challenge and pursued photographic evidence of the supposition whole heartedly until he was sidetracked by an inconvenient incident in his personal life.  Muybridge’s wife was having an affair, and Muybridge assumed the son she bore belonged to a Major Harry Larkyns.   Not wanting to be the fool, Muybridge went to Larkyns’ home, confronted him with his suspicion and then shot and killed him. 

 Fortunately, Muybridge’s life was not ruined even though he was tried for murder.  Thanks to his brain injury 14 years earlier, he had a defense: insanity.  Thanks to his relationship with Sanford, he had the money for a good lawyer.  Even though many friends testified to Muybridge’s mental instability, the jury didn’t buy it and dismissed the insanity plea.   Muybridge was acquitted, however, as the jury ruled his behavior as “justifiable homicide.” What good news for Muybridge: he wasn’t insane, and he got away with murder, literally!

 After the trial, Muybridge let things cool down and spent some time working in Central America before returning to his collaboration with Sanford.  In 1877, Muybridge took a single photograph that proved that horses do indeed, briefly have all four legs off the ground while galloping.  As luck would have it, however, that negative was lost.   

 Sanford was a determined man, and he insisted on more definitive evidence.  Muybridge once again rose to the challenge.  He set up a series of cameras along the side of the track to cover the total distance of a horse’s stride.  Each camera had a trip wire attached to the shutter that was triggered by the horse’s hooves.

 The series of photographs was called The Horse in Motion and successfully proved that Sanford’s hunch was right.  (Click on photo to see animation.) All four hooves are off the ground at the same time, but not when the legs are fully extended front and back as most illustrators had pictured.  Instead, the horse is airborne at the moment when all four legs are under the body and the weight is being shifted from the front legs to the hind legs. 

 In order to view the photos, Muybridge created a contraption called a zoopraxiscope.  A strip of the successive images was mounted on a spinning glass disc and viewed through slits.  The swift rotation of images caused them to merge in the viewer’s mind thereby giving the illusion of movement.  In 1880 after a reporter had seen a public demonstration of the zoopraxiscope, he wrote in the San Francisco Call, “Nothing was wanting but the clatter of hoofs upon the turf and an occasional breath of steam from the nostrils, to make the spectator believe that he had before him genuine flesh-and-blood steeds.”

 Muybridge’s photos were published, and he hit the lecture circuit in the US and Europe. His curiosity didn’t stop at horses, and he replicated the technique of taking successive shots to record motion and documented people and animals moving in various ways.

 Muybridge’s invention became the inspiration for Thomas Edison (who holds the patent for the motion picture camera), Philip Glass (who wrote an opera in 1982 based on Muybridge’s murder trial), the music video for the song “Lemon” by U2 (“A man makes a picture – a moving picture/Through light projected he can see himself up close“), and the slow motion bullet special effect in the movie The Matrix.

QUESTION:   What invention would you like to see developed?  How would that help your life?

                               © 2010 Debbie Foulkes  All Rights Reserved 

Sources: 

http://www.masters-of-photography.com/M/muybridge/muybridge_articles3.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eadweard_Muybridge

http://www.masters-of-photography.com/M/muybridge/muybridge_articles2.html

http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg19726422.300-when-pioneering-photography-filled-the-theatres.html?full=true&print=true