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Synapticism

An experiential journal of synchronicity and connection

A Defender of China

An unusual sign in front of a restaurant in northern Hsinchu City.

On the northern edge of Hsinchu City 新竹市, about halfway between Nánliáo Fishing Port 南寮漁港 and the massive Hsinchu Air Base 新竹空軍基地, you’ll find a small restaurant by the name of Old Lù Beef Noodles 老陸牛肉麵. Such a shop might not catch your eye were it not for a curious turquoise signboard perched on an easel out front. Hsinchu 新竹 is home to one of the highest densities of military dependents’ villages in the nation so it comes as no surprise that it would be advertising military village cuisine 眷村美食. What is rather unusual is the hand-painted adaptation of the May 16, 1938, edition of Life Magazine, originally subtitled A Defender of China, appearing here with the messages We are your friend 我們的你們的朋友 and We are fights for freedom 我們是為自由而战 (with that last character a simplified form of 戰). The pot of noodles and chopsticks are a creative addition.

I didn’t step inside to ask what the peculiar sign is all about but several more connections can be made from looking around online. First of all, this painting is based on a photograph by pioneering photojournalist Robert Capa who was on assignment in Hànkǒu 漢口, China, in mid-March of 1938, about a year into the Second Sino-Japanese War. From an inset panel in the magazine, courtesy of Google Books (with apologies for the antiquated colonial language):

The moon-faced Chinese boy on the cover is from the camera of Robert Capa. The boy is 15 years old. He is now standing at attention while schoolchildren, only a few years younger, are giving his company a farewell before they leave for a front. The picture was taken in Hankow in March before the great Sino-Japanese battles of the year began. By now he may be dead. If he lives and wins he is likely in the next decade to astonish further a world that has come to look upon his nation as hopeless backward and outmoded.

One of the “great” battles referenced in the text is almost certainly the pivotal Battle of Tái’érzhūang 台兒莊會戰. Months after this cover hit American newsstands the massive Battle of Wuhan began to rage all around Hankou. Japanese forces conquered the city that October.

As for the restaurant itself, I didn’t find much more than a pair of brief reviews here and here despite the fact that this shop opened in 1968. I wonder if the original owners have any connection to the boy on the cover or if it’s simply based on something that happened to be laying around the house. It wouldn’t be at all shocking to find out there was a direct connection—more than a million soldiers loyal to the Republic of China fled to Taiwan in 1949 after the Nationalists were defeated by the Communists. Next time I’m in the area I might stop by for a hot bowl of beef noodle soup and ask about the real story.

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