Lee Ya-Ching was born in Canton, China in 1912. As an only child who lost her mother at a young age, Ya-Ching was raised by her father and grandmother. Under her father's guidance she learned many skills, including martial arts, some previously restricted to male children. Ya-Ching attended English schools in Hong Kong and Shanghai and at the age of 16 was sent to London to attend finishing school. In 1929 at the age of 17, Ya-Ching went to Geneva, Switzerland. It is there that she took her first ride in an airplane and vowed to learn how to fly. She enrolled in Ecole Aero Club de Suisse and, in 1934, became the first woman to receive a pilot's license from the school. Determined to continue her education, Ya-Ching went to the United States and attended the Boeing School of Aeronautics in Oakland, California in 1935. In November of that year she became the first woman licensed through the Boeing School. Upon completion of her training at the Boeing school Ya-Ching returned to China and began campaigning for a Chinese pilot's license, eventually obtaining the license in 1936. Seeing a need to train new pilots, Ya-Ching and some fellow pilots opened a civilian flying school in Shanghai in 1936. When Japan invaded China in 1937, Ya-Ching volunteered to fly for her country, but was refused. Undeterred, she served her country by establishing hospitals. Leaving Shanghai for Hong Kong just before the city fell, she was finally given the opportunity to fly for China by piloting Red Cross planes ferrying supplies from Hong Kong to Canton. Realizing that China needed aid and supplies, Ya-Ching embarked on a Goodwill Tour of the United States and Canada in 1938. When the war prevented her return to China, Ya-Ching continued the tour expanding her appearances into South America. Not much is known of Ya-Ching's life after the war. She returned to Hong Kong for a number of years. In the 1960's she returned to California, where she died in 1998 at the age of 86. Time Line of Lee Ya-Ching xxxx -- The following timeline covers key events in Ya-Ching's life, as well world events. Events involving Ya-Ching are shown in normal type world events are shown in italics. 1909 -- M. Vallon flies first plane in China 1911 -- China ousts the 2000 year old Imperial System for a Republic April 16, 1912 -- Lee Ya-Ching is born in Canton, China 1916 -- Ya-Ching's mother dies of tuberculosis 1917 -- China enters World War 1 on the side of the Allies 1926 -- Begins career as a movie actress 1928 -- Leaves the film industry and goes to school in England 1929 -- The CCP (Chinese Communist Party) is ousted from China Goes to Switzerland September 1931 -- Japan seizes control of Manchuria November 1931 -- CCP resurfaces in China and forms the Chinese Soviet Republic in Jiangxi Province May 1932 -- Amelia Earhart becomes first woman to solo across the Atlantic 1933 -- Begins flying lessons at Geneva's Cointrin-Ecole d'Aviation 1934 -- Receives her pilot's license from Ecole Aéro Club de Suisse 1935 -- Attends and receives license from the Boeing School of Aeronautics in Oakland, California 1935 -- Falls out of an aerobatic plane, earning her membership in the Caterpillar Club 1936 -- Receives her pilot's license from the Chinese Government First domestic airline established in China Opens a civilian flying school in Shanghai 1937 -- Flies for the Red Cross ferrying supplies from Hong Kong to Canton Japan invades China Earns Hong Kong commercial pilot's license Helps establish hospitals in Shanghai 1938 -- Begins goodwill tour of United States and Canada 1939 -- Appears in US film Disputed Passage with Dorothy Lamour 1940 -- Flies "Estrella China" to Caribbean, Central and South America Aids Ruth Nichols in raising money for Relief Wings 1941 -- Begins working for United China Relief December 7, 1941 -- Bombing of Pearl Harbor forces American entry into World War II 1944 -- Begins Goodwill and Fund Raising tour of South America and Caribbean August 1945 -- Atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, followed by Japanese surrender and end of World War II 1946 -- Returns to China and retires 1946 -- Fighting between CCP and KMT (Nationalist party) resumes October 1949 -- KMT retreats to Taiwan Mao Zedong establishes the People's Republic of China 1950 -- Receives Hong Kong private pilot's license 1963 -- Receives Hong Kong Special Purpose Pilot's license 1971 -- Permanently moves to the United States 1997 -- British rule ends in Hong Kong January 28, 1998 -- Dies at the age of 86
Arranged and described by Jordan Ferraro, 2008; encoded by Brittany Dunton, 2011; and digital assets attached by Jessamyn Lloyd, 2020.
Pax Cheng and Mary Wolfson, Gift, 2007, NASM.2008.0009.
11.9 Cubic feet (22 boxes)
This collection consists of 11.9 cubic feet of material chronicling Lee Ya-Ching's role as a pilot trying to raise funds for China during World War II. The collection contains the following types of material: correspondence, both official and personal; maps; publications; newspapers; invitation; programs from events; lecture notes; scripts from radio shows; photographs, both official and snapshots; trip schedules and agendas; address books; scrapbooks; and official paperwork and licenses.
No restrictions on access.
This collection of materials listed in the finding aid is arranged into two series, Ms Lee's personal papers and her professional papers. Within each series, items are arranged by material type then chronologically. No attempt was made to translate foreign language material in the collection.
This collection consists of 11.9 cubic feet of material chronicling Lee Ya-Ching's role as a pilot trying to raise funds for China during World War II. The collection contains the following types of material: correspondence, both official and personal; maps; publications; newspapers; invitations; programs from events; lecture notes; scripts from radio shows; photographs, both official and snapshots; trip schedules and agendas; address books; scrapbooks; and official paperwork and licenses. Note: The digital images shown for this collection were repurposed from scans made by an outside contractor for a commercial product which did not reproduce all materials found in this collection; some items have not been scanned. In addition, some materials have been excluded from display due to copyright, trademark, or patent restrictions.
World War, 1939-1945 -- China
Aeronautics -- Exhibitions
Women air pilots
World War, 1939-1945
Lee Ya-Ching Papers, NASM.2008.0009, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution.
National Air and Space Museum Archives