BY JOHN CHAPPELL
Special to The Pilot
Starting next year, young men and women from China will be full time students at The O’Neal School, earning high school diplomas just like others, completely integrated into every aspect of school life.
Headmaster Alan Barr made the announcement last week at a ceremony honoring a Chinese-born N.C. State professor for his work furthering ties between this state and his native land.
Gov. Pat McCrory, unable to attend due to a scheduling conflict, had asked local businessmen and O’Neal board of trustees member Stan Bradshaw to represent him in presenting Lian Xie with the highest honor his office can bestow on a citizen of North Carolina not born here.
Xie is a professor in meteorology and physical oceanography at State. Bradshaw hailed Xie’s work on weather and climate prediction, which led to cooperative endeavors between this nation and China.
Xie also continues to be actively engaged in education and international exchange programs with academic institutions in China and is an active participant in inter-institutional exchange programs between N.C. State and universities in China.
“Apart from his academic activities, Dr. Xie has been engaging extensively in outreach promoting the international exchanges and cooperation between the state of North Carolina and China in education, culture and economic development,” Bradshaw said.
That began long ago, with a Flying Tiger pilot from High Falls, 2nd Lt. Robert Hoyle Upchurch. Shot down returning from a raid, Upchurch’s P-40 crashed in fog-shrouded mountains of Hunan Province. Villagers from Guidong City hiked to the site hoping to rescue the pilot, but could only recover his body, which they buried with high honors on a sacred site below a Ming Dynasty tower on Santai Mountain.
Only in 2006 did DNA identify their unknown hero so his remains could be returned for reburial in the family plot at the Methodist Church on the banks of the Deep River. It was at that ceremony that Xie met then-state Sen. Harris Blake, who’d been asked to help the Upchurch family with arrangements.
It was to become not only a friendship, but the beginnings of a joint commitment to forge links between two lands. The governor of Guidong County, in a letter read at the reburial ceremony, had proposed Moore and Guidong become sister counties.
Xie, Blake and members of the pilot’s family, with others from North Carolina, traveled to Guidong in 2007 to dedicate a memorial park on the site where Upchurch had been honored as a hero for more than six decades. There they signed documents linking Moore and Guidong as sister counties, and Robbins with a sister city there, the first N.C. town with a sister city in China.
Much more would grow from that, and much of it shepherded by Xie’s efforts, as Bradshaw said:
“Dr. Xie co-founded the North Carolina China Center, a nonprofit center promoting business cooperation between North Carolina and China, and he went on to create the Carolina-China Council, wherein he and Senator Harris Blake have been connecting interests in the state of North Carolina with China over the past eight years. He has facilitated the visits of hundreds of Chinese and North Carolina government officials, business leaders, teachers and students.”
Forty N.C. students and teachers have received Carolina-China Council “Bridge Scholarships” for summer culture camps in China. More than 60 Chinese grade school students have visited North Carolina through sister school programs. Three high schools in Hunan Province and the O’Neal School, Sandhills Community College and Central Carolina Community College have agreed to establish joint programs to offer college preparation for students from China.
“Such citizen diplomacy and people-to-people exchange activities have led to wonderful benefits to the people of both North Carolina and China,” Bradshaw said.
Bradshaw said the governor had become familiar with Xie’s body of work.
“He is amazed, Dr. Xie, by the tirelessness of your efforts, the breadth of your activities, and the quality of the results you have achieved,” Bradshaw said. “Gov. McCrory realizes that many of the seeds you have sown have only begun to sprout, so he is — and he believes we should all be — excited about the prospects and the future benefits to be received. You have indeed impacted North Carolina and a grateful state thanks you.”
Bradshaw asked Xie to step up as he prepared to present the signed and framed award, along with a state flag that had flown over the Capitol.
“For all that you have done, it is my privilege and pleasure to present on behalf of Gov. McCrory the highest honor he can bestow on a non-native citizen, this Certificate of Appreciation for Meritorious Service.”
Xie, clearly moved, accepted the award. He paid tribute to Blake, who was looking on from the front row along with Dale Upchurch, a nephew of the Flying Tiger, as a man who’d become more than a mentor to him.
“We have worked together for this state, for the United States, and China,” Xie said. “I would like to thank the person who brought all of us together: Lt. Hoyle Upchurch. When he was 20 years old he flew to China to help the Chinese against the Japanese aggression. He lost his life during his mission, and his sacrifice of his life bringing the people of China and America together is the reason we are sitting here today.”
He said he regarded the honor as a “request for me to work harder” and announced that he and the headmaster would soon be traveling to China to work out more details of the coming exchange.