In the late 1930s, as the world moved closer to war, three vivacious Chinese women defied gender perceptions by becoming pilots. Driven by a fierce independent spirit, they realized their dream of flying, completed barnstorming goodwill missions across the Western Hemisphere, and captured the imagination of all those whose lives they touched.
They were Hilda Yan, once China’s representative at the League of Nations; Li Xiaqing, known as film actress Li Dandan before becoming China’s “First Woman of the Air”; and Jessie Zheng, the only commissioned female officer in the Chinese Air Force.
In a story almost forgotten to history, Patti Gully’s exhaustive research delves into the personal lives of these women, uncovering their fascinating personalities, loves, passions, and above all their overwhelming sense of patriotism and duty. In a time when no Chinese woman could even drive a car, these aviatrixes used flight as a metaphor for their own freedom as well as a symbol of empowerment.
Gully shows how, despite their success, their relationships with men were checkered and stormy, leaving behind the wreckage of broken marriages and the children they abandoned—the price they ultimately paid to realize their dream of flying.
With an uncanny eye for detail and technical accuracy, Sisters of Heaven offers a rare look at a lost era in aviation history, gender studies, and the history of China and the West.
Patti Gully is a graduate of the University of Winnipeg. She holds a BA in arts with an emphasis on English, religious studies, and classics. She also holds an MLIS from the University of British Columbia. She is an amateur pilot and aviation history scholar and lives in Vancouver.
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