American donating WWII album to China eager to be a peacekeeper
A symbol of history
Published: Nov 22, 2023 09:38 PM
Evan Kail (left) gives an album to a staff member of the Chinese Consulate General in Chicago. Photo: Courtesy of Evan Kail

Evan Kail (left) gives an album to a staff member of the Chinese Consulate General in Chicago. Photo: Courtesy of Evan Kail

Despite receiving many menacing threats that he had to wear bulletproof vest to work, Evan Kail, a 34-year-old American pawnshop owner and TikTok vlogger, said he has never regretted for his decision to donate an album containing photos of atrocities committed by Japanese invaders in World War II in China.

"I'm glad I had the opportunity to have a place in history and educate people about something terrible and spread knowledge and [create] discourse," he told the Global Times in an exclusive interview.

One year ago, Kail made a donation to the Chinese Consulate ­General in Chicago, giving an old ­collection of photos from World War II. The collection that he received from a client contains more than 30 rare photos documenting barbarous acts of violence committed by Japanese forces in Shanghai before moving on to Nanjing where the brutal history of the Nanjing Massacre occurred.

The Nanjing Massacre was the mass killing of Chinese civilians and soldiers by the Japanese invaders from December 1937 to January 1938, after Japan seized Nanjing during the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression (1931-45).

He recently updated the complete version of the electronic archive of the album on his personal website, as well as a 5,000-word article titled Through The Storm, detailing his own turbulent experiences and feelings over the last year. 

'Disturbing' connection 

Kail said not many people in the West know the history of the Nanjing Massacre, and neither did he until attending a prestigious high school ranked among the top 100 in the US. 

"We covered the pacific holocaust and a lot of schools don't. I don't know why it's not as taught as the German Holocaust is. But I was fortunate enough to be educated on some basic facts about what happened," Kail said, adding that he learned more about the history when he majored in Japanese studies at the University of Minnesota.

Kail has never expected to get such a "disturbing" connection to the gruesome history of Nanjing Massacre. After posting part of the photographs from the album on TikTok, Kail received threats which compelled him to wear bulletproof vests for protection.

"I did not have anybody saying 'I am going to come and kill you.' What I did get was people messaging me my home address; I don't know where they found it… I was also inundated with shady phone calls from bizarre strangers offering huge amounts of money to purchase the album. A few later threatened me," he said.

Most of the threats are digital made from dummy accounts. Kail surmised that the threats might have come from Japanese nationalists who tend to be history deniers. 

"The accounts used to threaten me have Japanese writing in their user name… I didn't see any Chinese writing it." 

One of the photos from the album that Evan Kail donated to China Photo: Courtesy of Evan Kail

One of the photos from the album that Evan Kail donated to China Photo: Courtesy of Evan Kail

Besides facing threats made digitally, Kail also suffered several intruder attacks, one of which tried to hack into his Wi-Fi network.

"I don't know who that guy was; who he was with... a lot of people said that he might be from some Japanese cult that denies the Nanjing Massacre, which is really nationalistic."

Though the threats have been panic-inducing for Kail, he expressed his thanks to the Chinese who stand up for him.  

"It's incredible to have support from people from a country that I've never even met and they are standing up for me and telling me how much they respect what I did, and that means a lot," he said.

"The album, I believed, housed artifacts of inestimable value… These images had to be seen and preserved," he wrote in the article. 

Kail also mentioned that he found the album's significant value to the Chinese as it is "a symbol of painful Chinese history."

'The proudest thing'

After donating the album to the Chinese Consulate General in Chicago, Kail did not expect that he would reap any reward from the Chinese side, but he felt relieved to receive a letter of thanks along with a surprising national gift, an exquisite porcelain tea jar. 

Kail said he reads the letter whenever he feels depressed. 

"China has made this the proudest thing that I have ever done in my life. This is my greatest achievement in my life," Kail told the Global Times.

Kail has since opened a Xiaohongshu account, on which he shares his stories with Chinese netizens and is attempting to learn Chinese to ease communication. 

The recent talk held between top Chinese and American leaders has also inspired Kail who is eager to do more to contribute to the people-to-people exchanges between the US and China. 

"I really hope that somehow somewhere we can continue to maintain peace so that our relations can return to being as normal as they were. I would absolutely love an opportunity to help play a role in peacekeeping here."

He also expressed his disappointment at rumors spread in an attempt to defame him as "a Chinese spy." 

He reiterated that the motivation behind his actions was not political. 

"I don't have to get paid. I just want to help...We're not exactly doing a whole lot to walk back all the saber rattling that's been going on over the last year. And that's certainly something that I don't stand for. I only want to see peace… war is not the answer," he said, adding that he plans to write a book about his life as a "pawn man," and hopes that more people will know about his often unnerving experiences and the unforgettable history.