China-Burma-India Theater
BLOOD CHITS


"This foreign person has come to China to help in the war effort. Soldiers and civilians, one and all, should rescue, protect, and provide him with medical care."

 ORIGINAL BLOOD CHIT MESSAGE



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BLOOD CHITS of the China-Burma-India Theater

   Blood Chits, also called Identification or Rescue Flags, were designed to provide rapid identification of a downed flyer and facilitate assistance from local allies encountered.
Pilot wearing Blood Chit
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 The flag of the issuing government is usually at the top, followed by a message in one or more local languages.  The first ever use of Blood Chits by American flyers was in the China-Burma-India Theater of World War II.  They were used by the 14th Volunteer Bomb Group and by the Flying Tigers of the American Volunteer Group (AVG) operating in China.  The first recorded use of what came to be known as a Blood Chit was by members of a British Royal Flying Corps squadron in India in 1917.  It is believed that contact between the AVG and the RAF in Burma in 1941 may have led General Chennault to create a version of the Blood Chit for use by the AVG.

   Although first used in CBI, the concept dates back at least two hundred years.  A famous French balloonist came to America in 1793 to demonstrate hot air balloon flight.  The flight originated from Philadelphia, but no one knew where it would end.  The Frenchman did not speak English, further complicating the matter.  President George Washington gave him a letter addressed to "All citizens of the United States."  The letter asked that he be given safe passage back to Philadelphia.  This is the concept of the Blood Chit.

   CBI Blood Chits had the flag of Nationalist China at the top with a message in Chinese below.

Original Blood Chit
 The typical message instructed whoever might come upon this downed flyer to protect and help him.  Officially issued Blood Chits were 7½ x 9½ inches, made of silk, serial numbered and stamped in red with the chop (seal) of the Nationalist Government's Commission for Aeronautical Affairs (or Air Force Committee).  The stamp was carved out of Ivory.  There were two printings of these official Blood Chits.  The six columns of Chinese characters on the original Blood Chits are read from right to left and are identified as follows: the first four columns are the message which translates as:  This foreign person has come to China to help in the war effort. Soldiers and civilians, one and all, should rescue, protect, and provide him with medical care.   The next column indicates the Commission for Aeronautical Affairs, the issuing authority.  The last (left-most) column contains the serial number and characters which simply indicate "number."  The serial number was originally intended for use in identifying the pilot, however many chits were simply handed-out without the serial number and pilot's name being recorded.  Some serial numbers were duplicated in the second official printing.

Second version
 These chits are identified by three characters by the serial number where the original printing had two characters.  The second version also added characters indicating "American" in the second column (from right).  Translation of this version:  This foreign person (American) has come to China to help in the war effort. Soldiers and civilians, one and all, should rescue, protect, and provide him with medical care.

   The AVG's General Chennault himself wore a Blood Chit with serial number 0001 on his flight jacket.  He held back serial numbers through 0200 and brought them back to the States with him after the war.  These were donated after his passing to the 14th Air Force Association and sold for fund raising.  Original Chinese government Blood Chits issued to the AVG are serial numbered only into the 2000's.

Leather variation with
American Flag
 Blood Chits were also issued by the British military in India and even by the War Department in Washington, D.C.  War Department Blood Chits are numbered into the 10000's.  The serial number was preceded by the letter "W" indicating Washington.  Blood Chits without serial numbers were created by local artisans in various sizes and using various materials including paper, cotton, silk, rayon and leather.  These variations are not serial numbered and of course lack the official chop.  The quality of these Blood Chits varies, as do the messages and Chinese characters.

Silk variation with
CBI emblem
 Some of these variations include the American Flag at the top along with the Nationalist Chinese Flag.  Reportedly, some Burmese natives mistook the Chinese characters for Japanese and this led to the addition of the American Flag, a recognized friendly symbol.  The CBI badge is included on still more variations as it too was a recognizable friendly symbol.  Other variations of the original Blood Chit have both the American Flag and the CBI emblem.

Variation with American Flag and CBI emblem
 The message contained on the Blood Chit can also vary.  Another typical message:  Dear friend, I am an Allied fighter. I did not come here to do any harm to you who are my friends. I only want to do harm to the Japanese and chase them away from this country as quickly as possible. If you will assist me, my government will sufficiently reward you when the Japanese are driven away.

   The above message specifically mentions a reward, which the originally issued Blood Chits did not.  The term "Blood Chit" is derived from the Chinese for "Life Payment."  A chit is a promise of payment or reward, and blood indicates life.  Therefore a Blood Chit can be considered the promise of a reward for the flyer's life.  The message was clear and easily recognized by the Chinese.

 Rewards varied from trinkets and food to silver and gold, depending upon the effort put forth by the rescuer(s) and the government entity providing the reward.

Variation with various languages
 Rewards were provided by the Nationalist Chinese Government or local government entities.  More specific rewards were mentioned in "Pointie Talkies" which were also carried by flyers.  The Pointie Talkie was a booklet carried by flyers which was intended to facilitate communications with Chinese or other native peoples they might encounter if downed.  For more about the Pointie Talkie click here.

   Hump Pilots of course carried or wore Blood Chits while flying the dangerous route over the Himalayan Mountains. Blood Chits carried by them had up to 17 translations of the basic message including French, Burmese, Thai, Kachin, Hindu, Chinese and many more.  Blood Chits were also created for flyers on specific routes which might bring them over territory with unique languages.  There were over 50 Blood Chit variations with the basic message in different languages.  The meaning of the Blood Chit was spread by Military authorities and by word-of-mouth among native peoples in remote regions.  The Blood Chit became a highly recognized symbol identifying the bearer as a friend.  It remains one of the most highly recognized symbols of the China-Burma-India Theater of World War II.


Literal translation of main body (right 4 columns) of original issue Blood Chits. The characters for "American" were added in the second printing.
War Department and later versions dropped the two characters for "Foreign Person" and added four others for "Air Army" and "Expect Our."


  The Flying Tigers of the American Volunteer Group wore Blood Chits on the back of their flight jackets.  They later found it best to sew them inside the jacket in case they were downed in a Communist area.

Replica Flight Jacket
 The Nationalist Chinese flag was not appreciated in communist regions because of the civil war that had begun before World War II and continued afterwards.  Cloth and silk Blood Chits were carried in pockets and as part of survival kits.  When sewn inside the jacket on three sides with the top left open, Blood Chits made handy map pockets.  The wearing of the Blood Chit was a permitted but unauthorized addition to the uniform, much like the painting of nose art on Army Air Force bombers.  At the end of the war, the U.S. Army banned the wearing of Blood Chits on flight jackets, but also made their use part of standard issue flight gear.

 Use of Blood Chits continued in Korea, Vietnam and beyond.  These had the American Flag and a message in several local languages.  The wording on these Blood Chits was less specific than on their World War II predecessors, but did promise a reward: I am a citizen of the United States of America. I do not speak your language. Misfortune forces me to seek your assistance in obtaining food, shelter, and protection. Please take me to someone who will provide for my safety and see that I am returned to my people. My government will reward you.  Over the years, the U.S. Government has paid rewards as promised by the Blood Chit.  Usually monetary, the exact amount of most remains classified, although some have reportedly been as high as $100,000.

  To this day, the Department of Defense maintains a policy on Blood Chits and they are issued to pilots and crews operating in hostile territory.  They are considered an essential part of a downed flyer's Escape and Evasion kit and could one day help save his life.





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Carl Warren Weidenburner
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October 5, 2008


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