Thursday, September 29, 2016

A martyr or a defector?

November 11 1965 a Chinese Communist’s Russian-made IL-28 bomber landed on an air base in Taoyuan , Taiwan. One of the crew, Lt. Lian Bao-sheng, the radio-operator /tail gunner, was said to suffer a fatal head wound and was killed instantly upon landing. However, the other two crew members, the pilot Li Xian-bin and the navigator Li Cai-wang survived and revealed to the Taiwan authorities their wish to defect.

During the Cold War era, the defection was considered by Nationalist Chinese in Taiwan as a great success in their anti-Communist efforts. The two surviving Chinese Communist airmen were branded as ‘morally courageous men’ by the media and a large number of gold bullion was given to them as reward. In a series of propaganda shows that followed, they were made heroes and received cheers from the crowd wherever they went.  

It was not uncommon during the standoff of the two Chinas that the military personnel or civilians had tried to defect to the other side for various reasons. After the death of Chairman Mao, Chiang Kai-shek and his son, the tension across the Taiwan Strait gradually dissolved and both sides reached a tacit agreement not to accept defectors.

What happened to those ‘morally courageous men’? Li Xian-bin was married and later retired from the Taiwan Air Force. Nostalgia brought him back to mainland China. He was arrested upon arrival and put on trial for treason and later died of stomach cancer. Li Cai-wang, who broke both legs during the landing because the pilot failed to properly lower the landing gear, recovered and became naturalized American citizen in 1976. It was he who told the truth that Lt. Lian in fact refused to defect along with the pilot and use his sidearm to commit suicide when they had landed.

September 28 2016 the remains of Lt. Lian was cremated and brought back to the mainland by his family. He was buried in a martyrs’ cemetery.

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