After 27 years in China, Taiwan spy came home to cool reception

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Taiwan has at least one spy who came in from the cold, only to find that on his return home, the reception was not as warm as he had expected. When Lin Kwun-rung left Taiwan in 1956, he told his wife he was going to Japan on a business trip and would be back in a few days. His wife was expecting their fourth child at the time, and he left money for her with a colleague.

But instead of Japan, Mr. Lin's destination was his native mainland China. On orders from the Kuomintang (Nationalist Party) government, Lin -- who was then in his early 30s -- was designated a lieutenant in the Army and returned to the communist mainland to take charge of a radio station and relay reports back to Taiwan from a network of intelligence agents.

Lin was betrayed almost immediately, and he spent the next 24 years in Chinese prisons on charges of espionage. He was in solitary confinement for the first nine years -- in a six-foot-square cell in Canton. His captors from the People's Liberation Army tried to persuade him to become a double agent.

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Lin eventually saw the inside of 11 Chinese prisons before returning to Taiwan two years ago. It was a grueling experience that many less determined men did not survive.

``I knew I was right. I knew that opposing the communists was right. I felt I had nothing to regret about my duty to my country,'' he said during an interview in the busy office of his son, an anti-Kuomintang politician.

Lin's speech was intense and revealed the toughness of his convictions, which appear to have sustained him during his ordeal. His thinking was clear, and he was able to recall many details of his 27 years on the mainland.

But he was also distraught. His homecoming has been far from that of a hero.

On returning, Lin wrote a book about his prison experiences, for which he chose the title ``Return of the Swallow.'' Before it could be published, the book was confiscated by troops from the Taiwan Garrison Command on Nov. 19.

This was three days after the reelection of Lin's son -- Lin Cheng-chieh -- to the Taipei city council, and the younger Lin thinks it may have been an indirect way of penalizing him for a hard-fought campaign against the government -- a campaign in which he pushed the legal limits on political dissent.

The senior Lin is barred from such political involvement because he has been kept on active duty in the military, although he is well beyond retirement age and stays at home.

``I went to the mainland because I loved my country,'' explained the senior Lin. ``I have dedicated my life to my country. I think I should be able to talk about those 28 years -- that I didn't surrender, that I didn't give in, that I did the best I could.''

The words spilled out in tones that showed more bewilderment than anger.

The warrant for the confiscation of Lin's book, the unbound copies of which were carried away from his daughter-in-law's printing house, carried no official chop or signature. It cited martial-law regulations prohibiting revelation of secrets involving defense and foreign policy. It also cited a rule prohibiting works that might weaken the public's anticommunist morale. Ironically, these are the same rules cited in frequent confiscations of opposition magazines, such as ``Progress,'' a weekly edited by Lin's son.

Lin's story about life on the mainland begins with his capture in Guangdong province in 1956. During the first few months in Canton, he shared a cell with four other prisoners. During the nine years of solitary confinement that followed he was in a room where he could not tell night from day. He was not allowed to exercise or talk with guards. His food, usually rice and rice gruel, was barely enough to keep him alive.

In 1965, just before the 10-year-long Cultural Revolution began, Lin's captors gave up trying to win him over, and he was transferred to Qinghai province in northwestern China. He spent the next few years in the De Ling Ha labor camp near the Tibetan border, where he was assigned to a farm with several thousand prisoners who had been charged with spying and other serious crimes.

Conditions in Qinghai were also very difficult. ``There was never enough to eat,'' he recalled.

But some of his most bitter memories of those years were from the political struggle sessions.

``The struggle sessions were very intense. It was one against another. If you wouldn't criticize yourself, they would struggle [argue] against you until you broke down and began criticizing yourself. During it all, we had to stand in a bowing position for many hours,'' he said. Those who refused to cooperate were severely punished, and some were killed. The sessions tried to strip the participants of their self-respect and so confuse their sense of right and wrong that they became easy victims of author ity.

The labor camps were run by the military, which, during the Cultural Revolution, was caught up in the radical political movements sweeping the country. When these movements were in full swing, there were daily struggle sessions, Lin said.

In 1972, Lin was transferred to a labor camp at Gan Du, where he spent eight more years. There he worked with about a thousand other Chinese prisoners, all of whom were charged with spying.

Peking released a few Kuomintang prisoners in 1975, beginning with the most senior officers and officials, in what Lin described was a ``united front'' tactic -- an attempt to weaken the Kuomintang's will to resist the communists by appearing conciliatory. After their release, some slipped out to Hong Kong only to discover they were no longer welcome on Taiwan.

When the prisoners in Qinghai heard about the suicide of one senior Kuomintang officer in a Hong Kong hotel because he was not permitted to return home, they were very angry, Lin recalled.

As a junior officer, Lin was released in a group of several thousand prisoners in 1980, including about 300 from Gan Du. He was not allowed to return to Taiwan, but since he still had family on the mainland, he was allowed to go to his home village on an island in the Taiwan Strait that is part of the coastal province of Fujian.

The cover of his confiscated book features a sketch of him sitting on the shoreline gazing across the strait where, by this time, he knew his wife and children still waited for him. After his wife sent word that she had arranged for his return to Taipei, he managed to get permission to visit Hong Kong, where she met him and whisked him home in 1983.

As far as he knows, Lin is the only Kuomintang agent to have been allowed to return to Taiwan after being captured on the mainland. He thinks that one reason for this is his undeniable loyalty to the Kuomintang and a clean record -- he revealed no secrets to the communists. Observers say that the Kuomintang is so concerned about counterespionage that it refuses to allow former agents to return.

``My wife is the real hero in this,'' Lin exclaimed. She managed to keep the family together by borrowing money from friends and knitting sweaters in her home. Despite great pressure from friends and officials, she refused to remarry and would not accept the government's assertions that Lin had died.

Upon his return, the Kuomintang promoted Lin one rank to captain and awarded him back pay and bonuses amounting to about $25,000. One family member explained they did not pay him for nine of the years he worked in Qinghai, contending that he was then making money for the communists.

Lin had hoped that his book would meet with the government's approval when he gave a preview copy to an official in the Ministry of Defense in early November. The official's response to the book was favorable, but apparently the Taiwan Garrison Command didn't share the Defense Ministry's assessment.

``Why can't my compatriots and my children read this book?'' he asked.

His son is arranging to have the book published outside Taiwan.

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