I was willing to take any risk, but I did not dare tell my family that I had resolved to leave the island or die in the attempt. If they knew what I planned to do and did not report it promptly, they would become accomplices in my crime and would be punishable by law.
One night I managed to slip out unseen, and by appointment met a small group of my most trusted friends. I told them I had determined to leave the island and suggested a way in which I thought it might be done. They were surprised at my suggestion, aware of the danger it entailed, but thought we might be able to bring it off. We began to review the problems that had to be solved, step by step. The first of these was to determine to which country I should go.
It could not be the United States, for this would embarrass Washington. Taipei would instantly demand my extradition and complications would result. Nor could it be Japan, for we had had too many examples of Japanese police collaboration with the Nationalists in returning Formosan expatriates to torture and prison in exchange for favors Tokyo desired in Taipei. It had to be a country with which Taipei had no diplomatic ties. I would not and could not go to a Communist country, for Peking was just as eager as Taipei to crush the Formosan Independence Movement. I suggested Sweden, and my friends agreed.
The first step was to write to that extraordinary organization, Amnesty International. I had several friends at Taipei who had been helping me smuggle letters out of Formosa for quite some time. With their help I wrote briefly to Stockholm asking the Amnesty International representative there if my case could be put to the Swedish government. If I suddenly appeared at a Swedish port or airport without passport or visa, could I be granted political asylum?
In early February 1969, I received an affirmative answer. Some of my friends wanted me to leave immediately, for they were deeply concerned for my safety. This was impossible; there were too many details to be arranged, and all through a most indirect correspondence. We could not trust the ordinary international mails. Some letters were mailed in Tokyo, some in Hong Kong, and some were hand-carried to the United States or to Europe. I had to locate cooperative and trustworthy people at intermediate points. Financial problems had to be solved. I needed to arrange to have a substantial sum available in Sweden, for it might be a long time before I could earn my own way, once I had reached there. Planning an itinerary became an absorbing game; it was as if I were planning a trip to the moon, with as many variables and uncertainties and dangers along the way. It would not be easy for a one-armed man to travel undetected, halfway around the world.
By late spring the details began to fall into place. I was urged to go, but the matter of a disguise was my most serious problem, and it would be easier in winter, when everyone would be wearing heavy overcoats and capes. I tried all kinds of disguises. At one time I tried growing a beard and at another shaved my head like a Japanese soldier. My mother thought I was becoming too eccentric.
In midsummer I began to condition my guards by going out less and less often. Whenever I did venture out and wherever I went the agents were with me. If I shopped they pushed forward to watch the purchase closely, and then asked the shopkeepers detailed and often absurd questions. Sometimes I remained indoors for two or three weeks at a time, then went out to shops, restaurants, or hotels, by taxi or by bus. Sometimes I merely walked around the local university housing area, so that the agents could see that I was still there. By the end of the year, they were thoroughly accustomed to these long periods of apparent inactivity. More and more often I went out at midnight or just after, for few of the agents bothered to stay at their post after midnight.
In the autumn months I began to feel exhilarated. I had something to do, something to look forward to, however full of danger this project was certain to be. I invented a code in English. For example, if my friends along the way received a cable using certain phrases, it meant that I would leave on the following day. Another phrase meant that my departure was postponed, and so forth. Five relay stations were set up along the way at which I would be met, provided with necessary funds, and helped in any way required.
For one brief period it looked as if all plans would fall apart. A letter from New York said that someone there had been overheard to say, “You know, Peng may escape from Formosa.” Was this a leak? After a month of double-checking, we found that it had been no more than an idle speculation. We decided to go ahead.
The most delicate operation of all was arranging for certain friends to visit Formosa at an appropriate time, once we had settled upon a date. Some were strangers to me whose cooperation was arranged and vouched for by mutual friends acting as intermediaries. They would know me in disguise by prearranged signals, and some of them would keep me in sight at all times until I was safely away. If I were seized or shot on the spot, they would bear witness.
Knowing that my house would be searched thoroughly, I sorted my papers and burned most of them. My wife, my son, and my daughter thought my behavior was strange in these weeks, and I think my son became quite suspicious but said nothing. I spent many hours at my desk, writing notes in English and in Chinese to my wife, my mother, and to other members of my family. I prepared a statement explaining the reasons for my decision to leave Formosa. The treatment accorded me after my release from prison, portrayed as a gracious amnesty on the part of Chiang Kai-shek, made it impossible to go on. All my friends and associates were in danger as long as I had any relations with them. I declared that if I were arrested I repudiated in advance any confessions wrung from me by any means or any document purporting to come from my hand. Two copies of this were to be kept secretly in Formosa and three were sent out, in advance, to be published in Hong Kong, Japan, and the United States if I failed to make my escape. I burned the diary I had kept since childhood.
After carefully measuring the time required to grow a good beard, I shaved it off and showed my face in public again. It was time to pay a last visit to my mother at Kaohsiung. My guards were accustomed to my making this trip, for I often went down the island on family, anniversaries, and my routine of local visits was usually the same. My mother was not very well and kept much to her own rooms on the second floor of her house, which adjoined my brother’s home. Her telephone, however, was downstairs, and I decided on this trip that she should have an extension installed. It was the last thing I could do for her. I arranged for this, and then, buying some flowers, 1 went alone to visit my father’s grave.
I learned later that my mother thought that I was contemplating suicide. She betrayed no hint of this, but an hour or two before I was to take the train for Taipei, she rather sternly said to me, “You must believe in God. You must believe in an afterlife.” And with what seemed then to me to be almost a note of anger in her voice, “You must have faith. You must believe, otherwise your life will be useless.”
I was depressed. It was the last time I would see her, and it hurt that we were not parting a little more warmly than this. I realize now she was fighting hard to conceal her deepest emotions.
I returned to Taipei, secluded myself once more, and immediately began to grow a beard. A few weeks later all necessary telegrams were out, my disguise was ready, and by prearrangement a friend from abroad was in town. The last day had come. I proposed to leave my house after midnight. It was extremely difficult to maintain the appearance of normal routine, and my son mentioned my odd behavior to his mother who turned aside the questions. As my daughter and son made ready for bed I called them to me and measured them for height. They were a bit puzzled but said nothing unusual as I bid them a goodnight which in my own heart had to mean good-bye.
All my necessary gear had been taken elsewhere, piece by piece. I was therefore able to slip away from the house after midnight, as usual, and to reach my friends’ home across town. There I stayed throughout the next day. A go-between met with my escort-to-be from abroad to make a final check upon the marks of identification each would look for. We were not actually to meet or to exchange greetings. In human weakness that evening I called my home to say that I had to go down to Taichung on business, and that after that I would make a tour of the island. I would not return for a week or so. I then entrusted my friends with two large, thick envelopes, one to be opened if I failed in my escape, and the other to be opened when they had heard that I was successful and beyond the reach of Chiang’s agents. The second day in my friends’ house was spent in perfecting my disguise and getting comfortably used to it. Some photographs were taken. I found that I was not nervous but rather felt a sense of curious calm, of suspension, knowing now that the last and final step had to be taken.
I had congratulated myself upon my capacity to keep my emotions under control, even when saying my silent good-bye to my son and daughter. But now on this last evening, my friends undid me; at our last evening dinner they began to sing familiar songs, and I was compelled to go into my own room and cry. I had not shed tears since those first homesick days in Japan and later in Canada.
My hosts were rather embarrassed. As there were still nearly two hours before I could leave the house, someone proposed that we play “Oh Hell,” a card game, to kill time. One of them remarked that he had played it just before his wedding to relieve his nervousness. It certainly took our minds off the unbearable tension for a few minutes.
We were all relieved when at last the moment came to leave the house. Our plan was minutely detailed. It had been arranged to have witnesses nearby for every move I now had to make. I went to the point of departure and there I immediately recognized the person who would stay near me for the next several hours. Other persons were posted at vantage points to watch my movements. I am told that my watching friends “died” every time it seemed a hitch might develop and I would be caught.
As I went through the last barrier I signaled good-bye. I watched as the island slowly disappeared. For the first time in six years, I felt light in heart and spirit.
At the first stopover I was met by someone whom I had known in earlier years. He had engaged a hotel room in which he stayed the night with me, merely calling his wife to report that all had gone well thus far and that I was fine. We talked until nearly 3 o’clock in the morning but even then I could not sleep. I was beginning to feel the physical and emotional strain under which I had been living through the preceding days. We were called at 4:30 A.M. and in the darkness before dawn took a taxi to the point of departure. Later this friend sent the following eyewitness account to our mutual friends.
I was not certain who I would see, much less what they (he) would look like. I noticed … then saw this goofy looking beatnik following them. Glory be! I had made arrangements at a local hotel for a twin bed room. Since the hour was not early (that’s Chinese sentence pattern translated into English) and we anticipated an early departure, I felt the hotel bit was best. It also kept down possible recognition on a …. Too, our area is uncertain in terms of where one’s loyalties stand. We just didn’t want some lovely … recognizing our (Peng) … went on to … and we two stayed together. (Peng) was so filled with excitement and disbelief that he couldn’t even think of sleep. We sat up until 3:30 talking and then I begged for an hour’s sleep. The nutty guy at the hotel desk called us at 4:30 (I had asked him to call at 5:30) (Peng) was up and brushing his mop and fixing his boxing glove. What a sight it was. One of the loveliest sights was to see him peel off all that garb he was wearing. When he finally got near humanity, I could see the results of his previous months of worrying and concern. He had really lost a lot of weight. But the spirit and twinkle of eye were still with him.
We took a cab to the … about 6:00 and arrived in quick time. I had spent days working through all the possibilities … and found each possibility had its inherent danger. (Peng) felt no fear about laying over in … so he agreed with my plan. We felt the chance of laying over in … for from 1-8 hours was better than waiting so long here. Hopefully our decision was correct. (Peng) was so excited that he started down the stairs without even saying good-bye. He caught himself and turned to say good-bye and thanks. I was touched from tail to toe. (A second recollection. While sitting on our beds chatting, I said to (Peng), “It’s a wonderful feeling to know that when there is someone in the world who is concerned for human dignity, freedom and self-expression for a given people, that there are persons around willing and eager to help.” Peng thought for a minute and then said, “That’s what is so humbling about the whole thing.”)
I went back to my spot on … and … watched … marking the beginning of new hope for those we love. The beginning of a new day.
I felt safer and more relaxed at the second stop. After wandering around for several hours, I resumed my trip. At the last stop before I reached Sweden I called Mrs. Cawell at Lidingo. We had been writing to each other since I was released from prison in 1965.1 knew Mrs. Cawell and other Swedish friends were most anxious about my fate. When the phone call got through and she knew I had successfully escaped from Formosa, she exclaimed: “It can’t be true!”
I arrived at Stockholm at about 12:30 A.M. in the darkness of a January night and on what proved to be the coldest day of the year. Officials had been alerted who knew that I would arrive without travel documents of any sort. The temperature was twenty-five degrees below zero. Three couples had come to welcome me, bringing sweaters, boots, gloves, a muffler, and a fur hat, all of which they insisted I put on, on the spot. I must have looked grotesque. We paused in a building for about ten minutes while the police made a simple record of my name only and requested very politely that I return the following day to complete the required information after I had had a chance to rest. I was indeed in a new world.
These new Swedish friends were very kind. They were active and efficient members of Amnesty International. They had been notified of the approximate time I would leave Formosa, and they had been exceedingly concerned until they received my telephone call. These hours, they knew, were the most critical in the life of every political escapee. I also learned later that one of the friends who greeted me had been called next morning by another member of the Amnesty group. When asked, “How is he? What is he like?” she had answered, “He looks horrible!” Undoubtedly my disguise and beard had created a most unattractive sight.
I was driven to the suburban home of a couple who had agreed to take me in. They welcomed me most cordially, although it was by then 2:30 in the morning. There were flowers in my room and cards welcoming me to Sweden. I showered and fell into bed, exhausted, but even so my last thoughts before sleep were of the contrast between this civilized world and the world of fear and of cynical politics from which I had now escaped.
The next morning my hosts, Mr. Lunden and his British wife, accompanied by Mrs. Karin Gawell of Amnesty International, took me to complete the entry formalities left unfinished in the early morning hours. The first thing that I had to do for the Swedish authorities was to prove that I was really Peng Ming-min. Fortunately, some years earlier I had had an occasion to present an autographed copy of my French book to a noted professor in Goteborg who now volunteered to confirm my identity and professional reputation. Opinions had been solicited from others who were familiar with Formosan affairs or with my academic career in Canada and France.
The immigration officers were most courteous at every point, but they questioned me with meticulous care. Our interview required more than three hours.
Political asylum in Sweden requires formal approval at the cabinet level, hence about one month was required to complete the certification. After spending four days at the Lundens’ home, I was invited to move into the home of a most distinguished Swedish scientist, Professor Carl Gustav Bernhard, a member of the Nobel Committee and later president of the Swedish Royal Academy of Science. It was a big house, superbly located, commanding a sweeping view of the harbor below. Here I had the good fortune to stay while I remained in Sweden.
ONCE THE IMMIGRATION RECORDS were set in order and I was safely in Sweden my first problem was how to break the news in Formosa. It could not be delayed too long, but it had been agreed that I should wait until certain people had left the island, those who had come in to help me and had made the project a success. They were to cable me in code when all was clear.
No message came. Ten days had passed since my departure. My escape might be discovered at any time. Had they been trapped? I was beginning to be deeply troubled when at last the signal came. They had been so relaxed after I left that they had decided to enjoy their stay, making a leisurely ten day tour around the island.
On reaching Stockholm I had written to friends in New York to say all was well and to be ready to release the brief announcement I had prepared. But there was a premature leak in New York, my friends in Japan were alerted, and called me in Sweden. We agreed that the announcement should be made immediately. First, however, I sent an open cable to my wife saying, “Sorry I left without warning you. I am safe and in good spirits.”
My wife received this message. The government was notified by the cable office but refused to believe its authenticity. The first thought was that a sympathizer had sent it, just to cause trouble, or that it was premature. At once a great alert went out, fishing ports, airports, Keelung and Kaohsiung were blocked, and all people leaving the island were carefully examined. Scores of my friends and known political activists were picked up for questioning and had their houses searched. Li Ao, Hsieh, and Wei were detained for prolonged interrogation.
Immediately after my escape became known at Taipei, my wife and son and other members of my family there were seized, and my brother, arrested at Kaohsiung, was flown to the capital. All were subjected to twenty-four hours of continuous interrogation before being released, but were strictly forbidden to tell anyone of the ordeal. My son bore up very well under this grueling examination.
As I rested among friends during these first few days of freedom I thought of my family. From the beginning to the end of the ordeal they all behaved with extreme courage, calmness, and understanding. No one complained. My mother, my sister my brothers, my wife, and my children all gave me tremendous support and the spiritual strength to resist demands of the party apparatus, the military, and the Investigation Bureau agents. Although they did not know it, they gave me courage to plan my escape. My son was only thirteen years old at the time of my arrest, a junior high school student. He had sensed the importance of this upheaval in our family life but did not complain. He had been doing extremely well in school before the crisis, and in the next term his grades dropped a bit, but then went back up. My daughter was not quite eight years old in September 1964, too young to comprehend all the details of the case but well aware of a crisis. The house was raided and then closely watched, but she never showed fear nor did she mention it to her mother, thus sparing my wife the difficulty of attempting explanations. At the time of my escape both children were again doing very well in school.
My successful escape had stirred up a hornet’s nest. Senior government officers were certain that I could not be in Sweden because their records, the reports of their subordinates, showed that I had been traveling here and there in Formosa until the very day the news of my escape became known, almost three weeks after I left my house in Taipei. According to these reports, I had been staying in the best hotels, eating at expensive restaurants, and enjoying the cinema. The proof in their hands were the police bills charged against the special account for my surveillance.
Then the truth became evident. During the months in which I had so often secluded myself for long periods, and probably since I was released from prison in 1965, and during the weeks after I had left the island, my guards, the Investigation Bureau agents, and the police had been submitting falsified accounts, false expense vouchers and claims, and pocketing the money.
Many senior officers in the Investigation Bureau lost their jobs. Wang Kan was dismissed. Director Shen, in true Chinese fashion, asked “to be punished.” Although he was spared, the deputy director was dismissed. The agents who were supposed to have been watching me around the clock were jailed, and so were others in the I.B. hierarchy who should have been checking them out and may have been taking a percentage of the unearned expense payments. The department chief who had so viciously threatened me as we sat around the Christmas tree at the Investigation Bureau clubhouse was the highest ranking man to be sent to prison. He was the scapegoat at the higher levels, charged now with having pressed me too hard.
The rumor spread, prompted by the Nationalist government, that I left Formosa with the assistance of the CIA. Many people seem to suspect the CIA because they cannot imagine how anyone could escape from Formosa without the aid of the CIA. Unfortunately since so many people were involved, I am still unable to explain how I escaped without endangering those brave and loyal friends. I can say, however, that I have received no help from any government except, of course, the Swedish government which gave me political asylum.
I knew that many people who had stood up for me, had advocated lenience or had shown friendship and sympathy, might now be harassed. To counter this as best I could, I sent a number of letters, registering them so that they would attract attention, and in the expectation that they would be intercepted and read. To Mr. Liang, my lawyer, I explained briefly that I had found life unbearable under the Nationalist police regime and thanked him for his help in times past. To some I apologized for having been the cause of so much trouble, and asked them to understand my decision.
On the evening that the news broke in Formosa, my host Dr. Bernhard happened to be giving a party. Among the guests was the editor of a big Stockholm newspaper. Thinking to do him a favor, Dr. Bernhard introduced me with a brief comment upon my peculiar arrival in Sweden as a political refugee. He was polite but seemed not too much interested. On the following morning, when he had made his rather leisurely appearance at the downtown editorial offices, he found that wires were coming in from many quarters asking for information on my escape. He called me at once, asking me not to talk to other newspapers for twenty-four hours so he could have an exclusive interview. For a few days there was a stir of interest and within the week a local television interview was broadcast.
Immediately a crank letter came in, written by a member of a “Swedish-Chinese Friendship Association,” the type of group the Nationalists have sponsored to lobby for them throughout the world. This abusive note had been addressed to me in care of the Soviet embassy and had passed from there to the Immigration Office and so reached my hands. It accused me of being a traitor and a Communist.
This sort of thing could be expected and was unimportant, but I was altogether unprepared for the Japanese reaction in Sweden.
Immediately after my escape became known, the angry Nationalists asked governments around the world to bar me. They were particularly insistent in Washington and Tokyo, for the Independence Movement was gaining strength in the United States and Japan, and each had a Formosan resident population numbering in the thousands. An arrest warrant was issued in Taipei. To back this up, every Nationalist agency abroad was instructed to blacken my name and brand me as a criminal.
I did not know then what Washington’s reaction might be, but I knew that Japan had no doctrine of political asylum and was generally very callous on the subject. I learned that the Japanese government had taken up my case at the cabinet level. The decision was to cooperate with Taipei. Taipei and Tokyo were in conflict just then. The Sato government was under great domestic pressure to expand commerce with Communist China, but at the same time Japan had large investments in and a most profitable trade with Formosa. Taipei had often protested Japan’s trade with continental China. My case seemed to offer Tokyo an opportunity to appease the Nationalists to some degree at no cost to Japan. No one in the government showed much interest in the humanitarian aspects of such a case, and there were precedents in which Formosan expatriates living in Japan had been delivered over to the Nationalists, sacrificed in heartless political and economic deals.
The Japanese ambassador at Stockholm was instructed to find out where my next destination might be, and made himself slightly ridiculous. Apparently it was thought I might try to smuggle myself into Japan. The ambassador himself called on the director of the Swedish Immigration Office. He was told that my future destination was not known nor was it of interest to Sweden. The ambassador then sent his secretary to the Immigration Office to state clearly that Japan would not admit me. Since I had no intention of going to Japan, this was absurd, and the absurdity was compounded when the ambassador again sent a request that the Swedish government prevent my going to Japan. The astonished Swedish officials observed that it was up to Tokyo to prevent my entry into Japan, not Stockholm; moreover, it was not Sweden’s responsibility or privilege to tell me what I should do.
Meanwhile I had taken temporary employment while waiting the formal Swedish cabinet decision concerning political asylum. In the first weeks after my arrival I was extremely tired. Relaxation of tension made itself felt. I was quite prepared to learn the Swedish language, but this would take some time. Fortunately the husband of one of the Amnesty International’s active members was curator of the Asian Section of the Stockholm Museum of Ethnography and was custodian of materials relating to the Sven Hedin expeditions, books, documents, maps, which had not yet been fully catalogued. There was a budget for the work, and I received a temporary appointment as specialist cataloguer. My host, Professor Bernhard, with great kindness, took me to the museum every day on his way into the Karolinska Institute, where he was a Professor of Medicine.
Within the month formal action was taken by the Swedish government. I was granted political asylum, an alien passport was issued, and I was now free to travel. I felt that I had an identity again, and this official act on my behalf brought great relief.
I asked the Swedish government to admit my family if it could be arranged for them to leave Formosa. Permission was granted. I learned then that my wife had already written directly to Yen Chia-kan, the premier and vice-president, requesting permission to leave the island with the two children. She pointed out that although my son was now of military age, he would be exempted from conscription because of a hyperthyroid condition, and under the supervision of the Taita Medical School specialists, he constantly had to take certain drugs. The hospital records were available to support the case. She registered the letter in order to secure a record of receipt. The receipt-acknowledgment form was returned, but there was no reply. I could only conclude that my family were considered hostages.
The American press carried stories of my successful transit to Sweden. Soon letters began to reach me from old friends. Through Newsweek’s London office a letter was forwarded to me from the Stanford girls, living in New York and in California, who offered to assist me in any way they could. One of them launched a letter-writing campaign among her friends, designed to urge the State Department to admit me to the United States.
To my surprise, the Japanese embassy at Stockholm continued to pursue a curious course. I could only assume that Tokyo was eager to do Taipei a special favor just then, or that Taipei had attached a price to something Tokyo desired. Soon after I took up my temporary work at the Ethnographical Museum, the embassy’s first secretary invited the museum’s Asian section chief to have lunch with him and then in rather tactless fashion attempted to find out how I had been introduced to the museum, under what circumstances I was living, and what I proposed to do. He showed great concern lest I might try to slip into Japan, and made it clear that if I did, I would be arrested and sent to Formosa. He then asked his luncheon guest to please notify the embassy if I were ever absent from my job, or showed any interest in leaving Sweden. The museum representative bluntly told him that he was not interested in spying on behalf of the Japanese embassy. The matter should have ended there, but the ambassador’s underlings kept calling the museum on his behalf from time to time to ask if I were still working there.
I remained at the museum for about one month, clearing up a backlog of uncataloged materials. My hosts had a lovely house at the seaside about two and one-half hours’ drive from the city, and we went there with the children to spend quiet weekends. Soon I began to receive letters and inquiries from branches of Amnesty International in Europe. Chatham House in London, the Institute for International Affairs, the London School of Oriental Studies, and the British offices for Amnesty International each invited me to London to speak on Formosan problems and to discuss the general problem of political prisoners. A schedule was arranged.
To my surprise, when I applied for a British visa, complications arose. There was delay after delay. When my London hosts pressed for information at the British Foreign Office, they were told that the matter was under consideration. Up through the bureaucratic ranks it went, until one Sunday I received a call telling me that the question was now being discussed with the foreign minister himself. Finally, less than twenty-four hours before I was to leave for London, word came that my visa had been granted. Although it was Saturday, when the British consulate in Stockholm was usually closed, the appropriate officer most kindly arranged for me to come in for the necessary stamp on my papers. On reaching London, however, I was amazed to learn that the foreign ministry had instructed its people to stay away from any social or formal meetings at which I would be present. None showed up at Chatham House, for example, when I spoke there. I was given to understand that this avoidance was not personal, but had rather to do with Peking and the extremely delicate problem of British subjects then being held by the Peking government. I was being described as a “Formosan Independence Movement leader,” and the Communists, like the Nationalists, were determined that the island of Formosa and its people must remain Chinese whether they wished to or not. The release of British subjects had to take precedence in London, and anything prejudicial to that object had to be avoided.
This was my second visit to London. I had not been much impressed by it in 1953 when I was a young tourist. This time I fell in love with the great city. In the week that I was there I managed to visit the Amnesty International offices almost daily. I had been warned that they were very plain, occupying a narrow, old, four-storied house with overcrowded rooms cluttered with desks, chairs, people, and papers. A full-time staff of a dozen persons with some part-time employees and some volunteers carried on with a spirit of devotion and great energy. The cluttered appearance belied an operation of great efficiency. I was discovering that Amnesty International attracts first-rate people. This organization was tremendously impressive to one who had so recently been helped to gain new life.
Soon after I returned to Stockholm and my job at the museum, I was invited again to London to attend the annual meeting of the British section of Amnesty International and from there flew to Geneva, Switzerland, to give some talks at meetings of the World Council of Churches.
The invitation to speak at Geneva on the situation in Formosa had come to me largely through Mrs. Richard Frank, a graduate of the Harvard Law School whose husband, also a Harvard Law School graduate, had been in the State Department and was now in private business in Switzerland. In Geneva Mrs. Frank worked is an administrative assistant to the Commission on International Affairs within the World Council of Churches. I had met her at a conference in Stockholm, young, idealistic, and dedicated to working toward a more humanistic and liberal relationship among governments and peoples. She had become interested in the Formosa problem and in the troubles of the Formosan Presbyterian church, and thus had asked me to visit Geneva for conversations with council members.
The Franks met me at the airport, took me to their home in the suburbs, and on the first evening entertained me at a country restaurant. It was my first glimpse of the French countryside in ten years. As we relaxed in the Franks’ living room, and cows grazed quietly just outside the windows, we discussed the Far Eastern situation and Formosa’s unhappy position on the edge of the Chinese world. I then spent some days in a round of talks with staff members of the World Council discussing the political and religious situation in Formosa, and talked with representatives of the International Red Cross. Members of the official International Red Cross Committee were obviously reluctant to meet me, stiff and unbending, meticulously careful to preserve and insist upon the apolitical, neutral character of the organization. They dealt with governments rather than with individuals. In the Geneva offices of the League of Red Cross Societies, on the other hand, the reception was much more open, and the only concern seemed to be humanitarian interest. I brought up the subject of my family, telling them of my wife’s appeal to Premier Yen Chia-kan for an exit permit. These Red Cross officials noted that since the “villain” was gone and Sweden was willing to receive my family, there was no point for the Nationalists in keeping them. Obviously Taipei was holding them as hostages. The Geneva office had made informal inquiries at Taipei and there had been no response.
I flew back to Sweden, but was soon off to London again, where I received a letter from Canadian friends inviting me to visit them. This seemed to be a good idea. On application to the Canadian consulate I received a tourist visa with no difficulty and flew to Montreal and then to Toronto. There I renewed acquaintance with old friends, met with Formosan students, and after an exceedingly busy ten days, flew back to London for one week.
That was a very interesting week during which I enjoyed meeting my friends at Amnesty International and Formosans living in London and I had conversations with the editor of the China Quarterly. I also met the high commissioner for the Indian government in London. He had been stationed in Peking at the time of my escape. He said the Communists had made an outcry, indistinguishable in some respects from the outcry at Taipei. I was a traitor to China,” an “American stooge brought out of Taiwan to become active in the two Chinas plot,” and much more in the same vein. Radio broadcasts and magazines, including the English-language Peking Review, had made a shrill attack, causing the foreign diplomatic corps to ask, “What’s this all about?” There had been much discussion of the significance of these angry Chinese reactions in Peking as well as Taipei.
Then I received an urgent telephone call from Mrs. Bernhard in Stockholm saying that she had received a telephone call from a stranger who identified himself as a Chinese just arrived from Formosa. He had said that he was eager to see me, but as the conversation went on, she became suspicious and troubled. The caller’s English was poor, interspersed with some Russian and a few words of Swedish, and he was somewhat rude in his manner. Mrs. Bernhard told him that I was not available, and she did not know when I would return. Then he became heated and sarcastic, saying, “Peng lives with you, and you say you don’t know? So it’s a secret? I’ll ask you one question: What kind of passport did he use?” Mrs. Bernhard firmly repeated that she did not know, and hung up, but she was troubled; some years before a political refugee had been shot and the assassin had successfully left Sweden by plane. She therefore reported the incident to the police, and when I flew back to Stockholm after a month’s absence, the chief of the airport police detail met me at planeside. Dr. Bernhard was also there, with his huge German shepherd dog, and we returned to the house without incident. Despite this excitement, I felt relaxed to be back home in Sweden, and on the next day we all went to the country for a sailing holiday.
This was all very pleasant, but my work at the museum was temporary. I had to look about for something of a more lasting nature and I resumed correspondence with the academic world in America. Professor Whitmore Gray at the University of Michigan Law School wrote assuring me of continuing interest at Michigan in the projects we had begun to discuss in 1966. He was to be in Moscow briefly and telegraphed that he would meet me in Stockholm at a certain place and hour, asking me to confirm this by wire at his hotel in Prague. I did this, but on the appointed day in Stockholm he failed to appear. I heard nothing further for ten days until he telephoned to me from Michigan, saying that he had not received my wire at Prague, and therefore had not stopped in Sweden. Was I still interested in a Michigan appointment?
Of course I was, and in the long correspondence that followed. I expressed my appreciation for the continuing interest and renewed offer. Professor Rhoads Murphey joined in the exchange in his capacity as director for the Center for Chinese Studies, and a joint appointment was proposed. The law school would provide office space and the center would become my academic base for research. I proposed to make an analysis of the prevailing legal system in Formosa under the Nationalist occupation.
The University asked if I could take the appointment in April 1970. It was then February and many technical problems had to be overcome, including visa problems.
When my Swedish friends learned that I contemplated going to Michigan, they protested. From a Swedish point of view it seemed a dangerous thing for me to do. European newspapers were filled with stories of violence in the American cities and of a crisis in law and order. My friends argued that it was suicidal. The Nationalists could easily arrange to have me killed. I raised this question in my correspondence and with American journalists who had come to interview me in Stockholm. The consensus seemed to be that although it was true that violence in the streets was a serious problem in many American cities, the Nationalists would be stupid to do me any physical harm. Public indignation would heavily damage the regime’s reputation in the United States and might be fatal.
Although aware that political behavior, especially of the Nationalist Chinese, would not necessarily follow the reasoning or the logic advanced by my friends, I decided to apply for a visa permitting me to proceed to Michigan.