Wed, Jan 10, 2001 - Page 9 News List

Yang Chuan-kuang deserves better

Yang, who won a silver medal in the decathlon in the 1960 Rome Olympics and in doing so became the first to earn a medal in the Games for Taiwan, has returned home in ill health and to little fanfare

By Rick Chu 朱立熙

Illustration: Mountain People

Approximately 20 years ago, a joke of the following sort spread through Taiwan's high society. Rumor has it that England's famous brand of Rolls Royce cars aren't sold to customers indiscriminately. Not just any rich guy can buy one. Eligibility also depends on whether or not you are listed in "Who's Who." Therefore a rich Taiwanese gentleman who wanted to buy a Rolls Royce made an inquiry. He discovered that only one Taiwanese person -- Yang Chuan-kuang -- met the qualification of being listed in "Who's Who." At first, the rich gentleman mistook the name for that of Taiwan's former president, C.K. Yen (嚴家淦, an interim president who held office during the transition of power from Chiang Kai-shek [蔣介石] to his son, Chiang Ching-kuo [蔣經國]), and only after further questioning did he realize that it was Yang Chuan-kuang (楊傳廣), or C.K. Yang, the silver medalist from the decathlon in the 1960 Rome Olympics. The rich gentleman felt despondent about the matter. Naturally he didn't want to concede that Yang was better qualified than himself to buy a Rolls Royce, but what made him even more upset was that Yang couldn't begin to afford a Rolls Royce.

It doesn't matter whether this joke is based in reality or not. It perfectly reflects the traditional disdain of Eastern society (especially Chinese society) for athletes.

I heard this story in the late 1980s, not long after I personally covered the "Yang Chuan-kuang incident" in 1986 as a correspondent for the Taiwanese media in Seoul, South Korea.

Rumors spread

At that time, in addition to being a KMT legislator, Yang was also the head coach for the "Chinese-Taipei" delegation's track and field team at the Asian Games in Seoul. In September of that year, several days after following the delegation to Seoul, word suddenly spread that he had contacted a senior cadre from the mainland Chinese delegation and that he was about to flee to Communist China. This news not only terrified the Taiwanese delegation but also put tremendous pressure on the Taiwanese embassy in South Korea at the time. The KMT government in Taipei couldn't afford the loss of face that would accompany being, "deserted by a national treasure."

Reporters from home and abroad went in droves to the hotel where Yang was staying to interview him, and I was among them. Confronted with questions from all sides, he avoided from start to finish the issue of why rumors had spread that he intended to commit "treason." He neither admitted nor denied the allegations. Even though we reporters failed to get to the bottom of the matter with our questions, we could still sense from his expression that he was quite dissatisfied with the Taiwan government.

Yang keeps silent

At this point, the Taiwan side mobilized an emotional offensive hoping to persuade Yang to return to Taipei. But Yang was adamant in his refusal. He worried that under the intense anti-communist ideology of the time, after returning to Taipei, he wouldn't be able to go abroad again. Later, the ambassador to South Korea personally guaranteed that after making a trip back to explain matters, he could immediately return to Seoul and continue to observe the Asian games.

In the end, Yang flew like a trapeze artist, making the round trip from Seoul to Taipei and back in a single day. After his return to Seoul, Yang fell silent. Most of the time, if he wasn't together with the athletes giving them last-minute guidance before the competition, he was sitting alone on the bleachers quietly observing the form of contestants from each country.

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