Sat, Feb 24, 2001 - Page 11 News List

A hero to all but himself

Hou You-yi single-handedly rescued two hostages held by Taiwan's most wanted criminal, Chen Chin-hsing, during a fierce standoff in 1997. Looking back, he says the hostage crisis was a turning point in Taiwan's post-martial law society

By David Frazier  /  STAFF REPORTER

Hou You-yi


Taoyuan Police Chief Hou You-yi (侯友宜) is a short, 42-year-old man. Upon seeing him, his size surprised me a little, but only because it conflicted with his immense reputation as Taiwan's most revered police officer. Almost comically, my initial impression of the man intensified upon entering his office, which like those of many government officials is drastically oversized to accommodate visitors. Strapping and stocky perhaps, but physically, he is not nearly as big as his deeds. It is hard to imagine him dragging a shot and bleeding McGill Alexander, a man possibly twice his size, to safety while under the guns of Chen Chin-hsing (陳進興), the most notorious criminal Taiwan has seen since martial law.

When my editor and I paid Hou a visit, he was in a buoyant mood. Led by an aide who apologized for Hou's busy schedule, we preceded him to the sofas in front of his desk. Hou followed shortly, sharp as a tack in his blue and brass, two stars over his right breast pocket. He offered firm handshakes and laughed from his belly as he greeted us.

The occasion for our visiting Hou was to hear his version of the 1997 hostage crisis, in which Chen made hostages of Alexander and most of his family. Memories of that time were revived by last December's release of Alexander's book, Hostage in Taipei, which provides a captive's view of the drama. Having read the book, we also wanted to hear Hou's story, because, as the hero of the affair and the man in charge, he could best explain what went right and what went wrong as the events of the hostage crisis unfolded.

Before Hou had arrived outside the Alexander home, a gunfight had already taken place between Chen and police forces. Describing the scene as near chaos, Hou said: "The first thing I did -- I took one look and told everyone to calm down and not to make any moves."

Then he said he found the officer in charge and questioned him to learn how many people were inside the home and who the hostages were. After that, he took over command as the most senior officer on the scene and asked for a phone to call Chen.

The drama of that night, Nov. 18, 1997, was the climax of an eight-month crime spree that began when Chen and two partners in April abducted and murdered Pai Hsiao-yen (白曉燕), the teenage daughter of a local celebrity. By the night of the standoff, Chen was the only of the three fugitives still alive. Sensing that the game was almost up, he had devised a desperate plan to take foreign hostages. The gambit, he believed, would allow him to live long enough to make known complaints regarding what he viewed as the unfair imprisonment of his wife and relatives. Chancing upon the Alexander household, he hit the motherlode. Alexander was not only a foreigner, he was a diplomat, South Africa's military attache to Taiwan.

Wielding three pistols, Chen secured Alexander, his wife, two daughters and adopted infant son (a third daughter was not at the home that night), then waited for the police to zero in. When word got out that Chen was cornered, both police and media flocked to the scene in droves.

Over the phone, Hou introduced himself by name and rank. He wanted to establish "a mutual understanding" with Chen. Hou, who at the time was a section chief at the Criminal Investigation Bureau (CIB, 刑事警察局), had been studying Chen for months. He knew the man's preferences down to his favorite betelnut flavors and motorcycle makes. So he tried to strike a friendly tone and spoke to Chen in Hokkien and called him by his nickname, "Ah-chin-ah (阿進阿)." The two began talking about mutual acquaintances. "I mentioned a person who worked in the local district court and was a relative of Chen's. `Oh, that guy, how are you related to him? He's my good friend,' that kind of thing," said Hou.

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