Sun, Nov 20, 2016 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan in Time: Taiwan’s Sherlock Holmes

Forensics expert Yang Jih-sung’s methods may have been unorthodox, but he helped solve countless cases, earning him the honorable nickname

By Han Cheung  /  Staff reporter

Yang Jih-sung was Taiwan’s most famous forensics expert, solving numerous cases during his 49-year career.

Photo: File, Taipei Times

Taiwan in Time: Nov. 21 to Nov. 27

In 1949, a university couple allegedly hung themselves with a single noose near a watergate by the Tamsui River. The man claimed that he survived by inserting his finger between his neck and the rope, and the woman’s suicide note was published in the newspapers to great sensation.

The forensics expert at the local police district declared that they were lovers who committed suicide together, but suspecting foul play, the Taiwan Provincial Police Administration sent their promising 21-year-old intern, Yang Jih-sung (楊日松), to double check the results.

This was Yang’s first case as a forensics expert. Decades later, he would be known as Taiwan’s Sherlock Holmes or Bao Qingtian (包青天, a legendary justice in ancient China) — but now he was still a student at Taipei Medical University, both nervous and eager to prove himself.

Yang quickly deduced that the noose was not large enough to fit two people, and the man admitted to staging the scene after killing the woman and forging the note.

Thus began the 49-year career of Yang, during which he reportedly dissected more than 30,000 bodies, including many widely-publicized cases.


Born on Nov. 23, 1927 in Miaoli, Yang was the only one in his graduating class at Taipei Medical University to specialize in forensic science.

Tang Kun-shan (湯坤山) and Hsu Huei-chin (徐慧琴) write in their book The Legend of Yang Ri-song (楊日松傳奇) that his career choice stems from two injustices he witnessed growing up: the forced confession and three-month imprisonment of his elder brother in Japan, and then watching a classmate being falsely convicted of theft.

“He decided that witnesses were not enough to determine whether one was guilty or not,” Tang and Hsu write. “There needed to be scientific proof.”

His work was often performed at the detriment of his own health, as he never wore gloves or sanitary masks and would even taste the fluids from the corpses. He reportedly developed a skin condition due to frequent direct contact with the bodies. Even when he suffered a minor stroke in 1990, he only rested for a month and went back to work.

In his biography, journalist Lou Lan (樓蘭) quotes Yang: “A forensic expert’s job is more than just studying and dissecting the bodies. If necessary, we need to taste the contents of their stomachs and determine the time of death from the acidity. We can also tell from the bitterness whether there was poisoning involved.”

He cites a case where three charred bodies were brought in from the same incident.

“They smelled the same, so I could tell that they were burned at the same time. If I wore a mask, I would not be able to observe this subtle detail,” he says. “And, I believe that wearing a mask is disrespectful toward the deceased.”

Finally, he explains that he “cannot feel the elasticity of the skin” if he has gloves on.

Yang once said that a forensics expert’s goal is to provide “two peaces” (兩安): peace of mind for the general populace by identifying the bodies and finding out the truth behind each death, and for the deceased to rest in peace by helping find the suspects.

The last bit is not just rhetoric, as Yang believed in the spirits of the dead and reportedly encountered many supernatural incidents over his career — but those will not be discussed here as there are more impressive accomplishments to examine.

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