The promise of mythical riches

A KMT ‘treasure hoard’ is exploited by scamsters

Japan Cup 2014

Lin: stars in new movie in which KMT hunts for red spies

The last time Lin Chi-ling played a special agent, the Taiwanese-actress frolicked in a bathtub and donned 24 different outfits. Her role in the spy thriller Switch was her sexiest to date, she said.

But most critics were soon switching off, despite the steamy scenes (see WiC198).

Switch was named worst movie in the 2013 Golden Plum Awards (Hong Kong’s equivalent to the Golden Raspberry Awards in Los Angeles) and Lin was voted the second worst actress.

That setback hasn’t prevented her from trying again. But having turned 40 a month ago, Lin has ditched some of the glamour in her latest espionage flick, Who is Undercover (the Chinese title translates more literally as “The Trump Card”).

This is much more gritty stuff: Lin looks 20 years older and as a captured spy her face is disfigured during torture scenes.

The thriller centres on the battle between the intelligence agencies when the Kuomintang (KMT) ruled Shanghai in 1930. In the movie several women are arrested on suspicion of being secret members of the Communist Party. They are tortured and forced to confess. But the question remains: who is the actual spy?

Lin’s role sounds similar to the real life fate of Wang Guangmei, a famed beauty married to former Chinese President Liu Shaoqi. Her looks and her popularity antagonised Chairman Mao’s wife Jiang Qing, and President Liu was denounced as a “capitalist roader” in 1966. Rumours then began to spread that Wang was the leader of the so-called “Plum Blossom Party”, an underground gang run by the Kuomintang to subvert Communist rule (the name’s origin: the KMT had previously designated the plum blossom as China’s national flower).

Arrested and accused of being a Taiwanese spy, Wang was humiliated at mass rallies. She was later jailed in a cell so small that she couldn’t stand up straight in it. She was finally released in 1979 after spending 12 years in prison.

Even today, speculation about cross-straits espionage can be persistent. Chang Hsien-yao was removed as deputy head of Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council in September amid allegations he had endangered national security. Earlier this month, Taiwan media picked up rumours that the assistant editor-in-chief at Ta Kung Pao, a pro-Beijing newspaper in Hong Kong, had defected to Taiwan too.

Many Chinese believe that the Plum Blossom gang is still at work too. According to CCTV, several hundred people in Zhejiang province were victims of fraudsters from a so-called “Plum Blossom Association” recently. Mostly elderly, they were told that the Kuomintang had amassed a hoard of priceless artefacts before fleeing to Taiwan in 1949. The “Plum Blossom Association” was said to be guarding the loot in various spots across the mainland. Those helping to finance the salvage operation were promised a share of the proceeds when the treasure was sold off. Of course, the scammers took the money but never returned. CCTV reported that the victims lost Rmb3 million ($500,000).

The state broadcaster mentioned that other con artists have used the same treasure scam for more than 30 years. In Guangxi alone police have arrested more than 150 grifters for similar fraud. In some of the more sophisticated cases, the deceived were duped into becoming deceivers themselves, spreading the scam in the manner of a Ponzi scheme.

Of course, fewer people would be taken in if there wasn’t a semi-plausible element to the claims in this case, it’s the circumstances in which the ruling Kuomintang fled to Taiwan after losing the civil war to Mao’s Red Army in 1949. They did so believing that they would soon return to reconquer the mainland, which gives credence to the hypothesis that the fleeing generals hid many of China’s great treasures in secret locations, rather than take the haul with them.

Some of this sounds like a Chinese twist on National Treasure – the film franchise in which Nicolas Cage hunts for a trove of artefacts left by the Founding Fathers. Perhaps Taipei-born Lin Chi-ling ought to put in a call to Cage for a meeting. WiC can envisage her in the role of the granddaughter of one of the fleeing generals, who one day discovers a map in her grandads’s desk, signed by Chiang Kai-shek himself…

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