Celebrity killings stir rage in Taiwan

If you had to come up with an occidental equivalent of Pai Ping- ping, you might describe her as the Cilla Black of Taiwan. Even before the awful events of this spring, everyone with a television set knew her as a singer, comedienne and presenter.

Like her British counterpart, Ping-ping was born in a northern port city, Keelung, and became famous for her bantering use of the local dialect. She began her career as a pop starlet; in middle age she hosted one of the most popular variety shows.She was also admired as a devoted single mother, and it is the fate of her daughter, a beautiful 17-year-old named Hsiao-yen, which has brought Ping-ping a greater, though more terrible, fame than she had as an entertainer.

In April, Hsiao-yen was snatched from the street by a group of men who demanded a ransom of pounds 3.2m. They sent photographs of her, naked, her face covered in masking tape, with a note from the girl begging for the money. A later delivery contained her little finger.

Four times, Ping-ping agreed to meet the kidnappers and hand over the ransom; four times they failed to turn up.

The country held its breath for Pai Hsiao-yen, and a distraught Ping- ping gave almost daily news conferences beseeching the government to do something. A thousand police were mobilised and Lien Chan, Taiwan's Prime Minister and Vice-President, made a personal visit to assure her that every effort was being made. Then, two weeks after her disappearance, Hsiao-yen's body was found, naked, bound and mutilated, at the bottom of a water-filled drainage ditch on the outskirts of Taipei.

Almost immediately, the search for scapegoats began. The charismatic Mr Lien blamed first the media - at least one planned drop-off of ransom money was spoiled when camera crews turned up at the appointed spot - and then local officials. But over the next few weeks, the Taiwanese made it clear whom they blamed for their island's crime problem.

The Saturday after Hsiao-yen's body was found, 50,000 marched to the presidential office in Taipei calling for President Lee Teng-hui to dismiss his cabinet. Lasers projected anti-government slogans on to the buildings around the square. "I watched it and it was clear that these people were not the average political agitators," says Ma Ying-jeou, then a cabinet minister. "They were housewives, civil servants, professors, the middle class. I thought about it for three days, then I decided to resign."

Two other ministers then resigned as well, and President Lee made an apology, but the public were not assuaged. Two months on, the killing seems to have been the final straw.

A few months earlier, a well-known regional commissioner was gunned down in his office with seven associates. A week later, the naked body of a popular women's rights activist was found in southern Taiwan. She had been raped and stabbed 35 times. Hsiao-yen's death was just the most shocking manifestation of an epidemic of violent crime.

Between 1990 and 1996 the crime rate rose by 80 per cent. Three million Taiwanese - one in seven - were assaulted or robbed in the second half of 1996.

Much of this crime is organised. Police figures reveal that Taiwan has 10,582 gangsters belonging to 1,236 gangs.

Even more disturbing is the degree to which crime is a part of the political system. Taiwan's Minister of Justice, Liao Cheng-hao, estimated last year that between 5 and 10 per cent of members of parliament have gang affiliations; at local level he reckoned the figure was about one- third of councillors.

The government has promised to clear up the problem and passed a Bill this year barring those convicted of gang crimes from running for office. The credibility of this initiative has been undermined, however, by a simple fact: it depends for its majority on a number of MPs who openly acknowledge their links to gangs.

News
news

Emergency call 'started off dumb, but got pretty serious'

News
people

Britain First criticised for using actress's memory to draw attention to their 'hate-filled home page'

Arts and Entertainment
JK Rowling is releasing a new Harry Potter story about Dolores Umbridge
booksJK Rowling to publish new story set in wizard's world for Halloween
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites those Star Wars rumours
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Russell Brand was in typically combative form during his promotional interview with Newsnight's Evan Davis
people

Thought you'd seen it all after the Jeremy Paxman interview?

Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch
tv

Greatest mystery about the hit BBC1 show is how it continues to be made at all, writes Grace Dent

News
i100
Life and Style
tech

Voices
Funds raised from the sale of poppies help the members of the armed forces with financial difficulties
voicesLindsey German: The best way of protecting soldiers is to stop sending them into conflicts
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'
film

"History is violent," says the US Army tank commander Don "Wardaddy" Collier

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

General Cover Teacher

£120 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Luton: The Job:SECONDARY teachers need...

Behaviour Support Work

£60 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Behaviour Support WorkerThe JobTo...

English Teacher, Aylesford School

Competitive Salary: Randstad Education Group: Randstad Education is working in...

EBD LSA required - Vale of Glamorgan

£60 - £65 per day + plus free travel scheme: Randstad Education Cardiff: The J...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker