Old soldier feasts on a gallant history

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The Independent Online
PEKING - It was just another tale of contemporary Chinese entrepreneurial flair, in a country where 45 years of Communism have created a financial ingenuity that is second to none in the world, writes Teresa Poole.

One morning Mr Wang, manager of the Qingdu Hotel in the central city of Xian, received a phone-call from an old classmate telling him that the elderly Marshal Zhang Yueliang needed accommodation. Mr Wang was eager to oblige; it would be good for the hotel's reputation and Mr Wang was keen to meet such a famous historical figure. It was Marshal Zhang who, as a renegade Kuomingtang (KMT) army commander, had in December 1936 kidnapped the Nationalist leader, Chiang Kai-shek, to try and force a KMT-Red Army alliance against the invading Japanese army.

Marshal Zhang, while renowned by the mainland as a great patriot despite his brutal KMT career, paid a heavy price: as soon as General Chiang was released, the renegade was court-martialled and kept under house arrest, first in China and then Taiwan, only finally being freed in the late Eighties. These days he leads a quiet life in Taiwan, but has expressed interest in revisiting China.

Mr Wang arranged the Presidential Suite for Marshal Zhang and his companions - a grandson and another Taiwanese man. On arrival, Mr Wang thought his esteemed uniformed guest looked a little younger than his 90-odd years, but a banquet was made ready. The hotel manager had heard that Marshal Zhang seldom ate meat. 'But this Mr Zhang seemed to have a very good appetite for the meat. And especially the other two people who accompanied him who gulped the food and did not have decent manners,' said Mr Wang. The old man told him that the visit to Xian - his first to China - was private and must be kept secret.

According to the Peking Youth Daily, Mr Wang grew suspicious but did not want to risk losing face by wrongly doubting the classmate who had first contacted him and who anyway had been acting on instructions from the state tourism bureau. After a sleepless night, Mr Wang phoned the classmate and they decided to contact the Public Security Bureau.

The security officials were also unsure; they would be the ones to end up in jail if they wrongly accused such an historical figure. Proof was needed before any moves could be made. Six policemen staked out the next-door suite. Trial was by calligraphy: as a famous person, Zhang was asked to inscribe a banner for the hotel - but wrote one Chinese character and the date wrong. The grandson was interrogated and three minutes later he confessed.

Jin Shutang and his two accomplices, all mainland Chinese, were arrested. They are in custody.

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