Monday, January 21, 2008

Lucky Lin

From the Life Imitating Art Imitating Life Department, some back- ground on Justin Lin, the new chief economist for the International Monetary Fund:

While a captain in Taiwan's army (which paid for his MBA), Justin Lin was publicized as a model officer. Unlike most of his fellow soldiers, he chose to enlist. On May 17, 1979, Lin defected to the People's Republic of China by swimming from Jinmen island (Quemoy) to Xiamen island. Taiwan did not acknowledge his defection, but listed him as "missing," perhaps because the Peoples Republic of China failed to broadcast any news of his arrival. This was quite unusual, because the PRC rarely failed to make all kinds of noise and hoopla about any defector, especially one of such high rank and as well-known in the military.

Instead of using Lin as a pawn in a game of international PR, the PRC sent the wayward captain to China's most prestigious institution of higher learning, Beijing University, to earn a degree in Marxist economics. After he graduated in 1982, Lin was one of the first Chinese citizens allowed to leave the country to study at the Graduate School of Economics at the University of Chicago.

Six months after Lin swam across the strait, his wife gave birth to his second child. According to the press reports, Lin was so busy with school he never got around to letting his wife know he was still alive or where he was living. When a friend happened to mention seeing him in Chicago seven years later, Lin's wife decided to drop in for a reunion. They have lived happily thereafter.

All this has little, if anything, to do with his new position, but it is a fascinating story. I'd wish him luck, but Lin seems have more than enough of that for a few lifetimes. Someone with a better imagination than I could twist this into a real spy thriller, if he wanted to.

(Via Marginal Revolution)


R. said...

i want to know how he got into chicago with an ma in marxist political economy?

Randy (Internet Ronin) said...

Sponsored by the government of the PRC, I imagine. A hint here, a hint there, an outright request, an inquiry from the Chinese embassy, a "scholar exchange" program perhaps (but it sure doesn't sound like the last).

No quesiton that Justin Lin had found some extremely powerful friends in important positions to go along with his undoubted abilities. His position today makes that clear. In the early 1980's it was still difficult to get a student exit visa from China (much less a student entry visa from the US). (Getting into Beijing University in the first place was almost as hard as getting a seat in UofC's grad school. Its the Harvard of China with 10 times the applicants who themselves have almost 10 times the political pull.)

BTW, I understand he already received an MBA in Taiwan (paid for by the army, similar to our ROTC). No mention is made of which school he attended, but I'll lay odds it was National Taiwan University (Taiwan's "Harvard" equivalent and more difficult to get into as well).

Randy (Internet Ronin) said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Randy (Internet Ronin) said...

I lose my bet, the Wall Street Journal reports that Lin received his MBA from National Chengchi University in 1978. Not quite the prestige of Taiwan University (they admitted me that same year, after all). "Chengchi" is the Chinese word for "Political" in this context. How appropriate! *LOL*

Randy (Internet Ronin) said...

Thanks for looking in, R! I liked your article on outsourcing in "This is not a Newspaper," too. *LOL*

Back to the subject at hand, another thing I'm curious about is whether Lin's parents were native Taiwanese or mainlanders. And if mainlanders, which province. What did his father do for a living? That would be interesting. YiLan, where he was born was a beautiful, but somewhat remote, place at that time.