Organized Panel Session
This paper narrates the history of Cheng Liren, the leader of the 12 Chinese POWs who chose neutral nations. Beginning with his education at the Nationalist Central Police Academy during the Chinese Civil War and his first job as a police officer in his home province Guizhou in the final days of the Nationalist regime, the paper examines key turning points in Cheng’s life: his voluntary but desperate enlistment in the People’s Liberation Army, desertion and surrender during the Chinese Fifth Offensive in Korea in May 1951, rise as a major anti-Communist POW leader on Koje Island, downfall on Cheju Island, and escape from fellow anti-Communists in Panmunjom during the post-armistice “Explanation” period. This paper goes on to recount Cheng’s two years in India and subsequent success in Argentina as a prominent jewelry dealer. Cheng’s experiences of escaping from the Communists and then from the anti-Communists underscore the tumultuous complexity of the early People’s Republic in Southwest China and the UN prison camps, where the Chinese civil war continued along ideological as well as personal fault lines.
Sources include oral history interviews with Cheng in Buenos Aires and with surviving fellow prisoners in China and Taiwan, Cheng’s interrogation records from the US National Archives, and Indian and Argentine archival documents and news reports.