China's forgotten Scottish Olympic hero

By Robert Lackman

Shanghai Star. 2004-08-05

China is eagerly anticipating the Olympic Games in 2008. The city where I live, Qingdao, is one of the two official sponsor cities and all the Olympic boating competitions will be held here.

The official website of the China Olympic Committee says Chinese athletes have won 82 Olympic gold medals since 1980. But one Tianjin-born Olympian and gold medal winner isn't listed. He is buried in the city of Weifang in Shandong Province. My daughter Monica and I have visited his grave at the No. 2 Middle School in Weifang, two hours from Qingdao by train.

His name is Eric Liddell. Many foreigners are familiar with the exploits of Eric Liddell, the first Scotsman ever to win a gold medal (in the 400-metres event in Paris in 1924). The 1981 Oscar-winning film "Chariots of Fire" shows his triumph in the race.

Liddell died of a brain tumour while a prisoner in a Japanese concentration camp in Weifang in 1945. His alma mater, the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, erected a monument to him at the location of the camp which is now the No. 2 Middle School.

Recently, I helped a friend, a Chinese journalist, interview an American lady named Dusty who was visiting Qingdao. Dusty was also a prisoner in the Weifang concentration camp when Eric Liddell died. Eric taught her basketball and math during their imprisonment. Dusty said that what impressed everyone about Eric was that he was a genuine person. You knew he lived what he said; you believed and loved and respected him for who he was. There was no pretence in him.

Tapestries created by a Chinese artist who gave them to Eric are hanging in England today. A Japanese soldier had attacked the Chinese artist and tried to behead him. The artist survived the attack and at great risk to his own safety, Eric rescued him and took him to a hospital. In gratitude, the artist gave Eric the tapestries - he could tell that Eric's love was real.

On another occasion in the Weifang camp, Eric erected a bookshelf for a Russian prostitute. She later said he was the only person in her entire life who had done something nice for her without asking anything in return. In the end, people from all walks of life loved Eric for his genuine, unselfish love.

Contrast Eric Liddell with the faker Frank Abignail, portrayed in the film, "Catch Me If You Can". Abignail stole millions of dollars through forgery and by posing as people he was not. He pretended to be an airline pilot, a doctor and a lawyer. He seemed real... but he was a fake. He was a genius of fraud.

The obverse of unconditional love is conditional love - that is, love with strings attached. This brings me to the Anna Mae custody case (Shanghai Star, May 20-26, July 1-7 and July 22-28 and see Anna Mae's parents trusted the Bakers because they promised to share real love. But when the He family asked for Anna Mae to be returned home, the Bakers' "love" evaporated. It was conditional, based on the He family doing what the Bakers wanted.

Frank Abignail is now an honest man. He has spent 30 years teaching the police how to catch fakers. I can only hope and pray the Bakers' love will prove to be genuine unconditional love instead of the counterfeit conditional love I suspect it actually is.

Copyright by Shanghai Star.