Friday, September 11, 2009

Distant Echoes under the Plum Tree..... by New York Times reporter Roger Cohen, writing from Cherence, France




Was the New York Times fibbing here or telling the whole truth?

by Danny Bloom

Did you know that a part of the deceased body of Master Li Tien-lu, the great puppetmaster of Taiwan, is buried in France under a plum tree outside the home of Daniel Rousel and Claire Illouz, who are friends and neighbors of New York Times storyteller (and respected veteran reporter) Roger Cohen?

Yes, and not just a part of Master Li's body; apparently a bone from the finger from Master Li's late son is also buried in Claire's garden. Shipped from Taiwan to France. Usually, Buddhists don't go in for this kind of thing after death. Or do they? Seems to me the New York Times told a fib here. Read on:

You see, Claire, a French artist, once studied with Master Li in Taiwan and loved him like a father or grandfather or deeply respected teacher and when he died, she apparently arranged for the Taiwanese undertakers to exhume his body and take a bone from one of his fingers and airfreight it over to France so she could bury it in her garden and tell all of her friends this wonderful story. Roger Cohen fell for it, too, and even wrote up the story in the pages of the New York Times. Which, of course, never tells a lie. Fibs, maybe. Roger won't own up to this. I asked him. He basically told me to "get lost".

So, according to the New York Times, the finger bones of the two Li bodies are buried in Claire's backyard in France, unbeknownst to anyone in Taiwan, because of course maybe this never really happened, but the New York Times likes to tell fanciful stories sometimes, especially when there is no editor looking over the reporter's shoulder, as likely happened in this case. Roger Cohen is a very good man and a very good reporter. But in this case, he dropped the ball I believe.

Li pere and Li fils. As you know, the old man -- one of Taiwan's national treasures! -- died in 1998 and his finger bone was buried under Claire's tree, and when his son died in 2009, his finger bone was buried there, too. Ask Roger Cohen. Read his article in the New York Times. Ask Claire in France. She has an email address and she loves hearing from readers in Taiwan, since she loves Taiwan, too, even though she only spent a few months here in 1975 or so.

You can read all about this amazing trans-Atlantic/Pacific global village burial story in one of Roger's recent Times columns. September 8, 2009 was the publication date and it appeared in Taiwan in the United Daily News supplement for the New York Times weekly English edition.

Roger's story is pretty amazing stuff. It's one of the those "East meets West" pieces, where a finger bone fragment of the master puppeteer of China -- er, make that Taiwan, but Roger really thinks Taiwan is in China -- is buried beneath a plum tree in a remote village an hour away from Paris.

Roger knows, because he was at the burial ceremony. Drinking wine. Lots of wine, maybe. too much wine, perhaps? Claire knows, too. She studied in China, er, Taiwan, with Master Li long ago. He visited her home in Cherence, France many times over the years, about 50 times in all. Well, maybe twice. Claire and Roger like to make things up. Roger likes to tell stories. He's good at it. He's a pro.

"We met under the plum tree," Cohen the storyteller says at the end of his story. "Or rather India and China met, and France too. As the bells chimed from the 12th century steeple of technologoy. Marrying East and West, past and future, life and death, the global village lives."

When I asked Mr Cohen by email if he really thought that Master Li's bone fragments were really buried in France (contrary to Taiwan law and Buddhist tradition) and if he really thought that Taiwan was in China, he wrote back: "Sorry, Danny, you're wrong about the remains. As for the rest, people can reasonably disagree."

Cohen explained in his original Times story -- and it might be true, and it might be a nice story and not true at all! -- that Claire, a painter, has a small shrine to Master Li in her French backyard.

"Back in 1975, Claire studied puppetry in Taiwan with one of the great glove pupppeteers, Li Tein-lu. They became friends and, in later years, Li often visited. Such was his attachment to Cherence, France and such peace he found in this French village, that when Li died in 1998, he requested that part of his anatomy find its final resting place here. At a ceremony in 1999, a piece of bone -- believed to be a fragment of the great man's finger -- [Ed. Note: from Mater Li's left hand? right hand? index finger? ring finger? Timesman Cohen did not specify, and when I asked him he refused to say...] -- was buried under the plum tree in France....This year, Li's son died. Naturally, he wanted to be close to his father. So arrangements were made ...as father and son, or tather tiny fragments of each, were united beneath the plum tree."

UPDATE: When I asked the editor of the New York Times Weekly Edition, which appears in English in the United Daily News in Taiwan, and where Cohen's column first appeared on September 8, 2009, if the claims that Cohen made about Master Li's finger bone fragments really being shipped from Taiwan to France and buried there, Tom Brady replied from his office in New York: "I've talked to Roger Cohen and the Standards Editor here at the New York Times, and all I can say at this point is that we stand by the column."

NOTE: If you'd like to conduct your own research into this "story", Roger Cohen can be emailed at rocohen@nytimes.com. He will tell you that he believes Taiwan is in China and that he stands by his "story". Claire might write to you too, if you email her in France. I did, but she refused to reply. Maybe because this "story" is not true at all, just a nice story. And hey, nothing wrong with stories. I like stories. But for the New York Times to report this as a "news story" -- which means it should be based on facts and that the facts should be fact-checked by independent editors -- is something that I wanted to look in to. I did. I am sure now that Roger Cohen made this story up out of whole cloth, based on a nice wine-soaked afternoon with his friend Claire in France. He should admit the truth now. But he won't.

2 comments:

dan said...

1. You wrote about Master Li Tien-lu who was Taiwanese, born in
Taiwan, you said Claire studied with him in Taiwan, so far so
good.......BUT ROGER, in the last graf, -- and by the way, that piece
WAS WONDERFUL....i had tears in my eyes reading it......until.....then
you said "this is east meets west, India meets China, and France"

Roger, Taiwan IS NOT CHINA. !!! Excuse, get a map and read your
history sir. Is the USA part of the UK? No. Is Germany part of France?
No. Taiwan is NOT CHINA, never was part of CHINA, is not a province of
the PRC, study you maps, Roger, and don't ever call Taiwan as "China"
again........ see? Do you confuse Vietname with Thailand? Do you call
Japan as part of CHINA? if that ariticle was about a puppet master
from Tokyo, would you say INDIA MEETS CHINA.? no way....TAIWAN, ROGER,
IS NOT CHINA........you know that.

so why did you write that.... I think in your mind your exoticize the
East, and think it is all CHINA CHINA CHINA CHINA.......Roger, s'il
vous plait, Taiwan is NOT china,,,you should have written...."India
meets Taiwan...." then no problem. by wriitng CHina you come across as
a country bumpkin, in global village terms.......I am beging
serious..

Anonymous said...

Dear Editor of the NY Times,

According to a recent article in the New York Times -- which I think
very few people in Taiwan are aware of, and thus this letter -- a
finger bone from the body of the late Li Tien-lu, the great
puppetmaster of Taiwan, is allegedly buried in France under a plum
tree outside a private home north of Paris. In addition, a bone from a
finger of Li's son, who passed away this year, is also buried in that
rural French garden.

According to Roger Cohen, a highly-respected and veteran columnist for
the Times, a French woman who once studied puppetry with Li in Taiwan
in 1975 apparently arranged for soemone to exhume his body and take a
bone from one of his fingers and airfreight it over to France so she
could bury it in her garden.

This story might not be true at all, but it was reported as true in
the Times in September in an English-language supplement that appears
weekly in a Chinese-language newspaper in Taipei.

As some readers might know, Master Li -- one of Taiwan's national
treasures -- died in 1998 and his son died in 2009. As far as I know,
they were both buried, or cremated, in Taiwan. Cohen's story is one of
those "East meets West" exotic set pieces, where a finger bone
fragment of a master puppeteer from Taiwan somehow gets later buried
beneath a plum tree in a remote village an hour away from Paris.

Cohen says he knows about this story because he was at the re-burial
ceremony in France when it happened last summer.
"We met under the plum tree," Cohen, who has a home in the same
village, wrote. "Or rather India and China (sic) met, and France too.
As the bells chimed from the 12th century steeple of technologoy.
Marrying East and West, past and future, life and death, the global
village lives."

When I asked Cohen by email if he really believed that finger bone
fragments from Li and his son were really buried in France and if he
actually thought that Taiwan was in "China", he said yes to both
questions.

Cohen wrote in his column: "Back in 1975, Claire studied puppetry in
Taiwan with one of the great glove puppeteers, Li Tien-lu. They became
friends and, in later years, Li often visited [France]. Such was his
attachment to Cherence, France, and such peace he found in this French
village, that when Li died in 1998, he requested that part of his
anatomy find its final resting place here. At a ceremony in 1999, a
piece of bone -- believed to be a fragment of the great man's finger
-- was buried under the plum tree in France....[In 2009] Li's son
died. Naturally, he wanted to be close to his father. So arrangements
were made ...as father and son, or rather tiny fragments of each, were
united beneath the plum tree."

When I asked Tom Brady, the editor of the New York Times Weekly
Edition, if the veracity of the claims that Cohen made about Li's
finger bone fragment being shipped from Taiwan to France and re-buried
there, Brady replied: "I've talked to Roger Cohen, and the standards
editor here at the New York Times, and all I can say at this point is
that we stand by the column."

If Cohen's tale is true, it is indeed an interesting addition to the
history of the Li family in Taiwan.