According to an article two years ago in the New York Times — a finger bone from the body of the late Li Tien-lu, the great puppetmaster of Taiwan, was 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, was also buried in that rural French garden.
According to the Times reporter, Roger Cohen, a highly-respected and veteran columnist who has a home in France, a French woman who once studied puppetry with Li in Taiwan in 1975 apparently arranged for someone to apparently exhume his body and take abone from one of his fingers and airfreight it over to France so she could bury it in her garden. That’s what the Cohen reported on September 8, 2009.
This story might be true, and then again, it might be a bit of a fib a la Mark Twain.Who knows where truth lies? It was reported in the New York Times Weekly Edition supplement, an English-language supplement that appears worldwide in non-English newspapers worldwide.
The article did not appear in the regular edition of the New York Times, and has not been put online at all.
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 we know, they were both buried, or cremated, in Taiwan. Cohen’s story is one of those “East meets West” — (his words) — 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.
Prayers were said, wine was drunk, New Age beliefs were intoned. Wink wink, nudge nudge.
Cohen has said that he knows about the bones story because he was at the re-burial ceremony in France when it happened last summer. He has a home in the same town.
“We met under the plum tree,” Cohen wrote. “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.”
Notice that Cohen mixes up Taiwan with “China”. But Li and his son
lived in Taiwan. They did not live in China. Never did. Taiwan and China are two separate countries but Cohen is apparently unaware of this fact, despite being a world traveller himself.
When once asked by a curiious reporter 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”, Cohen replied by email: “I stand by my story.”
Here is a verbatim excerpt from Cohen’s 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 the New York Times Weekly Edition was asked about the veracity of the claims that Cohen made about Li’s finger bone fragment being shipped from Taiwan to France and re-buried there, it replied: “We’ve talked to Roger, and the standards editor here at the New York Times, and all we can say in this regard 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. But it’s hard to believe it’s true. Notice that the article did not appear in the regular New York Times and is not online anywhere in the known universe. That says it all. Cohen would never have published that article in the regular Times, since he knows the fact-checkers and editors would have vetted it.