The Assassination of Sean Lien

The other day, a Taiwanese friend asked me what I thought about the 2010 shooting that almost took the life of Sean Lien (連勝文). At the time, it was suggested the event was staged to promote the KMT in a major election that was taking place the next day. My friend asked me about my opinion after learning about my interest in conspiracy theory and research involvement with critical groups of investigators that are often labeled ‘skeptics’. Anyone interested in reading my previous research on conspiracy theory, who can not find it on the Net, is invited to write me and I’ll send you a .pdf copy. Anyway, when he asked  me this, I was not really aware of the details or that Lien was back in the news, but I told him I’d do some work on this and form an opinion. This is my opinion.

Keep in mind that I am not a doctor or medical expert of any kind. I have no special knowledge of guns or gunshot wounds. These are just my thoughts after reading through a lot of the material I felt was related to the assassination attempt.

My feeling is that Sean Lien was really shot and really suffered a gunshot wound. From what I have seen, nothing appears unusual or questionable. As you will see, I am completely unimpressed with him as a person. But I see no reason to believe anything about the shooting was staged.

Who is Sean Lien?

Sean Lien is a well-known name in Taiwan. He is the son of former Taiwan vice-president and chairman of Taiwan’s Nationalist Party of China (KMT) Lien Chan. Lien is currently the KMT’s nomination for next month’s elections for Mayor of Taipei City. Locally, this is seen as significant because every democratically elected president of Taiwan has also been an elected Mayor of Taipei City.

Lien is a controversial figure. Other Mayors of Taipei City have been enormously accomplished men. All of them had huge reputations long before they became mayor. Lien, on the other hand, has hardly been noticeable. Reading his Wiki makes it clear that his accomplishments are largely linked to the enormous amounts of money his family is rumored to have acquired. And even though he has served as Chairman of the KMT, his position in the party is likewise linked to his father’s importance. Lien is frequently criticized for his expensive lifestyle and lack of understanding of the struggles of more ordinary people. The talk about him and his lack of real achievement makes his recent bid for Mayor seem more like the grasp for attention of a rich boy who’s not getting what he thinks he deserves. I’ve never seen him in real life, so I can only refer to his published photographs. But even these make him seem more like the stereotypical chubby, spoiled Chinese boy than a possible leader for a troubled nation.

While Lien has served as chairman of the KMT, he has no real demonstration of a commitment to public service. He has briefly held several public service positions, but almost all of his experience and education appears aimed at the business world. Why the sudden interest in politics and public service? It has been suggested by some observers that his brush with death during the assassination attempt gave him a new sense of mission. He doesn’t speak openly about this, but for a wealthy 44-year-old businessman to suddenly develop an interest in being Mayor of Taipei City, and perhaps even the ROC President, some understanding is needed that has not been forthcoming.

While these are only my impressions of Lien, they are important in interpreting the events of the shooting. Some attempts to color the shooting as a staged promotion for the KMT rely on comments given by Lien. Not surprisingly, his own comments put him at the center of things. What a surprise that is! But my guess is that he has trouble imaging a world in which he is not at the center of everything, and his reflections and testimony about what happened are, for the most part, irrelevant.

What Happened?

On November 26, 2010, Sean Lien was shot in the face while he was campaigning for a KMT candidate, Chen Hung-yuan (陳鴻源). Chen was running for city council in Yung Ho (永和). Apparently, the bullet entered Lien”s cheek and exited through his temple striking and killing another man. Initial English-language accounts of the shooting can be found here and here  and here. The gunman  Lin Cheng-wei (林正偉) nicknamed “Ma Mien (馬面),” or “Horse Face”, was apprehended without incident. Lin claimed that Chen Hung-yuan (not Lien) was the real target but that he had mistaken Lien for Chen because they are physically quite similar. Apparently, this is true. But Sean Lien claims that while he was being attacked, the gunman Lin called out his name before he shot him. Lin claimed he had intended to kill Chen because of personal issues he had with his work as a politician, or something like that. It’s not entirely clear in the English-language reports what Lin really said his reason was. The gunman, for his part, has apologized to Lien and the bystander who was killed.  Lien’s family of famous Taiwanese politicians and well-known rich people have not surprisingly never accepted the official explanation in which they are mere spectators of a crime that really had nothing to do with them.

Lin was sentenced to life in prison.

What’s the Conspiracy Theory?

It’s not entirely clear to me what the conspiracy theory is supposed to be about Sean Lien’s shooting. A typical conspiracy theory these days involves the claim that nothing really happened and the media is being used to invent the story. Such claims have been made about 9/11, the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, and the Apollo Moon missions. This is usually followed by a lot of questions about what happened. No comprehensive alternative is offered or statements from people who were involved in the cover up. The idea appears to be that if there are a lot of questions that can still be raised about the media explanation, it must be a cover up of some sort.

In fact, the friend who prompted my investigation did express a similar opinion. Apparently, when Lien emerged from the hospital, he appeared relatively unmarked. My friend described him as having, “only a small band-aid on his cheek.” I believe this is the picture he was referring to. The shooting took place in front of thousands of people with journalists and cameras all over the place. This is a video of the actual shooting. I’ve been able to find some other pictures related to the shooting here and here. This set of photos is quite gruesome and readers are warned there’s a lot of blood. If you can read Chinese, the blog post is discussing some of the problems with the media and police explanation of the shooting. An interesting point from the video is that the man in the black jacket who subdued the shooter was identified as Liu Chen-nan (劉振南), who is allegedly a former boss of the Bamboo Union crime gang (竹聯幫). See this article where Lien thanks him for saving his life.

The major factual issues seem to be with unanswered questions surrounding the police and prosecutor investigations, and the continued number of questions that follow the case. Taiwan Society Secretary General Luo Chih-cheng (羅致政) criticized the poor investigation, while Eastern Taiwan Society President Hsu Wen-yi, said that the gun used in the shooting could not have been the gun identified by the police because such a gun would have been far more lethal. In an otherwise reasonable article, foreign journalist Jens Kastzner quotes a foreign dental surgeon, Dr. Carolin Wattenberg, that the public reports are completely consistent with her understanding of a gunshot wound to the cheek, but then finishes his article with a fear-mongering comment from Dr. Wattenburg implying something mysterious about Lien’s tongue and what happened to it during the shooting. Foreign blogger Michael Turton cites well-know foreign Internet personality Feiren about the suspicious role that crime gang leader Liu Chen-nan played in saving Lien. As Michael reasonably points out, if you’re going to stage a phoney shooting of a famous person, this isn’t what you would do. 

What I think about all this

As I’ve said above, I don’t see anything suspicious about the event. There were thousands of witnesses. Many of them were very close. There is TV footage of the incident, and apparently, many of the questionable people involved in the local politics of supporting Liu Chen-nan recognized Mr. Horse Face immediately. Sean Lien really looks like the man Horse Face said he was gunning for. It’s not like he shot Barrack Obama while claiming he was really gunning for Danny Divito.  But in addition to this, I have found that this kind of wound is surprisingly common and much less lethal than you’d except from sound of it.

I started working on this back on September 30. That day, I did a search on “shot in the cheek”, in quotation marks. I was surprised to find this got me more than 25 million hits. That’s right – twenty-five million. Being shot in the cheek is a surprisingly common kind of gunshot wound. Many of these hits were reporting on the same incident, but it was very easy to find accounts of people being shot in the cheek. One of the other amazing things about this is that it seems being shot in the cheek is just not as deadly as you’d imagine. My first impressions when thinking about this is that being shot in the cheek would tear your head off. Apparently, some people are really messed up, but a surprising number of victims shot in the cheek are not mortally injured and recover very quickly. Once again, I want to warn you, there are some pretty gruesome looking pictures here. If you look at all the links, you’re going to photos of small children who have been shot in the face. It’s horrible. But the point is that it’s not nearly as bad as you imagine.

This photo shows a 12-year-old girl who was shot in the cheek. The wound is 10 days old in this picture. The article states she was only hit by a bullet fragment, which might explain why the wound looks like it does.

In 2007, a 7-year-old girl was accidentally shot in the cheek during a New York gang shoot out. She was hit at close range by a bullet fired from a .45 caliber pistol. Despite that, this is a picture of her “a short time” later.

Last year, in New Jersey, an 8-year-old boy was shot in the cheek. I have no photos of him, but the article describes his injuries as “non-life threatening.”

In an accidental shooting, a 7-year-old shot an 8-year-old in the cheek. I presume this was at close range with a high quality weapon. The boy survived, once again with doctors describing the situation as “not in a life-threatening situation.”

Here’s another picture of a young child who got shot in the cheek.

I read many stories about people getting shot in the face. Some of them didn’t end as well as these ones did. But some of them were absolutely astounding in terms of what happened.

Back in 2012, a Florida woman was hit in the face by a stray bullet while she was driving home. She not only finished driving home, but only found out she had been shot the next day after she developed a severe pain in her jaw. Doctors removed a bullet that was still lodged in her jaw.

Perhaps the most telling, though, is the 3-year-old boy who was hit by a stray bullet from an assault rifle used in a nearby gang fight. The Chicago police described the weapon as a combat style assault rifle. I presume this means it’s something like an AK-47 or an AR-15. A 3-year-old getting hit in the head, even the cheek, with such a weapon? Why the force of the impact didn’t tear his head off, I can’t imagine. Initial pictures of him are pretty terrible. But within two weeks, he still looks bashed up, but he was talking, singing and eating. Take a look at this picture. The bandage only looks so big because his face and head are so little. If you watch the video at the bottom of the page, you’ll hear him speak. He sounds fine.

Was Sean Lien shot in the face? Really, I don’t know. But just because his head wasn’t torn off doesn’t mean he wasn’t really shot. As you can see, this appears to have happened almost a dozen times that I could find in a short net search. My conclusion from this is that being shot in the cheek is not necessarily lethal or even terrible. It can leave superficial wounds that heal quickly. The fear expressed above by Dr. Wattenburg of having your tongue shot does not seem to be a major problem. I’m not a doctor, but it does seem that a grown man shot in the cheek could be back in action very quickly.

So What about Sean Lien?

Sean Lien is still trying to become the Mayor of Taipei City. Personally, I can’t understand why anyone would vote for him. He has no record of achievement that anyone would care about. And that’s the least bad thing I can say about him. He is the lowest common denominator of the KMT. No one will vote for him because they see in him the leadership that Taipei and Taiwan needs, but only because they support the KMT and he is their candidate. But was he shot in the face? Sure. I see no reason at all to doubt that this happened. And while I am sure he was really shot, I’m not at all sure this is a better story for him than a conspiracy theory with the media and police to manufacture a shooting and create sympathy for the Party. After all, the story where he really was shot reads that while he was standing on a stage with major crime leaders who are known to the police, another well-known crime figure almost killed him by accident. And that’s the best that can be said about him.