Lovable old codgers attempt to re-take Chinese mainland

BEIJING After a series of hilarious mishaps and adventures, a group of retired soldiers from Taiwan attempted to retake mainland China on Wednesday. Although all five of the men are over 70 years old, they come from all branches of the military. Zhang Jing-you, the leader of the motley group, is a former army colonel, while the others come from navy, marine and air force backgrounds.

“It beats sitting around the old folks home watching TV,” former air force Hua Feng-guo, 78, told reporters on the road to Beijing. “We got together a while back and decided that if we didn’t do it, nobody would. Plus, I was getting tired of all of those furniture commercials.”

The group’s madcap journey from an retirement home in Sanchong to the Imperial City has included calling in old favors from old friends, the setting up of a mock training center in the basement, and a good deal of hacking on the part of one of the group’s member’s grandson.

“Granddad asked me if I thought I could wreak havoc on the mainland Internet system, and I was all, like, cool, but I do that anyway,” Li Ming-zhi, 17, said. He is the grandson of Li Tan-zhang, a former Navy Commander and a protégé of Zhang’s.

The younger Li managed to help the group infiltrate the highest reaches of the mainland military structure, which was already distracted by China’s latest efforts to launch a man into space.

Reactions in the U.S. were muted. “We wish these gentlemen all the best in their efforts. Aww, they’re so cute,” U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said at a press conference at the White House as she watched a video of the group tumbling around on a makeshift training course. “In any case, they don’t seem to be violating the ‘One China’ policy, so we don’t actually have a problem with it.”

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This article first appeared in Taiwan magazine in September 2006