Chen Wen-chen

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Chen Wen-chen
Professor Chen Wen-Chen.gif
Native name
Born(1950-01-30)30 January 1950[1]
Taipei, Taiwan
Died2 July 1981(1981-07-02) (aged 31)
Taipei, Taiwan
Body discovered3 July 1981
Resting placeZhonghe, New Taipei , Taiwan[2]
OccupationAssistant Professor (mathematics)
EmployerCarnegie Mellon University
Spouse(s)Chen Su-jen (陳素貞)
  (1976–1981, his death)
Relativessister Chen Pao-yue (陳寶月)[3]
Chen Wen-chen
Traditional Chinese陳文成
Simplified Chinese陈文成

Chen Wen-chen (Chinese: 陳文成; pinyin: Chén Wénchéng, sometimes romanized as Chen Wen-cheng) was an assistant professor of mathematics (specializing in probability and statistics) at Carnegie Mellon University who died on 3 July 1981(1981-07-03) (aged 31) under mysterious circumstances. After the conclusion of his third year of teaching, he returned to his native Taiwan for a vacation. He was instructed not to leave Taiwan on his scheduled departure date. Members of Taiwan's secret police, the Garrison Command, detained and interrogated him for twelve hours on 2 July 1981,[4] and his body was found on the campus of National Taiwan University the next day. The subsequent autopsy reported his death was due to a fall.[4] Chen's death and the earlier massacre of Lin Yi-hsiung's family are cited as late examples of White Terror dissident suppression activities in Taiwan,[4] although the case remains unsolved[5] and the Garrison Command maintains it had nothing to do with his death.

Personal life[edit]

Chen was one of eight children[1][6] and was outspoken and straightforward, according to his brother.[7] He was known to have criticized the Kuomintang (KMT)-led government in private conversations[8] and advocated for Taiwan independence,[9] raising funds to help those imprisoned in the wake of the Kaohsiung Incident.[10]

Academic career[edit]

Chen graduated with a B.S. in mathematics from National Taiwan University (NTU) in 1972 and served in the military, fulfilling his compulsory service. He left Taiwan for the United States in 1975, earning M.S. (1976) and Ph.D. (1978) degrees in statistics from the University of Michigan, with Professor Bruce Hill stating that he was "outstanding ... the best [student] that I'd seen in statistics in 21 years."[8] Upon graduating from Michigan, he joined the faculty in the Department of Statistics of Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) in the fall of 1978. He published several papers in the area of statistics and probability.[11][12][13][14][15]

Detainment and death[edit]

After his mother visited him in 1981 and assuaged his concerns about safely traveling to Taiwan,[6] Chen returned to Taiwan for the first time since he had left in 1975, arriving on 20 May 1981 with his wife and son.[16] He applied for the exit permit required to return to the US upon arrival, but it had not been granted by the time he was scheduled to depart on 1 July 1981. Typically, exit permits are granted within 48 hours.[17]

Instead, Chen was questioned by Garrison Command for two hours about his United States activities on 30 June 1981,[17] with one question about a personal visit revealing that he had been spied upon.[18] After the first interview, Chen was told he should receive the exit permit the next day.[17] Chen's wife, Chen Su-jen (陳素貞; Chén Sùzhēn), received a phone call late in the afternoon of 1 July 1981 asking that Chen remain at home early the next morning to await another phone call from the Entrance and Exit Bureau. On the morning of 2 July 1981, officials from Garrison Command showed up at their door and Chen was taken for interrogation, which lasted more than 12 hours.[4] Garrison Command state he was released to return to his brother's apartment, but his body was discovered on the campus of NTU the next morning. A family friend, Teng Wei-hsiang, has claimed that Chen visited him on the evening of 2 July 1981 after the second interview, where Chen reportedly said he was afraid of being imprisoned,[19] but Teng was unable to remember critical details later.[17] Reportedly, there was some money tucked into his shoe,[20] which is said to be a trick to keep murdered souls moving to the underworld.


In the initial days following the discovery of Chen's body, Taiwan Garrison Commander-in-chief General Wang Ching-hsu speculated that Chen committed suicide, fearing arrest for his unpatriotic crimes,[21] and claimed the interview was "cordial and friendly."[7] Garrison Command spokesman General Hsu Mei-ling echoed the accusations of suicide, adding that they did not believe his activities did not reach a criminal level.[22] Chen's family stated that it would have been impossible for Chen to commit suicide,[7] as it was uncharacteristic of his nature. Chen Su-jen was immediately suspicious of several wounds which seemed atypical of a fall.[17][23] Carnegie Mellon's president, Richard Cyert further stated that he had plenty of reasons to live, with a one-year-old son and a promising academic career.[24] In late July, the Taipei district prosecutor's office allowed the possibility the death may have been an accident instead of suicide,[16][25] opening the possibility of further investigation if new information or evidence became available.[26] The Control Yuan later backed further away from suicide allegations, stating "the death was most likely accidental" in August 1981.[27][28]

Garrison Command officials contend Chen confessed to seditious acts during his return to Taiwan, soliciting funds to support the anti-government Formosa Magazine[25] and attempting to establish democratic reforms.[29] They confronted him with photocopies of letters he had written to Shih Ming-teh while Shih was imprisoned.[28]

CMU President Cyert wrote a letter to Chiang Ching-kuo, who then promised a complete investigation into Chen's death.[16][30] Cyert later pressed for State Department[9] and congressional investigations[31] once it became clear the KMT-led government had no intention of uncovering the true culprits.[8][32][33] Chen Su-jen would later testify at a congressional hearing in October 1981.[34]


Preliminary autopsy results stated Chen had suffered thirteen broken ribs, a broken pubis and three fractured vertebrae.[7] Cyril Wecht, a former coroner, stated the autopsy report was incomplete and offered to perform another autopsy.[35] Wecht traveled to Taipei with Morris H. DeGroot, chair of the CMU statistics department in September 1981 to launch their own investigation.[36][37] Wecht concluded, following a visual examination,[38] that Chen was murdered,[29][39] but no action was taken by the Taiwan government.[40]

Tina Chou (周清月; Zhōu Qīngyuè), an American reporter with the Associated Press, had her press credentials revoked by Taiwan's Government Information Office after reporting the results of Wecht's investigation.[38][41][42] To protest the government's insufficient investigation, Chen's family refused to inter his body,[43] and the funeral was not held until 7 January 1982.[2][44]

"Professional students"[edit]

While he was a student at Michigan, Chen approached the school newspaper, The Michigan Daily, with a list of alleged secret agents of the Kuomintang government working at Michigan.[8] Although the Daily did not run a story at the time, the issue of "professional students" with KMT sponsorship became more visible following Chen's death;[45] a "professional student" is understood to be one who reports on pro-independence students and faculty to the Taiwan government in addition to their studies.

US Representative Jim Leach (R-IA) accused Taiwanese students of reporting Chen's activities to KMT authorities in July 1981,[46][47] and Representative Stephen Solarz (D-NY) held a subcommittee hearing in July 1981 where similar accusations were made.[27] Leach asked the U.S. Attorney General to take positive steps to combat spying, including determining whether or not the use of "professional students" violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act.[48] One year after Chen's death, student spying activity on the CMU campus was judged to have ceased.[28]

James Soong, then the head of the Taiwan Government Information Office, flatly denied student spying allegations.[27] Ma Ying-jeou has been accused numerous times of being a "professional student," later filing suit over allegations made that he was a "professional student" at a memorial rally for Chen.[49]



CMU[50] and NTU have both held memorial services on the anniversary of Chen's death.[51] Students at NTU successfully lobbied to rename the campus square where Chen's body was found as a memorial space,[52] and a design contest was held to increase student and public awareness of Chen's death.[53] Chen's father tried to set up a scholarship in Chen's name, but was denied permission by the government.[54]


Chen's family filed suit against five officials of the Taiwan Garrison General Headquarters (TGGH, 警備總部) in 2001, seeking the truth behind the events leading up to his death.[55] They had hoped that when Chen Shui-bian was elected, the investigation would be reopened, but were disappointed.[56]

Formosa Betrayed[edit]

The events surrounding Chen's death as well as the murder of Henry Liu inspired the film Formosa Betrayed.[57]

Later investigation[edit]

In 2006, the Taipei prosecutor's office stated that missing evidence and personnel were hampering any further investigations.[56] However, the original interrogation transcript was recovered in 2009,[4] giving fresh hope to investigators. Four weeks later, the prosecutor's office closed its investigation, stating there was insufficient evidence to charge five Garrison Command officials: Wang Ching-hsu (汪敬煦), Kuo Hsueh-chou (郭學周), Tsuo Hsiao-han (鄒小韓), Wang Wen-bin (王文繽) and Wang Yi-hua (王憶華).[58] The investigations were criticized for not taking a fresh look at the existing evidence, questioning the motivation behind reopening the case.[59]



  1. ^ a b "About CWCMF". Professor Chen Wen-Chen's Memorial Foundation. 24 October 2009. Archived from the original on 2013-09-26. Retrieved 23 January 2015. Cite uses deprecated parameter |dead-url= (help)
  2. ^ a b "Taiwan services held for Chen". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. AP. 8 January 1982. Retrieved 24 January 2015.
  3. ^ Chao, Vincent Y. (7 May 2010). "Former president Chen's mother launches appeal". Taipei Times. Retrieved 23 January 2015.
  4. ^ a b c d e Hsu, Jenny W. (2 July 2009). "Report sheds light on 1981 mystery". Taipei Times. Retrieved 23 January 2015.
  5. ^ Wang, Chris (2 July 2013). "Chen Wen-chen to be remembered". Taipei Times. Retrieved 23 January 2015.
  6. ^ a b Miller, Ken (13 June 1984). "Father searches for reasons for son's death". Beaver County Times. Retrieved 23 January 2015.
  7. ^ a b c d "No suicide, claims professor's brother". Beaver County Times. AP. 10 July 1981. Retrieved 23 January 2015.
  8. ^ a b c d Adam, John (9 July 1981). "Taiwanese here fear murder". The Michigan Daily. Retrieved 23 January 2015.
  9. ^ a b "Death probe is sought". Gettysburg Times. AP. 8 July 1981. Retrieved 24 January 2015.
  10. ^ Low, Stephanie (10 December 1999). "DPP calls for government action". Taipei Times. Retrieved 23 January 2015.
  11. ^ Chen, Wen-Chen (1980-01-01). "On the Weak Form of Zipf's Law". Journal of Applied Probability. 17 (3): 611–622. doi:10.2307/3212955. JSTOR 3212955.
  12. ^ Chen, Wen-chen; Starr, Norman (1980-06-01). "Optimal Stopping in an Urn". The Annals of Probability. 8 (3): 451–464. doi:10.1214/aop/1176994720. ISSN 0091-1798.
  13. ^ Chen, Wen Chen (1981-12-01). "Some local limit theorems in the symmetric Dirichlet-Multinomial urn models". Annals of the Institute of Statistical Mathematics. 33 (1): 405–415. doi:10.1007/BF02480951. ISSN 0020-3157.
  14. ^ Chen, Wen-Chen (1981-01-01). "Limit Theorems for General Size Distributions". Journal of Applied Probability. 18 (1): 139–147. doi:10.2307/3213174. JSTOR 3213174.
  15. ^ Chen, W.C.; Hill, B.M.; Greenhouse, J.B.; Fayos, J.V. (1984-11-30). "Bayesian Analysis of Survival Curves for Cancer Patients Following Treatment," Bayesian Statistics, 2, 299-328". 2. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  16. ^ a b c "Death of Taiwan professor causes uproar on a Pittsburgh campus". The New York Times. 21 July 1981. Retrieved 23 January 2015.
  17. ^ a b c d e Chen, Su-jen (11 September 1981). "Statement of Chen Su-jen" (PDF). Taiwan Communiqué. 1 (5). Retrieved 24 January 2015.
  18. ^ "Widow Says Carnegie-Mellon Professor Murdered in Taiwan". Observer-Reporter. Washington, PA. 12 September 1981. Retrieved 23 January 2015.
  19. ^ Adam, John (7 November 1981). "Ex-roommate recounts Chen's last night". The Michigan Daily. Retrieved 29 January 2015.
  20. ^ Wright, David Curtis (2011). "11: A Prosperous and Confused Island: Taiwan since 1945". The History of China (Second ed.). Santa Barbara: Greenwood. pp. 259–260. ISBN 978-0-313-37748-8. Retrieved 23 January 2015.
  21. ^ "Taiwan death probed". The Milwaukee Journal. AP. 9 July 1981. Retrieved 23 January 2015.
  22. ^ "Suicide? Death follows interrogation". Spokane Daily Chronicle. UPI. 7 July 1981. Retrieved 24 January 2015.
  23. ^ Parks, Michael (8 October 1981). "Chen's Death Haunts Taiwan Politics". Pittsburgh Press. Los Angeles Times Service. Retrieved 29 January 2015.
  24. ^ Cyert, Richard M. (27 August 1981). "OPINION: Death Chills a Campus". The New York Times. Retrieved 23 January 2015.
  25. ^ a b Rosensweet, Alvin (21 July 1981). "Taiwan: Prof wasn't murdered". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved 29 January 2015.
  26. ^ "Prosecutor says Chen not slain". The Nashua Telegraph. AP. 20 July 1981. Retrieved 24 January 2015.
  27. ^ a b c Kamm, Henry (9 August 1981). "Taipei Irritated by Protests in U.S." The New York Times. Retrieved 23 January 2015.
  28. ^ a b c "Death of Pitt Professor In Taiwan Remains Mystery". Observer-Reporter. Washington, PA. AP. 3 July 1982. Retrieved 23 January 2015.
  29. ^ a b Adam, John (25 October 1981). "Former U student Chen was murdered, report says". The Michigan Daily. Retrieved 23 January 2015.
  30. ^ "Inquiry into death doubtful". Beaver County Times. UPI. 16 July 1981. Retrieved 24 January 2015.
  31. ^ Hotz, Lee (24 July 1981). "CMU Chief To Testify At Taiwan Hearing". Pittsburgh Press. Retrieved 29 January 2015.
  32. ^ Adam, John (14 July 1981). "Taiwan affair progresses". The Michigan Daily. Retrieved 23 January 2015.
  33. ^ Hatch, Richard (25 July 1981). "Death in Taipei". The New York Times. Retrieved 23 January 2015.
  34. ^ Adam, John (6 October 1981). "Congress examines Taiwanese spy issue". The Michigan Daily. Retrieved 23 January 2015.
  35. ^ "Wecht says professor's autopsy is incomplete". Beaver County Times. 4 August 1981. Retrieved 23 January 2015.
  36. ^ Jabine, Thomas B.; Samuelson, Douglas A. (2008). "9—Human Rights of Statisticians and Statistics of Human Rights: Early History of the American Statistical Association's Committee on Scientific Freedom and Human Rights". In Asher, Jana; Banks, David; Scheuren, Fritz J. (eds.). Statistical Methods for Human Rights. New York: Springer. p. 186. ISBN 978-0-387-72836-0. Retrieved 23 January 2015.
  37. ^ Smith, Martin (19 September 1981). "Taiwanese Snub Clouds Wecht Trip". Pittsburgh Press. Retrieved 24 January 2015.
  38. ^ a b "Wecht Examined Body". Observer-Reporter. Washington, PA. AP. 24 September 1981. Retrieved 24 January 2015.
  39. ^ Wecht, Cyril H. (June 1985). "Murder in Taiwan". The American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology. 6 (2): 97–104. doi:10.1097/00000433-198506000-00001. Retrieved 23 January 2015.
  40. ^ Smykla, Margaret L. (2013). "Carnegie Mellon University Statistics Department". In Agresti, Alan; Meng, Xiao-Li (eds.). Strength in Numbers: The Rising of Academic Statistics Departments in the U.S. New York: Springer. pp. 13–14. doi:10.1007/978-1-4614-3649-2. ISBN 978-1-4614-3648-5. Retrieved 23 January 2015.
  41. ^ Wen, Stephanie (9 December 2003). "Reporter's absence from conference queried". Taipei Times. Retrieved 23 January 2015.
  42. ^ Wu, Debby (15 December 2003). "Persecuted journalist tells of conflict". Taipei Times. Retrieved 24 January 2015.
  43. ^ "Funeral off; probe asked". The Evening News. Newburgh, NY. 17 September 1981. Retrieved 24 January 2015.
  44. ^ Rosensweet, Alvin (5 January 1982). "Chen's funeral set in Taipei; wife accepts post". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved 24 January 2015.
  45. ^ Grabowski, Gene (1 August 1981). "Claims tie spies to death". Gettysburg Times. Retrieved 24 January 2015.
  46. ^ "Spies may have watched Taiwanese prof. in U.S." The Gettysburg Times. AP. 14 July 1981. Retrieved 23 January 2015.
  47. ^ Rosensweet, Alvin (14 July 1981). "Spying issue rises in death of prof". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved 24 January 2015.
  48. ^ Rosensweet, Alvin (11 August 1981). "U.S. urged to aid harassed aliens". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved 24 January 2015.
  49. ^ Mo, Yan-chih (4 July 2007). "Ma office files suit over `professional student' allegation". Taipei Times. Retrieved 23 January 2015.
  50. ^ Schackner, Bill (9 November 2001). "Suspicion still surrounds death of CMU professor Chen Wen-Chen in 1981". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved 23 January 2015.
  51. ^ Wu, Po-hsuang (22 March 2015). "White Terror victim to be honored in NTU Memorial". Taipei Times. Retrieved 14 March 2016.
  52. ^ Lin, Rachel; Chung, Jake (26 October 2014). "NTU clears way for naming plaza after late activist". Taipei Times. Retrieved 23 January 2015.
  53. ^ Lee Ichia (11 April 2016). "University to hold design contest for public square". Taipei Times. Retrieved 14 June 2016.
  54. ^ Rosensweet, Alvin (13 June 1984). "Father of student slain in Taiwan pledges to continue investigation". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved 24 January 2015.
  55. ^ Tsai, Ting-I (8 July 2001). "Family sues over `white terror' death". Taipei Times. Retrieved 23 January 2015.
  56. ^ a b Chang, Rich (3 July 2006). "More White Terror probes urged". Taipei Times. Retrieved 23 January 2015.
  57. ^ "'Formosa Betrayed' set for Taiwan release in August". Taipei Times. 2 May 2010. Retrieved 23 January 2015.
  58. ^ "Taiwan News Quick Take: Murder probe concludes". Taipei Times. 29 July 2009. p. 3. Retrieved 23 January 2015.
  59. ^ Loa, Iok-sin (17 January 2010). "Critics pan probe of 1980s murders". Taipei Times. p. 3. Retrieved 23 January 2015.

Bibliography/External Links[edit]

Selected papers[edit]

  • Chen, Wen-chen; Starr, Norman (1980). "Optimal Stopping in an Urn". The Annals of Probability. 8 (3): 451–464. doi:10.1214/aop/1176994720. Retrieved 23 January 2015.
  • Chen, Wen-chen (September 1980). "On the Weak Form of Zipf's Law". Journal of Applied Probability. 17 (3): 611–622. doi:10.2307/3212955. JSTOR 3212955.
  • Chen, Wen-chen (1981). "Some local limit theorems in the symmetric Dirichlet-Multinomial urn models". Annals of the Institute of Statistical Mathematics. 33 (1): 405–415. doi:10.1007/BF02480951.
  • Chen, Wen-chen (March 1981). "Limit Theorems for General Size Distributions". Journal of Applied Probability. 18 (1): 139–147. doi:10.2307/3213174. JSTOR 3213174.
  • Chen, Wen-chen; Fontana, R. (November 1981). "On total boundedness for existence of weakly minimax universal codes". IEEE Transactions on Information Theory. 27 (6): 781–784. doi:10.1109/TIT.1981.1056427.