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March 28, 2017

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Thousands greet Lien on visit to Chinese hometown

A cheering crowd of more than 10,000 people greeted Taiwan's opposition leader on Saturday as he visited his former elementary school on his first trip to his Chinese hometown in six decades.

Kuomintang (KMT) Chairman Lien Chan flew to Xi'an after meeting Friday with Chinese President Hu Jintao in the highest-level encounter between the two sides since they split in 1949. They promised to jointly promote peace and economic ties — a pledge that Premier Frank Hsieh yesterday suggested might be illegal.

In Xi'an, spectators waved the KMT flag and that of China's ruling communists as Lien arrived at the Houzaimen Elementary School. Lien, 68, beamed during a welcome ceremony in the courtyard as students chanted, "Grandpa, you're back!"

"It's a pity that a stalemate across the Taiwan Strait has been so serious for 56 years," Lien told the audience of students and teachers in comments broadcast live on television across China and Taiwan.

"We're all descendants of the Yellow Emperor," he said, referring to China's legendary first ruler. "Why shouldn't we all work together for a brighter future?"

People in the crowd outside the school said they waited up to five hours to see Lien.

On a cold winter day in 1936, KMT generals weary of civil war abducted their own commander, Chiang Kai-shek, to force him to unite with their communist rivals to fight Japanese invaders.

In pajamas, barefoot and shivering, Chiang fled over the wall of his compound in Xi'an before being captured. The communists helped to negotiate Chiang's release two weeks later, resulting in a short-lived alliance between the warring sides.

Today, Xi'an has a new role in efforts to unite the Nationalists and their former communist enemies.

KMT Chairman Lien Chan flew to this dusty town in western China after meeting Chinese President Hu. For Lien, the eight-day mainland tour is both political and personal.

By coincidence, he was born in Xi'an, also in 1936.

The dramatic abduction of Chiang on Dec. 12, 1936, is the subject of countless books, movies and TV miniseries. Last year, the government unveiled a 60-meter-long (200-foot-long) bas-relief sculpture commemorating the event.

The "Xi'an Incident" is trumpeted by Beijing as an example of Chinese unity before a final split in 1949, when the communists took control of the mainland.

Xi'an is now a top tourist destination, home of the famed terracotta warriors commissioned by the first emperor of China more than 2,000 years ago to guard him in the afterlife. Its old city walls have survived the ages, as have historic temples and mosques.

Today, though, Lien is the main attraction, arriving with hundreds of journalists in tow as the first KMT leader to visit China since 1949.

His meeting with Hu on Friday was the first between leaders of their two parties since Chiang held talks with Mao Zedong, then a communist guerrilla commander, in 1945 in an attempt to create a government of national unity following the Japanese defeat.

Those negotiations failed, just as the alliance of 1936 had crumbled before it.

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