Today we woke to the grisly news that an American Tourist had been stabbed to death on the streets of Beijing. He was there for the Olympics, strolling down the street with friends. Had it happened elsewhere in the world the news would surely not have traveled so fast.
Another day, another time: Peking in the late 1960’s. Our friend Bill Holden had been waiting anxiously to obtain a visa to see China for years. At this early stage only his fame and his impeccable reputation for honest reporting had persuaded the Chinese authorities to grant a visit. He and his traveling companion were to be accompanied by one of their official guides throughout his visit. Furthermore the route that wanted to take was denied. He was ordered to visit only certain sites as seen fit by the then government there.
Still, Bill thought it would be a start, to break the ice. Surely, he thought, once there he could charm his way into their hearts and he would at least get a glimpse at the real China. But it was not to be.
The guide was cautious to answer questions and the virtual curtain imposed could not be parted to reveal what he knew must lie beyond. On his last day in Peking, one last walk, one last attempt at breaking the barrier, suddenly a man appeared in front of them and with lightening speed stabbed Bill in the chest. The guide jumped to shield Bill’s companion. As Bill felt the sudden blood warm his chest coloring his shirt crimson the would be assassin was caught by guards appearing from nowhere and led away swiftly. All of it happed so fast that Bill’s companion was hardly aware what had happened.
There was no panic. Bill noticed the few Chinese on the street rapidly disappearing as if a silent command had directed them to do so. Then he himself was whisked away to hospital.
The diagnosis confirmed what he already felt: No vital organ had been hit. What he did not know was the extend of his luck as the blade had missed its target by millimeters.
Police and officialdom arrived to question and brief the traveler about this unfortunate incident. The Chinese did not give away what bothered them most, the life almost lost or public embarrassment and its consequences. Bill refused to press charges. He was not given any idea who the culprit was or what may have motivated him. In fact nothing more was ever heard of the man.
As for Bill, wound bandaged he returned to Hong Kong the next morning as scheduled.
As the purposely inflicted injury healed Bill never saw himself as a victim nor did he bear any kind of grudge. The one thing that bothered him for the rest of his life was that he was never able to find out what the possible motivation could have been behind deviltry.
When news leaked out he was questioned by the U.S. State department for details.
He begged them not to make a mountain of what he considered a molehill as he felt any charge would stand in the way of a freer China that he believed was surely to come.
Soon after Bill joined us in Kenya where we were busy planning the future of the newly established Mount Kenya Game Ranch. Making his way through the Far East he rescued two Gibbons that had been confiscated from poachers. He felt they reminded him of the most beautiful poetic pair in the world and promptly named them “Margo and Rudi” after the world famous ballet dancers Margot Fontaine and Rudolf Nuriyev.
Margo and Rudi lived with Bill for a while and then he turned them over to my care and they were amongst the first inhabitants at the Orphanage. But that’s another story.
(Our sincere condolences go out to the family of the recent stabbing victim in Beijing)