Unlike most of his political opponents, Chen came from very humble background. Chen was born to a tenant farming family in Kuantien Township of Tainan County[?] in late 1950 but was not formally issued a birth certificate until February 1951 because of doubts that he would survive.
He studied to become a lawyer and later became involved in politics when he defended the participants of the Kaohsiung Incident against a military court. He has stated that it was during this period that he realized the unfairness of the political system in Taiwan and became political active. Chen became a member of the dang wai movement.
His wife, Wu Shu-chen[?], was hit by a truck during a campaign rally in the early 1980s, and remains paralyzed from the waist down. Some in in Taiwan believed this was part of a government campaign to intimidate him.
In 1986, Chen was sentenced to eight months in prison for libel, when, as editor of a Dang Wai magazine, he printed an article critical of Legislator Elmer Feng (New Party). He served his sentence in the Tucheng Penitentiary[?] along with two other defendants in the same case. While he was in prison, his wife campaigned and was elected to the Legislative Yuan. Upon his release, Chen served as her legislative assistant and practiced law.
In 1989, Chen was elected to the Legislative Yuan and served as the executive director of the Democratic Progressive Party Congress. He was instrumental in laying out many of the DPP's positions on Taiwanese independence.
He was elected as the mayor of Taipei in 1994, largely as the result of a vote split between the highly unpopular Kuomintang (KMT) incumbent and the KMT-spin-off New Party (NP) candidate Chao Shaokong[?]. During his term, Chen received accolades for his campaigns to run illegal gambling and prostitution rackets out of Taipei. As mayor, he renamed many of the roads in Taipei, most notably the road which runs between KMT Headquarters to the Presidential Palace from "Chieh-shou Road" (介壽路 jiè shòu lù) (Long Live Chiang) to "Ketagalan Avenue" (凱達格蘭大道) in an effort to acknowledge the aboriginal people of the Taipei basin. Despite receiving more votes both in absolute and in percentage terms than his 1994 campaign, Chen lost this position in 1998 to the KMT's rising star Ma Ying-jeou in large part because the KMT was able to get the support of New Party supporters.
In an election eerily similar to Taipei 1994, Chen won the presidency in 2000 as a result of a split of factions within the Kuomintang, when independent James Soong (later, leader of the People First Party) ran for presidency against the party nominee Lien Chan. His opponents hope that the 2004 election will be a repeat of the 1998 mayoral campaign.
Although a strong advocate of Taiwan independence, Chen moderated his independence stance during his campaign and repeatedly stated during his campaign and in his inaugural speech in May 2000 that as long as the People's Republic of China does not attack Taiwan, he would never declare independence. He has also acknowledged the symbols of the Republic of China such as its flag and Double Tenth Day.
However, during his tenure images of Sun Yat-sen, Chiang Kai-shek, and Chiang Ching-kuo have disappeared from public buildings. Also continuing a trend from the previous administration, the Education Ministry has revised the school curriculum to be more Taiwan-centered. Government websites have also tended to promote the notion that China equals the PRC and Taiwan is not part of China.
In the summer of 2002, Chen became the chairman of the DPP. Many believe this violated Chen's campaign pledge to be less involved in party politics and to be a "president of all the people." Chen's administration ran into many problems, and its policies were constantly being blocked by the KMT-controlled legislature. Chen's move to halt construction of the Number Four Nuclear Power Facility crested a legislative meltdown and is widely seen as the end of Chen's attempts to face the pan-blue groups head on.
His official English name is neither pinyin (which cannot have hyphen) nor Wade-Giles (which has hyphen, but spells bian as pien).
See also: Politics of Taiwan