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Lee Teng-hui

Lee Teng-hui (李登輝 Pinyin Lǐ Dēnghuī) (born 1923) was the President of the Republic of China on Taiwan from 1988 to 2000 when he was succeeded by Chen Shui-bian.

Early Life

Lee was born in Sanchih, near Taipei, Taiwan when the island was still a colony of Japan. Growing up under Japanese occupation, he developed an affinity for Japan. Lee was one of only four Taiwanese students in his high school class. He graduated with honors and was given a scholarship to Kyoto Imperial University in Japan.

After WWII, and with the island under KMT control, Lee enrolled in the National Taiwan University, earning a bachelor's degree in agricultural science in 1948. In 1953, Lee received a master's degree in agricultural economics University of Iowa in the United States.

He returned to Taiwan as an economist with the Joint Commission on Rural Reconstruction (JCRR), an insitution sponsored by the US, aimed at modernizing Taiwan's agricultural system and land reform.

In the mid-1960s Lee returned to the United States, and earned a Ph.D in agricultural economics from Cornell University in 1968.

Political Life

Shortly after returning to Taiwan, he joined the cabinet[?] as minister without portfolio with special responsibility for agriculture.

In 1978 he was appointed mayor of Taipei, where he solved water shortages and improved the city's irrigation problems. In 1981 Lee became governor of Taiwan Province and made further irrigation improvements.

As a skilled technocrat and he soon caught the eye of President Chiang Ching-kuo as a strong candidate to serve as Vice President.

As part of his efforts to hand more authority to the native Taiwanese, Chiang Ching-kuo nominated Lee to become his Vice President and was formally elected by the National Assembly in 1984.

In January 1988, Chiang Ching-kuo died and Lee became president. The hardline faction in the KMT headed by General Hau Bo-tsun (Hau Pei-tsun), were deeply distrustful of Lee as a native Taiwanese and threatened a coup. With the help of James Soong, who quieted the hardliners, Lee was allowed to ascend the presidency unobstructed. Lee solidified his power by skillfully speaking of defending the party line, while emphasizing the global trends of reform. Lee and his allies in the government used the pressure from the hardliners as a tool to work for developing the underlying Taiwanese localization movement. Lee used methods under the veil of "pragmatism" to sideline Hou and his backers in the face of the opposition DPP.

In May 1991 Lee spearheaded a drive to eliminate the Temporary Articles, which were the laws put in place following the KMT arrival in 1949, that suspended the democratic functions of the government. In December 1991 the original members of the Legislative Yuan, elected to represent mainland constitutencies in 1947, were forced to resign and new elections were held to apportion more seats to the Taiwanese. The elections forced Hau Bei-tsun from the premiership, a position he gained in an agreement to give tacit support to Lee.

Taiwan localization movement

Lee Teng hui, during his term as president, supported the Taiwanese localization movement. Taiwan localization was a movement that has its roots in the home rule groups founded during the Japanese era, sought to put emphasis on Taiwan as the center of people's lives as opposed Mainland China or Japan. During the Chiang family regime on Taiwan, China was promoted as the center of ideology to build a Chinese national outlook in a people who had once considered themselves Japanese subjects. Taiwan was taught through the eyes of mainlanders who longed to return to their homes and largely resented being marooned on Taiwan. Taiwan's role was often cast as a poor backwater to the greatness of the Chinese Empire and often relegated to no more than three pages of the official history books. People were discouraged from studying Taiwan and old customs were to be replaced by "Chinese" customs. Lee's sought to turn Taiwan into a center rather than an appendage.

Lee presided over the democratization of Taiwanese society and government in the late-1980s and early-1990s. During his presidency, Lee was followed by persistent suspicions that he secretly supported Taiwan independence, and those suspicions were materialized by his behavior after his Presidency in which he was expelled from the Kuomintang and became the spiritual leader of the strongly pro-independence Taiwan Solidarity Union.

See also: Politics of Taiwan



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