Chen Shui-bian


Chen Shui-bian
born Feb. 18, 1951, Tainan county, Taiwan

President of the Republic of China (Taiwan) from 2000.

Chen studied law at National Taiwan University and later became one of the island's leading attorneys. After unsuccessfully defending protesters who opposed the ruling Nationalist Party, he became linked with the opposition movement, and in the mid-1980s he was jailed on charges of libeling a Nationalist official. He subsequently joined the Democratic Progressive Party and became a prominent member of the movement to establish Taiwan's independence. He served in Taiwan's legislature (1989–94) before being elected mayor of Taipei in 1994. Although he did not win reelection in 1998, the loss freed him to run for president in 2000, and he defeated the Nationalist Party's candidate, ending that party's 55-year rule of Taiwan. In 2004 Chen was narrowly reelected, the vote coming one day after he and his running mate, Vice President Annette Lu (Lu Hsiu-lien), were shot and slightly wounded while campaigning in Tainan.

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▪ 2001

      Despite strong warnings from the leaders of China not to vote a pro-independence candidate into power, Taiwanese voters did just that on March 18, 2000, electing opposition leader Chen Shui-bian as president of Taiwan. A former mayor of Taipei, Chen was an ambitious, tough-talking politician best known for advocating independence for his country. Only days before the election, he described Taiwan as a “sovereign country” and “not a part of the People's Republic of China”—an assertion that predictably infuriated Beijing. Nevertheless, Chen's bold words struck a responsive chord at home, as did his attacks on the corruption-plagued Kuomintang (KMT), Taiwan's ruling party. Garnering nearly 40% of the votes in a three-way race for president, Chen notched a landmark victory that decisively ended 55 years of unbroken KMT rule.

      Born into a poor farming family on Feb. 18, 1951, in Tainan county, Taiwan, Chen distinguished himself early through academic performance. He won a scholarship to National Taiwan University, Taipei, and graduated with highest honours from its law school. Entering private practice in the mid-1970s, he became one of the island's leading attorneys. His first encounter with politics came when he defended eight anti-KMT protesters who had been charged with sedition. Chen lost the case, but thereafter his name was linked with the opposition movement. He ran for public office in 1981, winning a seat on the Taipei City Council.

      In the mid-1980s Chen spent eight months in prison on charges of libeling a KMT official. He subsequently joined the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and advanced through the party ranks. A member of the DPP Central Standing Committee from 1987 to 1989, Chen later served (1989–94) in the Taiwanese legislature before running successfully for mayor of Taipei. As mayor from 1994 to 1998, he delivered on campaign promises to fight government corruption, crack down on the city's sex industry, reduce crime, alleviate traffic problems, and raise Taipei's international profile. In pursuing his agenda, however, Chen often employed a heavy-handed, autocratic style, which ultimately turned off supporters and galvanized his enemies. He suffered a bitter defeat in his bid for reelection.

      The defeat freed Chen to pursue the DPP's presidential nomination in 2000 and, according to his advisers, taught him the value of striking a more conciliatory tone as a politician. Chen's rhetoric on Taiwanese independence remained firm, but following his historic victory on March 18, he was quick to state his desire to “reduce the tensions” between Taiwan and China. During his inaugural address, he declared that he would not pursue independence while in office as long as China refrained from threatening to invade the island. In a significant overture in June, Chen proposed a summit meeting between the leaders of the two countries to discuss cross-strait relations.

Sherman Hollar

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▪ president of Taiwan
Wade-Giles romanization  Ch'en Shui-pian 
born February 18, 1951, Tainan county, Taiwan
 
 lawyer and politician who served as president of the Republic of China ( Taiwan) from 2000 to 2008. He was a prominent leader of the pro-independence movement that sought to establish statehood for Taiwan.

      Born into a poor farming family, Chen won a scholarship to National Taiwan University and graduated with highest honours from its law department. He entered private practice and soon became one of Taiwan's leading attorneys. His first encounter with politics came when he defended eight protesters opposed to the Nationalist Party (Kuomintang; KMT), the island's ruling party, who had been charged with sedition. Chen lost the case but thereafter was associated with the opposition movement.

      Chen first ran for public office in 1981 and won a seat on the Taipei City Council. In the mid-1980s he spent eight months in prison on charges of libeling a KMT official. He subsequently joined the proindependence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). Chen later served in Taiwan's legislature (1989–94) before being elected mayor of Taipei in 1994. He was defeated in his bid for reelection in 1998, but the loss freed him to pursue the DPP's presidential nomination in 2000. His campaign stressed the importance of Taiwan's national identity, and, while the more strident members of his party called for strict independence, Chen himself chose his words carefully, trying to assuage China's concerns. Chen was well-received by voters, who elected him and ended the KMT's 55-year rule of Taiwan.

      In October 2000 Chen halted construction of a nuclear power plant, angering members of the KMT-controlled legislature. In the ensuing political crisis, the country's economy faltered as investor confidence waned. Chen relented in February 2001, and work resumed on the power plant. His decision was unpopular with members of the DPP, who also disapproved of his vow not to seek independence as long as China did not threaten to attack the island.

      By 2002 the relationship between Chen's government and China had soured over Chen's reluctance to develop closer economic ties with China and his return to proindependence rhetoric. As he prepared to run for reelection in 2004, Chen made further moves toward independence, including a redesign of the country's passport that used the word Taiwan on its cover. He was narrowly reelected in March 2004, the vote coming one day after he and his running mate, Vice President Annette Lu (Lu Hsiu-lien), were shot and slightly wounded while campaigning in Tainan.

      In his second term Chen faced a number of corruption scandals involving himself as well as several aides and family members. Although he rejected growing calls for his resignation, Chen transferred many powers to the premier. He was constitutionally barred from running for a third term, and the DPP was easily defeated in the presidential elections in March 2008; Chen was succeeded by Ma Ying-jeou of the Nationalist Party. After leaving office, Chen became the focus of a graft investigation, and in November 2008 he was detained by authorities and jailed.

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Universalium. 2010.

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