Sun, Sep 04, 2016 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan in time: A tiger unafraid of jackals

Chang Chin-lan broke many gender barriers en route to becoming Taiwan’s first female grand justice

By Han Cheung  /  Staff reporter

A portrait of Chang Chin-lan found in the book Women Who Challenge the Times.

Photo: Han Cheung, Taipei Times

Sept. 5 to Sept. 11

During an interview with the Los Angeles Times in 1972, Chang Chin-lan (張金蘭) called out then-US president Richard Nixon for not appointing a woman to the Supreme Court.

“I was very happy when I heard President Nixon was thinking of appointing a woman to the Supreme Court,” she said. “Then I read in the paper that he did not appoint a woman and I was disappointed. Maybe next time.”

“Women judges are generally more conscientious and hard-working than [male] judges,” Chang added.

Chang, who had been breaking gender barriers since she became Taiwan’s first female presiding judge of an appellate court at the Taiwan High Court’s Tainan Branch Court in 1948, had already made it to the Supreme Court in 1956. It would take the US nine more years after the interview and a new president before Ronald Reagan appointed Sandra Day O’Connor.

Chang’s career did not stop there. In August 1967, she reached another milestone when then-president Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) nominated her as one of the 15 grand justices of the Constitutional Court. Her main task was to interpret the constitution and national laws, but she also had the power to provide rulings over impeachment of the president and vice president as well as dissolve a political party violating the constitution.

Finally, Chang’s career was recognized internationally on Sept. 5, 1973, when the US-based World Peace Through Law Center (today’s World Jurist Association) presented her with the Pax Orbis Ex Jure Award during its biennial conference in the Ivory Coast.

In addition to her judicial duties, Chang was also a tireless educator and served on a team to research and amend the Criminal Code. She died of cancer in 1975.


Unfortunately, despite her achievements, very little can be found about Chang’s life and career. Only three official sources are available — the Los Angeles Times article, a short Wiki entry and an entry in the book, Women Who Challenge the Times (向時代挑戰的女性) by Lu Shen-fang (盧申芳).

A native of China’s Shandong Province, Chang received her law degree in 1940 from Northwest University in Xian in Shaanxi Province. She was not only the only female in her graduating class, but also finished with top honors.

Chang was working as a judge in Nanjing when the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) lost the Chinese Civil War, and she retreated to Taiwan with them, continuing her judicial career upon arrival.

Lu writes that Chang “would release the innocent and reduce the sentence for those with extenuating circumstances — but for the unrepentant with solid evidence of their crimes, she would have them executed without hesitation.”

Lu provides the example of a kidnapping case when Chang was still in China that involved a notorious criminal so powerful that no judge dared touch the case. Chang took it on, and despite repeated threats from the criminal’s associates, she personally presided over the execution.

“They had no idea that even though she was a young woman, she was a true tiger who was not afraid of jackals,” Lu writes.

During her time in Tainan, Lu writes that Chang employed women and provided them with opportunities for advancement. She also presided over several high-profile cases, including a mass bribery scandal at the Kaohsiung pier that bolstered her reputation.

Lu also details Chang’s family life, stating that she believed that women had the ability to not only be “successful both at home and at work but also govern a nation.”

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