Sun, Nov 27, 2016 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan in Time: The accidental politician

Unexpectedly thrust onto the political scene when she was four months pregnant, Yu Chen Yue-ying went on to enjoy a long career in politics

By Han Cheung  /  Staff Reporter

A photo of Yu Chen Yue-ying, left, from a public event in 2005.

Photo: Hung Cheng-hung, Taipei Times

Taiwan in Time: Nov. 28 to Dec. 4

Not many people’s lives change drastically when they are 38 years old.

Four months pregnant with her fifth child, Yu Chen Yue-ying (余陳月瑛) knew nothing about politics when she ran for the Taiwan Provincial Council in 1963 under the orders of her father-in-law, former Kaohsiung County commissioner Yu Teng-fa (余登發).

“I was not prepared at all,” she writes in the book, Memoir of Yu Chen Yue-ying (余陳月瑛回憶錄). “But the strange thing was that faced with such an important task, I did not panic.”

Yu Teng-fa , an independent politician, could not run because he had been dismissed from office and sent to prison in a scandal (Yu Chen writes that he was framed by the government). Because there were guaranteed seats for women in the assembly, Yu wanted to back a female candidate so that not all these seats would go by proxy to the ruling Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT).

“I believe that there must be competition for politics to improve,” Yu Teng-fa says in Yu Chen’s book. “I don’t think my son, daughter or daughter-in-law are better than others. It’s because I can’t find anyone brave enough to compete against the KMT.”

After much recruitment, Yu Teng-fa finally found a candidate to run for the assembly — but three days before the registration deadline, she withdrew due to family objections.

“That is why I was suddenly pushed into the role,” Yu Chen writes, as she admits that she won the top vote because of her father-in-law’s influence. But she did not expect that she would run for election and continue to win, remaining in public office for the next 30 years. And in 1985, she earned the distinction of being Taiwan’s first female county commissioner.

LEARNING ON THE FLY

Yu Chen says that her husband advised her to just stay quiet during the assemblies, but she writes that that was something she was “incapable of doing” — especially as part of the opposition.

“I was like a first-time student, I was taking notes and observing how other opposition politicians carried themselves,” she writes.

Her role model was fellow assemblywoman Hsu Shih-hsien (許世賢), who was Taiwan’s first female professor and would go on to become the country’s first female mayor in 1968.

“She always stood her ground and handled matters efficiently. She remained calm and was able to persuade people by reasoning,” Yu Chen writes. “In my 18 years as assemblywoman, I never insulted a politician. If you can’t force people to do things, you try other ways. Solving the problem is most important.”

“Through working for my constituents and seeking advice from my more experienced peers, I quickly learned the ropes of being a politician on my own,” she adds.

Yu Chen writes that she noticed the lack of true democracy in Taiwan during those days, and spoke out when the government decided to make village and borough chiefs appointed instead of elected. She also felt that the provincial government had too much power, and proposed that the provincial governor be elected as well.

She says she focused mostly on the basic problems of society, including farmers’ rights, election fraud and police abusing their power.

“I developed my political style during my first term,” she writes. “I stayed away from higher-level institutional problems, and did not try to fight ideological battles with government officials to highlight that I was part of the opposition. I worked for people’s welfare and their rights.”

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