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Tue, Mar 14, 2000 - Page 9 News List

Would-be heir to whose legacy?

Vice President Lien Chan,the KMT's candidate, is a man who clearly is not in the business of rocking the boat, unlike his predecessor

By Laurence Eyton

That Taiwanese were supposed to love the KMT, cherish their Chinese roots and yearn for reunification with China has been widely seen as a fiction of the martial law era, exposed as such by the rapid development of a Taiwanese national consciousness since that era's end. This, however, is an oversimplification, almost a caricature, of the truth. There are at least some Chinese "nationalists" who are Taiwanese and the most prominent of them is Vice President Lien Chan (連戰). This huge difference between Lien and President Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) means that a KMT victory on Saturday may well usher in a very different regime in May from the one Taiwanese overwhelmingly endorsed four years ago.

A hybrid inheritance

Lien's interesting mixture of a Taiwanese consciousness mixed with impeccable nationalist credentials are a family inheritance. His grandfather, Lien Heng (連橫), born in 1878, was raised in the mode of a traditional Confucian scholar. Culturally, he looked to China and everything Chinese and his greatest work, the exhaustive "Comprehensive History of Taiwan," first published in 1920, is written from a strongly Chinese perspective as a chronicle of the spread of Chinese culture into the barbarian wilderness of Taiwan.

Lien Heng's interpretation of history has long been challenged by nativist historians who claim that as an overseas immigrant society there had always been something distinctly different about Taiwan. Lien Heng's approach resembles trying to interpret the growth of Australia or pre-revolutionary US entirely according to the adoption and spread of English values. But for Lien Chan, his grandfather's work both identified the family strongly with Taiwan -- Lien Chan himself has an almost encyclopedic knowledge of the island -- while at the same time inculcating a cherishing of Chinese culture.

Lien Chan at a glance

1936: Born in Xian, Shanxi province, China

1946: Comes to Taiwan, attends school in Taipei

1953: Enters National Taiwan University (NTU) to study political science

1961: Receives a master's degree from the University of Chicago

1965: Receives a PhD from the University

of Chicago, marries Fang Yu, the 1962

Miss ROC. Becomes an assistant professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin

1968: Returns to Taiwan to teach at NTU

1969: Attends the UN as an advisor to the ROC delegation

1970: Selected as one of Taiwan's 10 outstanding young men of the year

1975: Becomes ambassador to El Salvador

1977: Appointed director of the KMT's

Department of Youth Affairs

1978: Promoted to deputy secretary-general of the KMT's central standing committee; also appointed chairman of the Cabinet's National Youth Commission

1981: Appointed Minister of Transportation and Communications

1984: Elected to the KMT's central standing committee

1987: Appointed Vice Premier

1988: Appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs

1990: Appointed Taiwan Provincial Governor

1993: Appointed Premier

1996: Elected Vice President

After Taiwan became a Japanese colony in 1895, Lien Heng, like many of the island's literati, found living under the Japanese yoke intolerable and went to Xiamen in 1905 to work for Sun Yat-sen's (孫中山) Revolutionary Alliance. There followed a number of crossings and recrossings of the Taiwan Strait by the family, always chafing at Japanese rule in Taiwan, always unable to settle permanently on the mainland.

It is for this reason that Lien Chan was born in Xian, in China's Shanxi province, in 1936. His mother was an educator from Shenyang Province. They lived in China until 1946, when the family returned to Taiwan after Japan's defeat in WWII. Lien arrived in Taiwan unable to speak Hokkien, and although he has long been fluent, has retained an accent to this day. While the family returned to Tainan, Lien was schooled in Taipei and his connections with Tainan, his ancestral home, have always been slight.

If Lien Chan's grandfather had the reputation of a patriotic scholar, his father, Lien Chen-tung (連震東), was very much involved in government. After the KMT government relocated to Taiwan, Lien Chen-tung was a major figure in both the land reform movement -- one of the most successful ever carried out anywhere -- and a prime supporter of local self-government.

A blueblood

Lien Chan was therefore something of a KMT blueblood. While Taiwanese, his family had impeccable nationalist credentials and were trusted within the KMT as being utterly free from both the taint of collaboration with the Japanese and any lurking pro-Taiwan independence sentiment. They enjoyed a prominent place in the post-1949 regime and it was only natural that as the KMT began to accept that young Taiwanese eventually had to be brought into government in significant numbers, one of the first attendees at a special course at the party's cadre school in the mid 1970s should be Lien Chan himself.

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