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Wed, Mar 15, 2000 - Page 9 News List

The many faces of James Soong

By Bo Tedards  /  Contributing Editor of Taipei Times

Although independent presidential candidate James Soong's (宋楚瑜) public persona today seems quite straightforward, when the surface is scratched, he in fact presents many enigmas.

First, how has this servant of an authoritarian regime reinvented himself as a populist politician of Bill Clinton's ilk? The financial scandal the KMT unleashed on him at the end of last year would have felled almost any politician. Yet Soong is almost single-handedly keeping himself in the race.

Soong is not old (he turns 58 tomorrow), and he could have had either the vice presidency or the premiership for the asking. What made him decide to break away from the party that had raised him, rather than wait for the presidency?

A most diligent student

Few clues emerge from Soong's early years. His father, Soong Ta (宋1F), was by all accounts an austere figure who left his home in Hunan at 14 to join the military. He had a successful career, eventually becoming a two-star general; however, he was not so much a heroic fighting man as a capable administrator, whose loyalty to both Chiang Kai-shek (*惜階?/CHINESE>) and Chiang Ching-kuo (*掘g國) earned their trust.

Although Soong's early childhood was dislocated by the wars in China, his father's status protected him from the serious deprivation experienced by the foot soldiers of the bedraggled KMT -- even though General Soong apparently ran a Spartan household.

Surprisingly, the younger Soong's classmates remember him as a taciturn boy, who stayed out of most of the usual social activities all the way through his days at National Chengchi University. Instead, he kept his head buried in his books -- but still only received middling marks. No matter: as his father's first son, Soong was marked out for success. And by choosing to study diplomacy, Soong had apparently chosen his path. He took the field seriously: he is well remembered for insisting on wearing business suits every day (he was said to have 101 suits), in a concerted effort to "look the part" of a diplomat.

James Soong at a glance

1942: Born in Hunan province, China

1949: Comes to Taiwan, enters school in Taipei

1964: Graduates first in class from National Chengchi University, diplomacy department

1965: Finishes military service

1966: Marries Viola Chen Wen-shui

1967: Receives master's degree in political science from University of California at Berkeley

1971: Receives second master's degree, in library science, from Catholic University

1973: Receives PhD in political science from Georgetown University

1974: Returns to Taiwan to serve as personal secretary to the premier

1977: Appointed Deputy Director General

of the Government Information Office

1979: Appointed Director General of the Government Information Office

1981: Named to KMT central standing


1984: Appointed director, cultural affairs bureau, KMT

1987: Appointed deputy secretary general,


1989: Appointed secretary general, KMT

1993: Appointed Taiwan Provincial Governor

1994: Winner of first popular election for Taiwan Provincial Governor;

1998: Term as governor ends, and provincial government is downsized

The first important break in Soong's life came when he left university and decided to study abroad. At the University of California at Berkeley, he was easily distinguished from the other students from Taiwan, since he was the only one who didn't study engineering or hard sciences, but instead chose political science. Also at Berkeley, he met, courted and married Viola Chen (3站U水).

A loyal defender of CCK

Soong's political career began in earnest toward the end of his doctoral studies. Frederick Chien (錢復), then director of the Government Information Office (who later became foreign minister and is now the President of the Control Yuan), recommended Soong for the post of English secretary to Premier Chiang Ching-kuo. Naturally, CCK's relationship with General Soong inclined him to look after the young man. As soon as Soong finished his doctorate, he decided to return to Taiwan forthwith to begin the assignment, a decision that Chen apparently regretted.

Soong burst into the public view on December 16, 1978, when the Carter administration suddenly announced it was switching US diplomatic recognition to the PRC. As the story is now told, only Soong dared to wake up CCK with the news, and, far from being punished for his temerity, he was allowed to make the public announcement.

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