Mon, Apr 01, 2002 - Page 3 News List

Newsmakers: Former first lady shows her stronger side

DEVOUT AND DETERMINED Tseng Wen-hui has adopted a traditional role in her family life, but says that doesn't mean she can't be tough when she needs to be

By Lin Mei-chun  /  STAFF REPORTER

Former first lady Tseng Wen-hui attends a hearing at the Taipei District Court early last month for her lawsuit against two former New Party lawmakers.


Often shy and reserved, former first lady Tseng Wen-hui (曾文惠) is determined to show her strong side.

"Normally I seem to be very submissive, but I am not easily bullied at critical moments," the 77-year-old Tseng once said.

Appalled by the judge's verdict on Tuesday that cleared three New Party members of slander charges, Tseng says she will appeal the ruling.

The trio had accused Tseng of trying to flee to New York with US$85 million in cash stuffed into 54 suitcases shortly after the 2000 presidential election.

On March 29, 2000, Tseng filed a slander lawsuit against two former New Party lawmakers, Elmer Fung (馮滬祥) and Hsieh Chi-ta (謝啟大), and Tai Chi (戴錡), a New Party member of the Overseas Chinese Affairs Commission.

The trio claimed the former first lady tried to enter New York on March 19, 2000, but was denied entry by US customs agents.

The lawsuit made Taiwan history as it was the first time a first lady was involved in a legal controversy and appeared in court.

"I feel I have been treated unfairly," she said nearly one month ago, shedding tears in front of the judge.

Tseng said that she and her husband, former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝), prefer to stay in the country, especially when it runs into trouble.

"When the nation goes through changes, the responsibility of [my husband and I] is to guard the country. Who would take large sums of money and run? Where could we run? We have never thought of fleeing and we will never do that," Tseng said.

She said that for the more than 10 years of Lee's presidency, she and her husband put up with all kinds of defamation, insults and personal attacks.

"God created human beings, and their tears flow outward; but mine flow inward," the devout Christian stated.

"If we are compelled to leave Taiwan for any reason, I would first send my husband away. This is the most natural thought for any Taiwanese woman," she told Fuyuko Kamisada, the Japanese author of The President in the Tiger's Mouth (虎口的總統), during an interview in 2000 shortly after Lee stepped down.

Japanese upbringing

The statements best explain Tseng's character and the strong feelings she has for her husband.

Born in 1926 in Sanchih township, Taipei County, Tseng grew up in a well-to-do family and received a Japanese-style education when Taiwan was under Japan's control.

Deeply influenced by her Japanese upbringing, Tseng appears to have a docile and gentle manner, and always puts her husband as her top priority.

Lee once told reporters about the "one-minute philosophy" -- a principle strictly adhered to by his wife.

"No matter where she goes during the day, she always arrives home at least one minute before I do," Lee said.

One article penned by their belated son, Lee Hsien-wen (李憲文), also revealed how Tseng made efforts to be a dutiful wife.

"My mother would put makeup on to welcome my father when he returned home from a trip -- an attempt to please him," the younger Lee wrote.

Despite her high profile, Tseng has made few public appearances -- both when Lee was in power and after he stepped down -- a habit she fosters for the sake of her husband.

"When men struggle for their careers outside, it is better for women to stay at home and give their support from behind," she said at a campaign event for TSU legislative candidates last year.

When at public events, she wears her trademark smile and listens attentively to what her husband has to say.

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