Sun, May 16, 2004 - Page 3 News List

Lin Fang-mei: first a feminist and now a diplomat

NEW AT IT The woman who just left her job at the National Youth Commission is seen by some as not quite qualified for the diplomatic position she'll be taking up

By Melody Chen  /  STAFF REPORTER

In this file photo, Lin Fang-mei, former chairwoman of the National Youth Commission, holds up a booklet published by the commission that features 12 successful young entrepreneurs.

PHOTO: HSU MIN-JUNG, TAIPEI TIMES

At the end of last month, Lin Fang-mei (林芳玫), former chairwoman of the National Youth Commission, distributed an article she had written, Enjoying and Learning from Departure, to the media after she had met with Premier Yu Shyi-kyun, who was then busy appointing new officials.

"Civil servants in 21st-century democratic societies are a nomadic group," Lin said.

"Before I heard the results of the presidential election, I told myself that I had to leave my post after the inauguration, no matter what the outcome of the election was."

Saying that she wanted to "bow out gracefully," Lin resigned from the commission on Thursday, two weeks after her meeting with Yu.

On Friday, the Cabinet announced that Lin would now head the Coordination Council for North American Affairs.

The council is an agency under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that was established after the US severed diplomatic ties with Taiwan in 1979.

The US administration began to avoid direct contact with Taiwan's government after it recognized Beijing as the legitimate government of China.

The council once served as an intermediary between the countries and handled official documents from the US.

The significance of the agency faded as Taiwan-US ties improved and US officials broke diplomatic barriers by paying visits to the ministry.

Lin's leap from the career-counseling commission to the diplomatic council raised some eyebrows.

People First Party Legislator Hsu Yuan-kuo (許淵國) doubted whether Lin, "lacking diplomatic experience," could manage the council.

"The council stands on an equal level with the American Institute in Taiwan," Hsu said.

"Its importance far exceeds that of a government agency like the commission.

"Former heads of the council are all seasoned diplomats," Hsu said.

The lawmaker called the Cabinet's decision to place Lin in the position "worrying."

Cabinet spokesman Lin Chia-lung (林佳龍), however, came to Lin Fang-mei's defense, emphasizing that she has wide experience with NGOs and also has an international perspective.

Born in 1961, Lin Fang-mei earned a degree from National Taiwan University's department of foreign languages and literature and got her Ph.D. in sociology at the University of Pennsylvania in 1992.

From 1992 to 2000, she taught in the department of journalism at National Chengchi University.

She was appointed the chairwoman of the commission in 2000.

Lin Fang-mei is the youngest of an herb merchant's four daughters.

As a child, she disliked it that her grandparents favored their grandsons over their granddaughters.

Her uncle has two sons, while her father has none.

In Lin Fang-mei's generation and in earlier ones, it was common for the names of girls -- especially ones born after other daughters had already been born -- to contain a Chinese character meaning "enough, too much" (滿, 足).

Parents hoped that by giving a daughter a less-than-graceful name, they could stop producing girls and start to have boys.

During an interview for the book We Want Girls to Have Colorful Lives (我們希望女兒活的精采), Lin Fang-mei said she was fortunate because, although she was the youngest daughter, her parents embraced her wholeheartedly.

Her grandparents' unequal treatment of boys and girls contributed to Lin Fang-mei's belief that girls must study hard in order to develop useful skills and make a living.

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