A recent survey showed that more than 40 percent of respondents felt that premier-designate Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) was an unfamiliar face, presumably because he entered politics just five years ago when President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) was first elected.
The appointment has made the 52-year-old a contender to be the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) candidate in the 2016 presidential election and will bring to the fore his political convictions, which have previously been kept out of the spotlight.
A Yale graduate who wrote his doctoral thesis on Hannah Arendt, one of the leading political thinkers of the 20th century, famous for her analysis of totalitarian regimes, the professor of political philosophy has long been labeled a liberal academic.
Following two years at Academia Sinica, Jiang taught at National Taiwan University (NTU) from 1995 and was honored several times with teaching awards.
His course on the history of Western political thought was one of the most popular at the university because he provided students with a “solid” grounding in political theory and he had “a structured and holistic approach” to teaching the subject, a former political science student at the university surnamed Chen (陳) said.
Chen said that Jiang’s course lectures were turned into verbatim transcripts and compiled into a textbook, an instance which exemplified “how useful students found his course.”
It is normal practice for law-school students to use lectures given by leading law-school professors as preparatory material for national judicial exams; but in the department of political science, Jiang was one of a very few receiving this treatment, if not the only one, she said.
While at the NTU, Jiang taught courses underlying liberal politics, including the history of Western political philosophy, democracy, liberalism, civil society and multilateralism.
That may help explain why a decision he made while serving as minister of the interior to reject a visit by exiled Uighur leader Rebiya Kadeer in 2009 attracted the ire of some NTU students who put up posters condemning him for “betraying academic consciences.”
In retrospect, Chen said that Jiang was a political-science teacher who did not tell students straight out what his political philosophy was.
“There was no discussion of current affairs in his classroom and he did not ‘feed’ students with political stances on topics such as unification [with China] and [Taiwanese] independence, from neither left nor right, or from authoritarianism to democracy, which gave no clues about what his political beliefs were,” Chen said.
Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Lin Chia-lung (林佳龍), who has known Jiang since they both studied at Yale in the 1980s, said that Jiang had never positioned himself as a public intellectual before he went into politics.
“He was reserved, kept away from politics and had never engaged in expressive conduct,” Lin said.
After Ma was first elected president in 2008, Jiang was appointed minister of the Research, Development, and Evaluation Commission and then named minister of the interior in Sept 2009. When Ma started his second term last year, he was designated vice premier.
Jiang was believed to have set his mind to shifting his career further into politics when he took up the vice premiership.
At that time, he did not ask the NTU for a second, and last, four-year term of leave to work in the government, but instead resigned from his position as a professor.