INTERVIEW: New book sheds light on Lee, Chiang Ching-kuo

By Nadia Tsao  /  STAFF REPORTER IN WASHINGTON

Mon, Nov 05, 2007 - Page 3

Despite his close relationship with late president Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國), former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) has never accepted the idea of "one China" according to US historian Richard Kagan.

Kagan, a professor of Asian history at Hamline University in Minnesota, made the comments in a biography of Lee he has recently completed.

Son of dictator Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石), Chiang Ching-kuo took over the presidency in 1978 and remained in power until his own death in 1988.

Although Chiang Ching-kuo ended the 38-year long Martial Law era in 1987, authoritarian rule persisted under his tenure. Lee served as Chiang Ching-kuo's vice-president from 1984 until 1988, when he took over the presidency after Ching-kuo's death.

Lee pursued an open policy in politics and played an important role in the nation's democratization.

During an interview with the Chinese-language Liberty Times (the Taipei Times' sister newspaper), Kagan said he observed Lee from various perspectives as he wrote the biography.

Writing for the general public rather than academics, Kagan gathered most of the information for his book through interviews, taking three years to complete the work, he said.

Greatly influenced by the zen concept of "floating," Lee often uses indirect language and is therefore sometimes seen as unpredictable, Kagan told the Liberty Times.

He said he believed that even during Lee's early political career as a Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) member, his views on Taiwan's democracy and geography were completely different from those of the mainlanders in the ruling class and that he seemed to want to create a Taiwan-oriented culture, Kagan said.

He said because Lee acquired most of his knowledge on China from Japanese teachers and friends, he does not have a favorable opinion on Chinese culture.

Lee even believes that China's possessive attitude toward Taiwan comes from stagnancy in Chinese culture, Kagan said.

Kagan writes extensively about the relationship between Lee and Chiang Ching-kuo in his book and says that Lee seems to consider Chiang Ching-kuo as a mentor but not a hero.

Chiang Ching-kuo worked with secret service head Wang Sheng (王昇), who suppressed Taiwanese democracy activists and Lee never agreed with this, Kagan said.

Nevertheless, Kagan said he did find many similarities between Lee and Chiang Ching-kuo.

For example, both have a love of learning, both faced the conservative followers of Chiang Kai-shek, both were against corruption and both were willing to be close to the people.