Known to be the first democratically elected president in Taiwan, Lee Teng-Hui’s life passed through three eras of modern Taiwan: Japanese Era, White Terror Era, and democratized Taiwan.

Lee Teng-Hui was the first Taiwan-born president of the Republic of China (ROC). He was born in 1923, during Japanese colonial rule. He developed a fascination for Japan–learned Kendo and Bushido, and often studied books by influential Japanese figures. He was one of four students from his high school to receive a scholarship to study abroad at Kyoto University in Japan (1946). He later returned to National Taiwan University (1948) for his bachelor’s degree, obtained his master’s in agricultural economics in the U.S. at Iowa State University, and his PhD at Cornell University. He contributed greatly to the agricultural development of Taiwan, and supported the Agricultural Development Act, which helped stabilize and sustain agricultural productions and improve the living standards of farmers.

In 1978, Lee was elected mayor of Taipei, where he helped fix water shortages and improved the city’s irrigation systems. He later served as governor of the Taiwan province (1981–84) and further developed the nation’s irrigation structures.

Lee quickly caught the attention of President Chiang Ching-Kuo for his skills and achievements. Through an effort to promote more local Taiwanese talent, Chiang Ching-Kuo elected Teng-Hui to serve as his vice-president. In the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), Lee Teng-Hui became the second highest power in the party and state. After Ching-Kuo’s death in 1988, Lee Teng-Hui succeeded his position as president of the Republic of China.

Days before Teng-Hui’s inauguration, students gathered at the Chiang Kai-Shek memorial to protest the governmental proceedings and wanted a political reform. This was the Wild Lily Student Movement.

On the fifth day of the protest, one day before his inauguration, soon-to-be president Lee Teng-Hui met with the student leaders and promised to meet their demands. One request was the abolition of the National Assembly (who internally voted for the president), which would lead to a democratic vote for the office of the presidency.

In 1996, the first democratic election for president went underway and was won by president Lee Teng-Hui.

Later in 2001, accused of splitting the KMT and causing the party to lose the 2000 presidential election, Teng-Hui’s party membership was revoked. Since then, Teng-Hui has been a strong voice for Taiwan independence and self-determination.

Reference:

Lee Teng-hui – The First Chinese Democracy by Public Television Service

Taiwan History – Lee Teng-Hui by Formosa Television