BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific

BBC News World Edition
 You are in: In Depth: Taiwan Election  
News Front Page
Middle East
South Asia
Talking Point
Country Profiles
In Depth
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
Taiwan Election Saturday, 3 August, 2002, 07:05 GMT 08:05 UK
Taiwan's man of the people
Taiwan's president Chen Shui-bian has got to the top against all the odds.

His life is an astonishing tale of steely determination in the face of adversity, and personal tragedy.

In 1985, his wife was left paralysed from the waist down after a truck ran over her in what many believe was an assassination attempt on Mr Chen himself.

But if his enemies hoped to keep him out of politics they achieved the very opposite.
Chen celebrates with running mate Annette Lu
Chen celebrates with running mate Annette Lu
Mr Chen's tenacity was evident from early childhood.

He was born to illiterate peasants in a farming village in the south of the country 49 years ago.

The young Chen's home was a mud hut and the family lived in fear of destitution.

Education became his ticket out of poverty. He was the best student in his county and earned himself a place at the prestigious Taiwan National University where he gained a law degree.


As an ambitious young lawyer, he joined a maritime legal firm and married Wu Shu-jen, the daughter of a wealthy doctor.

Mr Chen fell into politics by accident in 1980 when he defended two Taiwanese pro-independence leaders following a protest in the port of Kaohsiung.
Chen as 007: One of his many alter-egos
He lost the case, but he was won over by his clients' ideals and his interest in politics was born.

One of the Kaohsiung defendants was Mr Chen's running mate Annette Lu, who was sentenced to 12 years for sedition and released after five. She will be Taiwan's first female vice-president.


Mr Chen cut his political teeth on the Taipei City Council where he gained a reputation as a fighter.

But tragedy struck when his wife was hit by a truck leaving her spine shattered in 30 places and confining her to a wheelchair for the rest of her life.

The following year Mr Chen was jailed for eight months after losing a libel case involving the ruling Nationalist party, which his supporters believe was politically motivated.
Wu Shujen
Chen's wife was left paralysed in an "accident"
While he was in prison, his wife decided to stand for parliament and was elected to the National Legislature in November 1986.

Mr Chen's release coincided with the birth of multi-party politics in Taiwan.

He joined the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and in 1994 was elected Mayor of Taipei, where he became known as a corruption buster.

Mr Chen shut down brothels, improved traffic and levelled a large slum to create a park. But his abrasive and sometimes autocratic style also made him enemies.

When Taipei's voters threw him out four years later he turned his defeat into an opportunity to run for the presidency.

James Bond

Much of Mr Chen's appeal to voters lies in his down to earth background and populist touch - everyone refers to him by his nickname A-bian.
On the campaign trail
On the campaign trail
He is also seen as something of a maverick, an image he has played up to by appearing at campaign functions dressed up as James Bond, Superman and other heroes.

His presidential campaign website showed him in a black jumpsuit, suspended above a computer keyboard - an ironic allusion to the film, Mission: Impossible.

But his presidential bid sparked major hostility in Beijing because of his party's support for Taiwanese independence.


Mr Chen had previously called for a referendum on the island's status and is on record as shouting: "Long live Taiwan independence!"

But he adopted a more conciliatory approach in the run-up to the elections, insisting he was a "peacemaker, not a troublemaker".
Supporters cheer Chen
Supporters cheer Chen
And he turned his back on the DPP's traditional pro-independence stance, promising not to raise tensions with China.

In an interview shortly before the polls, Mr Chen also revealed he had very personal reasons for not provoking Beijing.

He commented that he was the only candidate with a son who would be drafted if China invaded. ''As a father, I understand the fears of parents who don't want to put their children in danger,'' he said.

Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Taiwan Election stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Taiwan Election stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East |
South Asia | UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature |
Technology | Health | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |