Transformational Leadership in Taiwan’s Transition

He once studied in Kyoto University when Taiwan was then part of Japan. After World War II, after the Republic of China (ROC) took over Taiwan, Lee enrolled in National Taiwan University and received his B. S. degree in agricultural science. He earned his M. S. degree in agricultural economics from the Iowa State University, and a Ph. D. in agricultural economics from Cornell University.

Lee’s life experience has not only given him an open-minded heart, but produced him “a spiritual passion made up of equal parts Zen Buddhist philosophy and nineteenth-century Western anti-rationalism”, so writes Dr. Richard C. Kagan, the author of the book. From the book, Lee can best be described as a “pragmatic democrat”; in other words, while possessing a general sense of the ideals of democracy, he was ready to compromise them when he felt it necessary for his political survival. Most importantly, he possessed the necessary abilities to maximize his leadership role.

He was able to set the agenda, to build coalitions, to mobilize the public, to select the timing of actions, to make use of the resources of the system, to foster a discourse of legitimacy, and to maintain a balance among contradictory forces. All of these showed Lee’s flexible social skills and enabled him not only to maintain the dominant status of the KMT (Kuomintang, the Nationalist Party) much longer into the process than would have been expected, but also to exert influence on subsequent political developments through new means.

Some studies combined the goal-oriented and the tactical analyses to give a picture of Lee as a “transformational leader”. As society transformed, Lee transformed along with it, and he matched himself to the society’s needs at each period. On the one hand, he was channeled by changing circumstances and, at the same time, he affected the direction and pace of change. Accommodating himself to shifting conditions, the relative priority he assigned to furthering substantive goals or to building his own position varied over time, as did his strategies for achieving both ends.

Lee has great extraversion and conscientiousness in his personality. He asserted near the end of his term that he had three major goals as president: democratization, localization, and strengthening Taiwan’s international status. All of these goals were Taiwan-centered, based on its specific history. Through the Japanese colonial rule and the KMT authoritarian regime, Taiwan had never experienced true democracy, nor had the Taiwanese people, even the elites, ever been in control of their own affairs.

As a result of the China-centric agenda of the KMT, and, in particular, its claim to represent all of China in the international arena, Taiwan had been excluded from the United Nations since 1971 and lost most of its formal diplomatic recognition, throwing it into an international limbo. Lee had referred to these elements collectively as ”the sorrow of being a Taiwanese”, and he later stated that his historical mission was to reverse all of them.

His charisma, assertions, and vision made Taiwan’s people “see the future” and have the motive to change, which is in accordance with 4 I’s in Transformational Leadership Model. In short, Lee is a transformational leader with transformational leadership style. Despite the page limitation, I still would like to mention the most important accomplishment for me during his presidency: apology for the 228 massacre. The 228 Massacre was led by the ROC government.

It is believed that estimates of the number of deaths can be up to 100,000 or more, which is a quite considerable number compared to the population of Taiwan, around 6 million, at that time. This incident snuffed out the hope of Taiwan’s people that they might be allowed to set up their own government after Japanese empire collapsed and gave the rulership to the ROC government in 1945. It also marked the beginning of the KMT’s White Terror period in Taiwan, in which tens of thousands more inhabitants died, vanished, or were imprisoned.

The 228 massacre has been a taboo for decades even until now, and become one of the most important events in Taiwan’s modern history. On the anniversary of the event in 1995, Lee made a formal apology on behalf of the government: “As the head of state, bearing the burden of mistakes made by the government and expressing the most sincere apology, I believe that with your forgiving hearts, we are able to transform the sadness into armony and peace. ” February 28 was also declared a day to commemorate the victims since then. It cannot be denied that Lee Teng-Hui has played a pivotal role in Taiwan’s political development, once again proving that leadership is a critical factor in democratization. Indeed, his remarkable political skills enabled him to influence the rules of the game and thus become an independent variable, a “transformational leader.

During his twelve years as president, Lee oversaw the remarkable progress of Taiwan from an authoritarian regime to a new free-wheeling democracy, while sustaining high levels of economic growth and social stability. Strikingly, Lee and the KMT were able to successfully remain in power throughout the transition, leading many observers to treat the outcome as predetermined. However, the historical record shows that it was not, but that many specific factors, including the manner in which Lee maneuvered to maintain his position, created the conditions for this process.

Lee balanced his three primary goals of democratization, localization, and strengthening Taiwan’s international status with the necessities of acquiring and keeping political power. He used a variety of tactics, including shifts in both his alliances and in his discourse, managing to maintain different equilibrium points at each key juncture. Although Taiwan under Lee succeeded in ending the authoritarian in old regime, the new democracy thus formed remains not fully consolidated, and Lee’s legacy is still evolving in the “post-Lee Teng-Hui era. ”