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Lian Zhan is a talented man with a strong academic and governmental background who, as vice-president of the Republic of China (ROC) under Li Denghui (Lee Teng-huij was deemed the heir apparent of Taiwan’s first democratically elected president. Though he was the candidate of Taiwan's most powerful party, the Guomindang (GMD), he failed to win the complex multicandidate presidential race of 2000.


Lian Zhan was born in Xi'an, in Shaansi province on the Chinese mainland. The family moved back to Taiwan after 1945 and based itself in Tainan Lian’s father’s ancestral home.


Like many of the island’s most prominent individuals, he attended National Taiwan University, entering in 1953 and graduating with a degree in political science in 1957. He was admitted to the University of Chicago, completed his M.A. in international law and diplomacy in 1961, and finished his doctorate in political science in 1965.

Lian then began a year-long teaching stint at the University of Wisconsin and the University of Connecticut. He returned to Taiwan in 1968. During his first years home he first taught at his alma mater, Taida in the department of political science. A year later he was appointed the chair of the department and also became the director of the graduate department of political science. He served for seven years at Taida and as he did so widened his network.


In 1975 he became a diplomat, serving as the ambassador to El Salvador. A year later he came back to Taiwan to serve as the GMD's director of Youth Affairs, a body that was under the Party's Central Committee (CC). Within a few months he received another promotion. He was made head of the National Youth Commission of the Executive Yuan. His career path over the course of the next politically charged decade would be fast paced. He was made minister of transportation and included among his accomplishments were the establishment of global shipping lanes and air routes and the construction of the new and modern central railway station in Taibei.

His next post was as vice-premier and in this high-level post he served on committees and task forces that dealt with issues such as environmental protection and the ROC’s relationship with Hong Kong and Macao. He also was on a committee that revised the Organic Law of the Executive Yuan. In 1988, during the first months of Li Denghui’s presidency, Lian Zhan was appointed the minister of foreign affairs. Lian carried out Li's policy of “pragmatic diplomacy” by working to expand Taiwan’s somewhat shaky position in the larger world. He worked hard to expand Taiwan’s formal diplomatic presence in a host of smaller nations such as Belize, the Bahamas, and Grenada in Central America and the Caribbean and with Guinea-Bissau in Africa. He restored relations with such nations as Lesotho and Liberia. In each case, Taiwan, rich nation that it was, had promises of economic aid to offer on the table. He also made Taiwan a member of the Asian Development Bank and set in motion the application process that would give Taiwan membership in the World Trade Organization.

The next step in the progression to the highest level of government was the post of governor of Taiwan. Lian became the governor in 1990 and served until 1992. Over his two years and eight months in office he worked hard to gain recognition as a hard worker, an effective initiator and implementer of policy, and a friend of the lao bai xing. He did accomplish much, but his lack of a personal touch and his appearance of aloofness and above the fray continued to haunt him.

He had to fight in order to gain Legislative Yuan confirmation of his appointment as premier in 1993. As premier, Lian became president Li’s point man for the reform initiative. A sunshine law was drafted and after much debate, was passed thus opening the political process and beginning a war on the notorious process of “black gold" Taiwan’s version of contribution-driven politics. Lian also helped draft legislation for self-governance. One such law defined the process for the direct election of the provincial governor. Finally, Lian also involved himself in a variety of safety-net initiatives such as health care.

Lian's foreign policy experience also served him well. He visited a number of countries that the ROC had quasi-formal or formal relations with on these trips. Among the countries he visited were Honduras, Malaysia, El Salvador,Mexico, and Austria. He also participated in talks with People’s Republic of China (PRC) representatives, held in Singapore, that helped to define the mechanisms of cross-the-strait relations and led to a better atmosphere in the informal or people-to-people facet of ROC/PRC relations.

By the middle of the 1995, presidential elections became central to Li and to his premier. An election law was formally in place and elections were scheduled for March of 1996. Lian was chosen as the GMD's candidate for the vice-presidency. When the election was over, the Li/Lian ticket had soundly beaten its Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and New Party rivals.

The election and the inauguration in May proved to be, in retrospect, the high points in the history of the new administration. Nature and perhaps hubris combined to put land mines in the way of political and governmental success. A devastating typhoon, with its landslides and the government’s inadequate response to this natural disaster was one problem. The second was a serious political blunder on the part of the Li/Lian administration. They tried to eliminate the provincial level of government, thus virtually eliminating the role of the provincial governor. This was one reason, publicly at least,for government efficiency,but the real reasons were political for it was intended to remove James Song, a major rival for the presidency, from the scene.

The move against Song backfired in the election campaign of 1999-2000. Lian as heir apparent to Li was nominated but a difficult and painful elec-tion campaign followed. Song,driven from the GMD became an independent and very appealing candidate. The DPP also chose an attractive candidate, Chen Shuibian.

Lian was lucky early on in gaining “positive visibility” for he led the Executive Yuan's post-September 21 earthquake relief effort. However, Song was well ahead in the polls and by the late winter the election became more a two-man race with Lian Zhan coming in third. The election vaulted Chen of the DPP to power, with Song proving his power as near front-runner and finally spoiler. Lian was a distant third.

Yet Lian was not dead yet. By the end of 2000 he had become a reborn politician leading the GMD in their struggle against the faltering Chen, who had wandered into a severe governmental crisis that only came to an end in 2001.

Lian Zhan is in many ways an admirable man and a solid servant of the people, but his lack of a public touch conspired against him. Yet he is still active as a politician and if he can learn from his own mistakes, he may yet serve Taiwan as its president.


Lien is married to Lien Fang Yu. They have two sons, Sean Lien and Lien Sheng-Wu, and two daughters, Lien Hui-Hsin and Lien Yong-Hsin.

Fang Yui