Lin Yang-kang's Restraint vs. Lee Teng-hui's Excess
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
April 15, 2013
Summary: Lin Yang-kang's time has passed. Today, we lack models worthy of emulation. All we have is an obsession with power. Lin Yang-kang lost to Lee Teng-hui. He left behind the question, "If only Lin Yang-kang had been Chiang's successor, how would Taiwan have turned out?" But the path of democracy is a rocky one. We are haunted by these two mens' shadows. What's worse, we cannot neither go back nor forward.
Full text below:
Why did Chiang Ching-kuo choose Lee Teng-hui to be his vice president instead of Lin Yang-kang? This mystery remains unanswered. Lin Yang-kang and Lee Teng-hui had a major political impact. Twenty years later, the public has had time to reflect on the ups and downs of democracy, and the treacherous struggles over power. This is indeed a question worth asking.
Lin Yang-kang left politics many years before he died in Taichung. The public has to be reminded of his character and accomplishments. They include his amiability, his reforms, his ability to hold his liquor, even his heavily accented "Taiwanese Mandarin." These images all remain fresh. The most thrilling moment in Lin Yang-kang's political career, was his decade long power struggle with Lee Teng-hui. It touched off the "mainstream vs. non-mainstream" battle. It led to Lin Yang-kang's electoral defeat and retreat from the political stage. The victor, Lee Teng-hui, later engaged in unpredictable behavior. He planted the seeds of the KMT's loss of power. The irony of this page in history evokes mixed feelings.
Lin Yang-kang's charisma was the result of his amiable and natural manner. His political accomplishments at the local and central level, demonstrated empathy for the people. His pragmatic reforms were welcomed by the people. His manner was exuberant without becoming bombastic. When he drank with you, he matched your gusto. He held himself to high standards. He knew when to exercise restraint. He was easygoing yet resolute. He cracked wise, but remained dignified. He would go with the flow, but would not swim in the same waters. He was very different from Lee Teng-hui, who "only sat on one-third of the chair" when Vice President, then wreaked havoc upon seizing power.
The construction and planning of the Feitsui Reservoir, the Jianguo Highway Overpass, and the Xinyi District, all date back to Lin Yang-kang's time as Taipei Mayor. He drafted the blueprint for the capital city. During the construction of the Feitsui Reservoir, many party and government elders and "dang wai" figures expressed powerful objections. They said if the reservoir was bombed, the entire Taipei Basin would be inundated. Lin Yang-kang was branded a "Communist fellow traveler." But he stuck with his plan to provide millions of people in the greater Taipei area with water. He implemented conservation measures, and protected the watershed. Today many parts of Taiwan suffer from water shortages. The greater Taipei area is an exception. It can sit back and relax, thanks to his vision and persistence.
Consider their age. Lee Teng-hui was four years older. But in political experience, Lin Yang-kang, from Taipei City Mayor to Taiwan Provincial Governor, was a step ahead of Lee Teng-hui all the way. Lin Yang-kang was a witty and sophisticated conversationalist. He was undoubtedly stronger at this than Lee Teng-hui. But his strength may also have been his weakness. Lin Yang-kang's sophistication may have unintentionally planted seeds of doubt about his ambitions. Chiang Ching-kuo chose Lee Teng-hui to be his successor. Lin was involved in the Kuomintang's "February Uprising." This tarnished his image. In the end, all he could do was quietly retire. He no longer concerned himself with public affairs.
The currents of democracy are heartless. Lin Yang-kang apparently accepted his fate. At least he no longer commented on politics. He never said anything extraordinary. By contrast, for 12 years, Lee Teng-hui could do as he pleased. Yet over a decade after retiring, he persists in political finger-pointing. Lin Yang-kang made a clean break. Lee Teng-hui by contrast, dragged his feet. He went kicking and screaming. Clearly he has no confidence in his own legacy.
Some people think Lin Yang-kang lost his political struggle because he was not cunning or underhanded enough. Therefore he allowed Lee Teng-hui to bully him and smear him as a "traitor to Taiwan." This may be part of the reason. But it ignores public impatience for change and fear of unrest. In fact, given the atmosphere, Lee Teng-hui had a halo. He had been hand-picked by Chiang Ching-kuo. This was something no one could overcome. Who knew that this hand-picked "orthodox" choice would tear the nation apart, incite confusion over national identity, and inflict harm whose effects can be felt even today.
The main reason Chiang Ching-kuo chose Lee and rejected Lin, was that Lin was too charismatic. As a result, he chose Lee Teng-hui, who "sat on only one-third of the chair." Chiang Ching-kuo never imagined that because Lee Teng-hui lacked charisma, he would go overboard to compensate once he seized power.
Some say that had Lin Yang-kang been Chiang's successor, he would have been dominated by traditional KMT forces. He would have exercised restraint and not run amuck. He would not have been as ruthless as Lee Teng-hui. This is difficult to say. No one can truly know what would have happened. When Lin Yang-kang wielded little authority, he exercised restraint. But had he wielded far more authority, had he been the head of state, perhaps he might have exercised far less restraint.
Lin Yang-kang's time has passed. Today, we lack models worthy of emulation. All we have is an obsession with power. Lin Yang-kang lost to Lee Teng-hui. He left behind the question, "If only Lin Yang-kang had been Chiang's successor, how would Taiwan have turned out?" But the path of democracy is a rocky one. We are haunted by these two mens' shadows. What's worse, we cannot neither go back nor forward.
2013.04.15 03:00 am