What Taiwan’s First Elected Female President Means To Women Today

The first female president in Mandarin-speaking Asia means that change and democracy have prevailed.

Neither one of my grandmothers lived to see this day.

My maternal grandmother grew up in extreme poverty, and she was illiterate all her life. Often nicknamed “that little red head,” my cousins and I suspect she might have carried Dutch heritage as her face featured a high-bridged nose and her eyes speckled with hazel (Dutch traders settled on the island during the 17th century). A true beauty – could neither read nor write – married early. Nine children later, she never knew what being in love felt like. After decades of hard domestic labor, she finally learned how to write during old age. Though a woman like her garnered zero respect from the cruelty and judgments of society, she was deeply adored by her children and, undoubtedly, by her grandchildren.

Gone too soon, that she was.

My paternal grandmother, like most Taiwanese children at that time, received formal Japanese education during Japan’s occupation of the island until 1945. She also married my grandfather early, and raised five sons. The minute I was born, she treated me as what I was, the first female in two generations of Hung. Unlike most Taiwanese families yearning for male descendants, my sister and I were incredibly loved. From gold jewelries to new clothes on every Chinese New Year, my grandmother was inadvertently showing us that being women can be celebrated, even if Asian beliefs may indicate otherwise.

Missing her funeral will always be the biggest regret of my life.

My mother was born the year Republic of China (R.O.C.) was established in Taiwan, after the Chinese Communists won their battle over the Nationalists who left China and retreated to Taiwan to form R.O.C. The Nationalists, equivalent to today’s Kuomingtang (KMT), continued to rule Taiwan from 1949 until the country’s first direct presidential election in 1996.

Albeit she would never concur, my mother is a forward-thinking visionary. According to her, however, she simply grasped onto opportunities presented ahead and worked in sync with a long string of seriously good luck. As the first college graduate in her family, she was skilled in English which played well in a Taiwanese 1970’s society ready for an era of globalization. She was part of the first group of Taiwanese entrepreneurs to travel outside of the country that was growing heaps of strategized infrastructures while amplifying its economic machines. By contributing to the so-called “Taiwan Miracle,” my mother was the head of her company who flew on planes that were, if not only then mostly, filled with men.

After marrying my father, she continued her business travels throughout North America and Europe. By observing the world, she wanted to raise daughters rooted in Asian traditions and disciplines while embodying the charisma and open-mindedness of Western cultures. Most importantly, she wanted my sister and I to speak English fluently while maintaining our mother tongues in Mandarin and Taiwanese, so we could partake in a world that was becoming smaller with China and the United States playing major roles.

As the product of her vision, I am evermore grateful.

I have spent my life globetrotting since young age, but I’ve rarely felt lost. As a Taiwanese-American now living in Paris, I have always known where my roots are. As easily as “oh my gosh” cluster every other sentence that I utter, as carefree as I am walking through Parisian alleys, I am just as easily melted by any simple reference reminding me of Taiwan where I spent the first ten years of my life.

Being Taiwanese will always define the foundation of who I am.

This is a small state, unrecognized by the United Nations. This is a small business center, making almost everything you own. This is a small island, speaking one of the most powerful languages in the modern world. This is a small yet democratic country, that just elected the second female president of East Asian nations. She won, by a landslide because the people have spoken.

None of us could have foreseen what happened on January 16th, 2016.

Not even a younger Tsai Ing Wen herself, could have ever imagined that she would someday be the most powerful person in a country that gave its people the right to vote for presidents merely twenty years ago. A graduate from the prestigious National Taiwan University, Cornell University, and London School of Economics; the unmarried 59-year-old Tsai conducted her win with an international press conference in a calm, collected, yet uplifting and profoundly inspirational manner. For those who voted for her, we listened to her speech with goosebumps running down our backs as we pushed back tears with hearts racing. She, on the other hand, didn’t shed one tear. But her voice, raspy by the end of her campaign, carried tranquility which struck us with awe and esteem.

The first female president in Mandarin-speaking Asia means that change and democracy have prevailed.

Tsai’s win implies that today’s women aren’t forced to be demure. We are modest and quiet when the moment calls for it. Women in the modern world can run a household, a business, and a country.  She manages her own campaign, standing up for what is right and pushes against what is deemed wrong. If she doesn’t follow societal rules or isn’t married by the age of thirty, she can also be praised since being married and conceiving children are not the sole duties of a woman in the 21st century. Beyond all, humbleness is a marked beauty that translates to respect and success.

My grandmothers didn’t live to see this day. But my granddaughters will blossom with my memories of this night.

Wendy Hung


As the founder of Jetset Times, Wendy is an avid traveler and fluent in five languages. When she's not traveling, Wendy calls Paris and Taipei home. Her favorite countries so far from her travels have been: Bhutan, Iran, and St. Bart's because they were all so different!

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