The glorious contradictions of Lee Teng-hui

The following article was published in The Diplomat on August 18:

“It was one of the few days in my life when I wore a suit,” remembers Hans Breuer.

Back in 1996, Breuer, then a freelance translator, was contacted to work as an interpreter for German TV network ZDF, which was in Taiwan to cover the first-ever democratic presidential election in a Chinese-speaking country.

More likely to be seen in shorts and sneakers at the time, Breuer opted for a makeover. “Considering the importance of the occasion, I thought I’d better make an effort,” says Breuer, who arrived in Taiwan in 1989.

The election of Lee Teng-hui, who died July 30, was a tension-fraught affair. China had been hostile for months prior. Having fired missiles toward the port city of Keelung in July the preceding year, conducted similarly menacing “tests” the following month and naval exercises in November, Beijing resumed its belligerence in the week leading up to the election. More missiles were launched, landing near Keelung, again, and off the coast of Taiwan’s second city Kaohsiung in the south. It was a warning: a vote for Lee, Taiwan’s first native-born president, spelled trouble.

“It was supposed to intimidate people,” says Breuer, who spent election day interviewing voters. “But it totally backfired.” This assessment was backed by polls showing a 5 percent spike in support for Lee.

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