Wayne Chiang Wan-an, the ostensible great-grandson of Chiang Kai-shek who was sworn in as mayor of Taipei City late last month, is the latest scion of an Asian political dynasty to assume public office.
From President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. in the Philippines to Hun Manet, the son of longtime leader Hun Sen, in Cambodia and even Aung San Suu Kyi in Myanmar, second, third and even fourth generation legacies wield major political influence across the region.
Analysts say Chiang Wan-an cuts a slightly different image from other dynastic politicians as a young, moderate and American-educated member of the Nationalist Party (KMT), who worked as a corporate lawyer in Palo Alto, California, focusing on venture capital before entering politics more than a decade ago.
The new mayor did not respond to Voice of America’s request for comment.
Where other politicians in Asia have used their family names to their advantage, Chiang Wan-an’s has been a “double edged sword,” said Hsiao-ting Lin, a research fellow and curator of the Modern China and Taiwan Collection at the Hoover Institution. In the recent mayoral election, Chiang downplayed his family ties, he said.
“He wants to demonstrate that he was able to win the election by telling people he has the capability to be a mayor rather than under the huge umbrella of the Chiang dynasty,” Lin told VOA.
Whether or not his connection to the former leaders of Taiwan, formally known as the Republic of China, is bona fide is another matter. Chiang Wan-an’s dynastic claims come from his father, legislator Chiang Hsiao-yen, who claims to be the illegitimate son of Chiang Kai-shek’s only son, Chiang Ching-kuo.
The main branch of the Chiang family has recognized neither father nor son, but the association helped Chiang Hsiao-yen climb the ranks of Taiwan’s foreign service and the KMT in the 1980s and 1990s.
Since democratization in the mid 1990s, both the Chiang legacy and that of the KMT have been reassessed in a more negative light, but both still hold sway over families who fled from China in the 1940s with the exiled Republic of China government.
Chiang Ching-kuo, who ruled Taiwan from the late 1970s until his death in 1988, is remembered somewhat more favorably than his authoritarian father for lifting martial law and leading Taiwan through its economic boom of the 1970s and 1980s.
Other Taiwanese, however, remember him better for leading Taiwan’s secret police in the 1950s and 1960s.
Separating contemporary politicians from their family legacies is a complicated task and one that some countries are more willing to do than others, said James Lin, an adjunct assistant professor at the University of Washington who specializes in Taiwan’s history.
Voters have looked past those ties in Asian countries like the Philippines, where the Marcos family was restored to power after former President Ferdinand Marcos had been forced into exile in the 1980s, and South Korea, where voters elected the daughter of former dictator Park Chung-hee as president in 2012.
“The generation that saw democracy [emerge in Taiwan] soundly rejected the Chiang family, but maybe with time that memory has begun to fade away. I think that may be a case for the Philippines and South Korea,” Lin said. “But I don’t think in Taiwan it has faded away because young people are educated about the martial law period.”
Chiang Wan-an’s relative youth at age 44, however, has helped to set him apart from both his family baggage and the political burden of supporting unification with China, said the Hoover Institution’s Lin.
This long-term KMT goal is supported by only a very small minority of older party members, but disavowing in public is still a dangerous proposition for fear of angering Beijing, which claims Taiwan as a province.
Instead, younger party members have quietly sidestepped the issue and the party’s official support for the so-called “1992 Consensus” between Beijing and Taipei, which says there is “one China” but leaves unsaid which government should lead it.
Dennis Lu-Chung Weng, a former Taiwanese journalist and political scientist at Houston State University in Texas, said he suspected many young KMT members secretly support Taiwanese independence or view the democracy as de facto independent already, much in line with the greater Taiwanese public.
“The KMT has a big generational gap. The senior people in the KMT … believe that reunification with China is the only way. But the younger generation like Chiang wan-an and people under 50, including the former [KMT] chairman Chiang Chi-chen, are pro-Taiwan,” Weng said.
In the rigidly hierarchical KMT, however, it will be many years before the younger generation takes control of the party, he said, not unlike how the Chinese Communist Party is structured.
Whether Chiang Wan-an can ascend to party leadership will first depend on his track record as mayor of Taipei City. The new mayor has experience as a legislator, but he must now show whether or not he can handle “daily executive power,” Weng said, and the day-to-day grind of leadership.
As mayor of Taiwan’s fourth largest city, he will face some politically thorny issues, including the future of Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, a monument erected in the late 1970s to honor the former president.
Since democratization, hundreds if not thousands of statues of Chiang Kai-shek have been taken down across Taiwan, but the memorial remains as a popular tourist hotspot and iconic Taipei building. Some Taiwanese, however, want the statue removed.
If Chiang Wan-an can survive without any major political scandals, experts say Taiwanese could see him on a national ballot in the future – but analysts say not for at least eight to 12 years. The Chiang name can carry him far with some Taiwanese voters, they say, but it cannot carry him alone.