Former Taiwan president Lee Teng-hui, dubbed "Mr Democracy" for burying autocratic rule in favor of freewheeling pluralism, died yesterday at age 97.
Lee thrived on defying China's drive to absorb an island it regards as a wayward province.
Lee hoped for Taiwan to be "a country of democracy, freedom, human rights and dignity, where one does not have to be ruled by others and where everyone can say out loud 'I'm Taiwanese,' " he told a 2012 election rally.
Lee's greatest act of defiance was becoming Taiwan's first democratically elected president in March 1996, achieved with a landslide following eight months of intimidating war games and missile tests by China in waters around the island.
Inaugurated that year, Lee offered to make a "journey of peace" to the mainland.
But Beijing branded him a "splittist" bent on turning Taiwan's self-governance into independence, and said he should be tossed into the "dustbin of history."
Lee became the Nationalist party chairman and Taiwan's president upon the 1988 death of Chiang Kai-shek's son, Chiang Ching-kuo.
Eight years after assuming the role, Lee's push for full democracy culminated with the island's first direct presidential vote.
The first president born on the island, Lee]s tough language toward China resonated with Taiwan's 23 million people. He once described Taiwan-China ties as a "special state-to-state relationship," infuriating Beijing.
He also sought to snap cultural links in favor of a distinct Taiwanese identity.
Lee's term as democratically elected president ended in 2000.