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Han Kuo-yu

The Han wave washes over Taiwan

Han Kuo-yu

In recent years when the Chinese have spoken about hanliu, they are normally referring to the “Korean wave”, or the remarkable success of South Korean pop culture in China.

Not any more. Since a by-election in Taiwan late last year, the term has been hijacked by a bald politician known as Han Kuo-yu.

Who is he?

Han was born in Taiwan in 1957 to parents from Henan province in mainland China. He was first elected as a Taiwanese legislator in 1992 but his early career was almost ruined by his combustible personality. He boasted an inglorious track record of attacking (literally and physically) his political enemies during legislative sessions. One case stood out in 1993 when Han punched Chen Shui-bian, leaving the DPP lawmaker (who would go on to be elected president) in hospital.

Han remained a political outcast for many years, spending nearly a decade farming in rural Yunlin county.

Why is he in the news?

Han stayed away from the spotlight until last year when the KMT put forward the 61 year-old as their candidate for mayoral election in Kaohsiung. He got little support from the KMT in the campaign: he was expected to lose badly as Kaohsiung is a city known for its fierce loyalty to the DPP.

Older and with less hair, Han seemed to have grown wiser over the years. Out of the blue, he began to build support with clever online campaigning. That included an eye-catching live event on Facebook where he went to a hair salon.

“I am bald and I am not afraid of people pulling my hair,” he said, referring to people trying to bad-mouth him.

Bold soundbites poured forth as well. “Kaohsiung is too old and too poor… let’s make Kaohsiung great again,” Han said bluntly during the campaign in a Trump-esque manner.

He also pledged to revive Kaohsiung’s moribund fortunes. “Let people in Taipei worry about the politics, Kaohsiung should focus on developing the economy,” Han said during the election campaign.

Will the ‘Han wave’ cool down?

Han eventually won the election and ended the DPP’s 20-year reign in the southern city.

Yet the “Han wave” in Taiwan is yet to subside. He has kept it going by inviting celebrities from Hong Kong to become Kaohsiung’s tourism ambassadors (one new one each month). And the new mayor made headlines again recently by calling on Taipei to lift a ban that forbids mainland Chinese firms from investing in Taiwan’s real estate market.

Han has already spurred interest from overseas investors. Robert Ng, the boss of Hong Kong property major Sino Land, has just visited Kaohsiung and talked with the mayor about developing projects in the city.

There are even murmurs that Han could even be considering a run to represent the KMT as its candidate for the presidential election in 2020.

Watch this space.

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