Taiwan’s Catholic Vice President

June 1, 2016 OPINION/NEWS


Jose Kalathil

Chen Chien-jen, the new Vice President of the Republic of China, popularly known as Taiwan, is a devout Catholic. He is the first Catholic who has held such a senior post in the Taiwanese government.

Catholics are a minuscule minority in the country’s highly tolerant society which has three major religions – Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism. Other religious practices include Christianity, Mormonism, the Unification Church, Islam, and Hinduism, as well as native sects such as Yiguandao.

Mr Chen Chien-jen was sworn-in on May 20, 2016 along with President Tsai Ing-wen, the first woman President of the country. Their party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), defeated the then two-term ruling party of Koumintang (KMT), in the elections held on 16 January, 2016. Out of the 23.4 million people of the island, 18.5 million, who have completed 20 years of age had voting rights.



Born in 1951 in the southern Kaohsiung County, his father was once the County’s Magistrate. Out of his eight children, two are daughters, all devout Catholics. A veteran epidemiologist, he has made significant contributions to public health and infectious disease control as well as science and technology development in Taiwan. He is widely recognized for his crisis management skills and leadership abilities, as well as his open-mindedness and passion for communication.

Mr. Chen received his Bachelor Degree in Zoology (1973) and Master Degree in Public Health (1977) from National Taiwan University. In 1982, he received his Doctor of Science Degree in epidemiology and human genetics from Johns Hopkins University. His areas of expertise include epidemiology, human genetics, public health, and preventive medicine.

Mr. Chen then returned to Taiwan to serve in the following positions: associate professor (1983-1986) and professor (1986-2015) in National Taiwan University; director of the Graduate Institute of Public Health (1993-1994), founding director of the Graduate Institute of Epidemiology (1994-1997), and dean of the College of Public Health of National Taiwan University (1999-2002); Distinguished Research Fellow of the Genomics Research Center (2006-2015) and Vice President of Academia Sinica (2011-2015).

Mr. Chen’s research on blackfoot disease, chronic arsenic poisoning, viral hepatitis and liver cancer, and oncogenic viruses has made a tremendous contribution to human health promotion and disease prevention. He was awarded the Academic Award (1997) and National Chair Professor (1997-2002) of the Ministry of Education. He was also elected Academician of Academia Sinica (1998), and awarded the Presidential Science Prize of Taiwan (2005) and the Executive Yuan’s Outstanding Contribution in Science and Technology Award (2013). He has also been honored as a member of the World Academy of Sciences (2005) and a Cutter Lecturer on Preventive Medicine of Harvard University (2008), and received the Knowledge for the World Award from Johns Hopkins University (2012) along with many other prestigious international awards.

Mr. Chen served as Director General of the Division of Life Sciences at the National Science Council (1997-1999), and later as the Council’s Deputy Minister (2002-2003), promoting numerous national programs and cutting-edge research. During Taiwan’s SARS outbreak in 2003, he was appointed Minister of Health, and successfully controlled the crisis in a short period. To enhance Taiwan’s capabilities in public health and infectious disease control, Mr. Chen also actively promoted the organizational re-engineering of the Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control, Department of Health; establishment of a national healthcare system for infectious diseases; amendments to the Communicable Disease Control Act; and fundamental reforms to the health insurance system.

After being appointed as Minister of the National Science Council in 2006, Mr. Chen reformed the Council to strengthen science and technology administration, promote Taiwan’s knowledge-based economy, and broaden international cooperation. He has been awarded the Executive Yuan’s Achievement Medal (First Rank) in 2005; the Department of Health’s Health Medal (First Rank) in 2005; the Officier dans l’Ordre des Palmes Academiques from the Ministry of Education of France in 2009; and the Science Profession Medal (First Prize) from the National Science Council in 2012.

In 2011, Mr. Chen was appointed Vice President of Academia Sinica. During his tenure, he promoted the establishment of the Academia Sinica Research Fund, build up Taiwan Biobank, established the National Biotechnology Research Park at Nangang, and undertook the planning of Academia Sinica’s southern branch. For his efforts, he was awarded the Special Service Medal of Academia Sinica (2016).

Mr. Chen and his wife Ms. Lo Fong-ping have been received by Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis. He has been invested as a Knight of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem (2010) and a Knight of the Pontifical Equestrian Order of St. Gregory the Great (2013).









Jose Kalathil

Jose Kalathil is a senior journalist based in New Delhi. With more than three decades of experience in different publications in India and Nepal, he is comfortable writing on any topic under the sun.


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