Taiwanese politicians are known for their passion, as demonstrated in the oft-reported brawls over the slightest disagreement with opponents, going so far as to have earned the title “chair-throwing legislators” for those in the island’s Legislative Yuan. But what many don’t know is that most of the country’s leaders are also extremely superstitious, relying on fortune tellers for scholarly, even political, advice.

In the run-up to the 2008 presidential election, the then-opposition Kuomintang (KMT) party relied on political maneuvering and scholarly advice from fortune tellers before victoriously retaking control of the government. A Wikileaks document retrieved from U.S. diplomatic cables alleges that legislative speaker Jin-pyng Wang (also KMT) consulted a fortune teller, who told the legislator that he would make “a fine presidential candidate.” Recent headlines also claim that Premier Den-yih Wu grinned “from ear to ear” after being told by a seer that he had an “emperor’s destiny.”

Disgraced former-president Chen Shui-bian also made headlines in 2008 after consulting 17-year-old scam artist/fortune teller “Teenager Wang” for advice, while facing charges of corruption after leaving office. Even Taiwan’s current president, Ma Ying-jeou, has been accused by the local media of including fortune tellers on his campaign team for re-election in 2012.

Unfortunately, however, none has admitted to such allegations. But the amount of constant media attention the issue gets has made for very few skeptics at home and abroad.

In fact, most Taiwanese consider the belief in and reliance on hocus pocus to be a “normal affair.” Even political scholars in Taiwan agree that being caught visiting a fortune teller will hardly spell disaster for a politician.

“[Seen from a public relation perspective], it isn’t risky behavior for officials to make decisions with help from fortune tellers. After all, soothsaying is a Taiwanese tradition,” said Chen Yaw-shyang, an assistant professor of public policy at National Taipei University.

In-chin Chen, a professor at the National Central University’s Graduate Institute of Law and Government, states that fortune-telling has always played an important role in the decision-making processes of the island’s political class: “Every time Chiang Kai-shek promoted one of his subordinates, he had a fortune teller examine that person’s name and birth date…as the generalissimo believed that this data reveals an individual’s destiny. It is also said that in the Chinese Civil War, Chiang sent agents to Mao Zedong’s family grave to destroy it in order to mess up Mao’s feng shui,” Chen said.

This belief in the supernatural is not restricted only to the Taiwanese, however. Under Japanese occupation (1895-1945), superstition played a major role in keeping the country under control. Atop Taipei’s Yuanshan mountain was erected a Shinto shrine that was purportedly the site of a buried dragon’s head. the Japanese believed, and wanted the locals to believe, that rule over the dragon legitimated their control of the island and its inhabitants.

After Chiang Kai-shek’s forces retook the island, Chiang had the iconic Grand Formosa Hotel built on the same site. Historians report that the nation’s father, as well as his successor, his son, Chiang Ching-kuo, then long-time president Lee Deng-hui, were also into fortune-telling.

While this might be not so big of a deal in Taiwan, it certainly reeks of poor management to one from abroad. On that note, it’s fair to conclude that behind every Taiwanese politician, there’s a fortune teller.

For a glimpse into what R.O.C. legislators do when they’re not wasting tax payers’ money on fortune-telling, check out the video below.


Stewart Brently
Stewart Brently hails from Seattle, WA. He is a freelance writer and editor, adult EFL instructor and psychotherapist. As copy editor for the site, he works to make the WAN content tidy and intelligible, while keeping his ears to the streets for strange happenings on the little island of Taiwan, where he calls home.
Stewart Brently