Japanese netizens have been buzzing over media stories on Taiwan's Digital Minister Audrey Tang (唐鳳). Japan’s media called Tang a genius who has been instrumental to Taiwan’s coronavirus control efforts, stating that Japan should learn from her work.

The phrase — “The policies of a 38-year-old genius minister with an IQ of 180” — has been trending on Japanese search engines this week. Netizens commended Tang’s efforts in providing digital information on the coronavirus updates, including a real-time map of local face mask supplies.

In collaboration with Taiwanese software engineers, Tang created a citywide alert for residents and tourists to stay aware of risky locations that were visited by passengers of the Diamond Princess cruise ship.


Photo Credit; Screenshot of Google Maps

The Google map that was provided by text message to citizens on February 7 2020.

“My involvement was to collect community ideas primarily and draft the very first stage of the website,” Tang told The News Lens. “I’ve received a lot of support from friends in the local community.”

Howard Wu (吳展瑋), a Tainan-based engineer, first came up with the idea of a face mask map by using Google GPS and Place API. Within a few hours of launching, the platform blew up in popularity and the costs of running the website racked up to over NT$600,000.

Tang approached Wu on the same day with a team of Google engineers, saving the entire project from collapsing. Google has waived the costs of the platform to assist with the coronavirus efforts, Tang said. She also thanked the pharmacists for sharing their data and daily work status, saying it was “particularly admirable.”

Taiwan’s Vice President Chen Chien-jen (陳建仁) praised Tang in a Facebook post, calling her “a key figure in Taiwan's national epidemic prevention team” who is setting the example of using artificial intelligence in disease prevention.

A former Sunflower Movement activist, Tang became Taiwan’s youngest minister without portfolio in 2016. She was also the first transgender person to hold a position in the Executive Yuan, marking a monumental point in the country’s gender equality development. Tang has been a prominent advocate of a transparent digital democracy in Taiwan, a system where government, experts, and citizens share data to swiftly detect and solve societal issues.


Photo Credit: CNA

Tang speaking at the Oslo Freedom Forum in Taipei, September 2019.

Tang founded her own business at the age of 16 and “retired” at 33 to work for government programs. Her first project was a digital welfare program named g0v.tw.

g0v.tw is an open source collaboration between the government and hackers, founded by activist Kao Chia-liang in 2012. Taiwan’s government agency websites, which typically feature URLs ending in “.gov.tw”, were replaced by “.g0v”. This directed visitors to an alternative shadow site, featuring contributions and suggestions by civic hackers. The government had the option to merge this forked content with the official agency website.

Before her new gained fame with the Japanese audience, Tang went viral in November after a video interview with Deutsche Welle. A reporter asked her input on the Hong Kong protests as a representative of Taiwan, “an island which Beijing considers a breakaway territory," to which Tang answered, “The breakaway was at the Neolithic Age, I believe.”

Her charismatic personality and eloquent media appearances have captured the hearts of Taiwanese and Japanese netizens alike. Despite the attention, Tang is most thankful for the support she received in creating an information ecosystem amid the ongoing epidemic.

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TNL Editor: Daphne K. Lee (@thenewslensintl)

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