July 13, 1950 in Hong Kong. His family moved to Taiwan when he was a year old. Ma was baptized a Catholic but has not practiced the religion in his adult life.
Growing up in Taiwan:
Ma received his law degree from National Taiwan University in 1972, then spent two years serving for Taiwan's Marine Corps and Navy. Taiwan has a mandatory policy of conscription for all qualified men over the age of 18.
Study in the United States:
In 1976, Ma received his master of laws degree from New York University, then went on to Harvard University, where he received his Doctor of Juridicial Science in 1981. During his time in the United States, Ma also served as a legal consultant to the First National Bank of Boston and a research consultant to the University of Maryland Law School. He was also an associate at the Wall Street law firm Cole and Deits. While in New York, Ma married Christine Chow, who was a high school classmate of his sister. The couple have been maried for 29 years and have two daughters. Chow is banking lawyer.
Return to Taiwan and Entry to Public Service:
In 1981, Ma returned to Taiwan where he served in the Presidential Office as a deputy director and the English interpreter to President Chiang Ching-kuo until Chiang's death in 1988. Chiang was the son of Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek. During that time, Ma also served leadership roles in the Kuomintang or Nationalist Party of Taiwan. When President Lee Teng-hui replaced Chiang after the leader's death, Ma also served as Lee's translator.
Executive Offices and Professor:
Ma served leadership roles in Taiwan's Executive Yuan, or executive branch. He was the Chairman of the Research, Development and Evaluation Commission in 1988 and the spokesperson for the Mainland Affairs Council from 1990-1993. He then served as a minster of justice from 1993-1996 where he cracked down on drugs, corruption and election fraud. He was fired in 1996, and appointed to a Minister position without specific responsibilities. Ma's supporters say the dismissal was retribution for fighting corruption. Ma resigned a year later to teach international law at Taiwan's National Chengchi Univeristy of Law in 1997.
Taipei Mayor and Head of Party:
Ma ran and won the mayoral election of Taipei in 1998, defeating incumbent, Chen Shui-bian. Chen would go on to become President of Taiwan for eight years. Ma also won re-election in 2002, serving until 2006. As mayor, Ma was widely popular, receiving approval ratings above 70 percent. He oversaw initiatives to make Taipei a wireless-Internet city, construction of the Taipei Arena and several athletic centers, and the change of street and subway station names from Tongyong pinyin - a romanization of Mandarin used only in Taiwan, to Hanyu pinyin, a romanization used in Mainland China and taught around the world.
Head of Party:
While Ma was the mayor, he also served as the chairman of the Kuomintang Party, where he won the first-ever election for that position in 2005. He resigned from that position in 2007 after he was indicted by the Taiwan High Prosecutor's Office on charges of misuse of mayoral funds. Those charges were later cleared by Taiwan's Supreme Court.
After his resignation from the party, Ma announced that he would run for president as the Kuomintang Party candidate in 2008 against Democratic Progressive Party candidate Frank Hsieh. He campaigned on a platform of economic revitalization and pledges to improve relations with China, which has viewed Taiwan as a renegade province since 1949. Ma won the election in March with 58 percent of the vote, to Hsieh's 41 percent. Ma was sworn into office in May 2008.
In his inauguration speech, Ma promised that he would not pursue reunification, independence from, or war with China. In November 2008, Ma met with Chinese representative Chen Yunlin in a historic visit aimed at improving ties between China and Taiwan, amid protests from citizens that oppose improved ties between the two sides.