Lee Teng-hui, who led Taiwan from dictatorship to democracy in the 1990s, reshaping the island’s relationship with China along the way, has died. He was 97.

Lee died Thursday evening at Taipei Veterans General Hospital after suffering septic shock and multiple organ failure, the hospital said in a statement. He had been hospitalized since February after choking on a drink and subsequently suffering heart failure and aspiration pneumonia.

As Taiwan’s first native-born president, Lee instituted direct elections for parliament and the head of state, focusing government on domestic issues and away from the one-China legacy that had dominated Taiwanese politics since the Chinese civil war four decades earlier. In doing so, he set Taiwan on a path of solidifying its separate status from the mainland and earned the wrath of the Chinese Communist Party, which branded him "the sinner of 10,000 years” and a "rat.”