Posts Tagged ‘Chiang Kai-shek’

The Generalissimo

Chiang Kai-shek’s association with Taiwan bears similiarities to the saga of Koxinga. Both men fought to preserve the traditional order in China and both established a bastion of that order in Taiwan in definace of their enemies on the mainland. Most significantly, both men successfully launched a renaissance of classical Chinese culture which has made Taiwan a living repository of China’s most ancient and cherished traditions.

 Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石)was born on Oct. 31, 1887, in Chekiang province. His mother was a devout Buddhist and his father a salt merchant who died when Chiang was only eight. At the tender age of 14, Chiang’s mother arranged for him to marry Mao Fu-mei. In 1908, she gave birth to Chiang’s first son, the man who used to head the government in Taiwan, Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國).

At that time, the Chinese monarchy was disintergrating. Nationalism became th dominant force and revolution was in the air. Caught up in the rapidly changing swirl of event, young Chiang took up military studies in Japan. It was there that he first met a dynamic revolutionary, Sun Yat-sen (孫逸仙).

Chiang participated in Sun’s revolutionary forays into China and completed his military studies in 1912. That same year, Dr. Sun Yat-sen became the first provisional president of the Republic of China. Henry Pu Yi (溥儀) abdicated as emperor, ending the Ching Dynasty and closing the history books on China’s 50 centuries of rule by monarchy. Chiang returned to China shortly after his second son, Chiang Wei-kuo (蔣緯國), was born.

Two episodes left permanent imprints on the character of young Chiang after his return to China. For 10 years, he resided in Shanghai, where he cultivated relationships with the fabulously wealthy merchant and banker families of that great city. Those contacts helped him to forge a political power base that would ultimately carry Chiang throught two decades of warfare and provide the backbone for Nationalist successes on Taiwan. Chiang loved Shanghai and Taipei was largely built in its image. The second influential episode occurred in 1923 when Sun Yat-sen sent Chiang to Moscow as his personal emissary. Chiang returned with a deep distrust of the Russians and a profound hatred of communism.

Chiang Kai-shek could be labeled a “conservative revolutionary.” His concept of changing China was to foster nationalism, overthrow the hated Manchu regime in Peking and end China’s humiliation at the hands of foreign powers. But this vision of a modern China remained grounded in traditional Confucian social values. He believed that the rebirth rather than the destruction of traditional culture was the answer to China’s woes. A born and bred Confucian, he cherished values like loyalty and obedience.

After the successful “Northern Expedition” (北伐) against the warlords who had partitioned China into personal fiefdoms, Chiang triumphantly rode into Shanghai preparing to consolidate his power. In 1927, Soong Mei-ling (宋美齡) became his second wife. She was the daughter of Shanghai’s most powerful banking family and younger sister of Sun Yat-sen’s widow. Dr. Sun had died in Peking at the age of 59.

 “Madame Chiang,” (蔣夫人) as she became known in the West, was an American-educated Christian. Prior to their marriage, Chiang Kai-shek converted to Christianity. His new wife and his conversion were important influences on the rest of his life.

The story of Chiang’s campaigns against the Chinese Communists, and his war against the invading Japanese, is well documented. The Japanese occupied Manchuria in 1932. In 1937, they took Tientsin and Peking, captured Chiang’s beloved Shanghai and overran the Nationalists’ capital city of Nanking. Their advance was bolstered by bombing raids conducted from Japanese airfields in Taiwan.

 In 1943, the Generalissimo, as Chiang came to be called, met with U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Britain’s Prime Minister Winston Churchill at the Cairo Conference. (開羅會議) The trio pledged the return of Manchuria, Taiwan and the Pescadores to China after the war.

With the help of Allied armies, Japan surrendered in 1945. But Chiang’s problems continued. The Communists seized the opportunity and abandoned Japanese arms to turn against his Nationalist army. Civil war raged across the vast Chinese landscape for four long years.

Chiang was personally honest and as incorruptible as the severest Confucian scholar. But his administration was plagued by corrupt and incompetent subordinates. Their greatest disservice to China was not graft, however, but their failure to report the truth to their leader. Chiang was not insensitive to the sufferings of his people, but was rarely exposed to it. While taking his habitual stroll one summer afternoon in 1944, he stumbled upon an officer leading a row of fresh recruits through the woods roped together like animals. Infuriated, Chiang beat the officer. Only the intervention of an aide prevented Chiang from killing the man outright. The following spring, after continued reports of roping practice, Chiang had the general in charge of conscription summarily shot.

Chiang Kai-shek was elected president of the Republic of China in 1948. But by then the war had swung in favor of the Communists. Hsuchow, Tientsin and Peking fell to the enemies. On Jan. 21, 1949, facing imminent defeat, Chiang Kai-shek resigned the presidency.