right Chiang Kai-shek (Jiang Jieshi, 1887-1975) took over as leader of the Kuomintang (Nationalist Party) after the death of Sun Yat-sen (b. 1866) in 1925. As leader of the Kuomintang and, from 1928 until 1949, of China, Chiang Kai-shek inherited, among other things, the role of defining and strengthening Chinese nationalism, a force that he hoped to use to unify the Chinese people behind him and his government.

Chiang Kai-shek was a militarist and former warlord who opposed reform but was associated with reform and established a system described as Confucian fascism. One of Sun Yat-sen’s lieutenants from the early revolution days, he was married to Sun's sister-in-law, became the President of Chinese Republic in 1928, battled the Communists for more than two decades, and ruled Taiwan from 1945 until his death in April 1975. Chiang’s name in Mandarin is Jiang Jieshi. Chiang Kai-shek is Yue dialect,

Chiang Kai-shek was regarded as a shrewd politician but a poor administrator. His life was defined by his battle against the Communists which took a variety of forms over the years. In many respect there wasn’t much that separated him from other warlords except they managed to hold on to some kind of power and stay relevant for a long time. Chiang is sometimes called the man who lost China but in reality he never held it to begin with.

In his book The Generalissimo: Chiang Kai-Shek and the Struggle for Modern China former U.S. foreign service officer Jay Taylor argues that Chiang was not the corrupt bumbler he was made out to be but rather was “far-sighted, disciplined and canny strategist” who “made the most of the weak hand dealt him.”

In his book Enter the Dragon: A Look at the Western Fever Dream of Insatiable Chinese Power Tom Scocca wrote, “Generalissimo Chiang, emerges here as neither a politician nor a military genius but a man with a gift for the sort of politics practiced with armies: warlord politics, in the warlord-ruled aftermath of Qing China. Unfortunately for Chiang, Mao was better at it, and better at ruling the territory he controlled. Chiang's struggle to defeat the Japanese, only to lose the country to the the Nationalists fall back from one provisional capital to the next, till they end up off the mainland entirely.]

Arthur Waldron, a professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania, wrote in China Brief, “Chiang Kai-she is one of the most important figures in modern China, but also one of the least understood and most regularly caricatured. Chiang unified his country with the Northern Expedition of 1925-29 and presided over the Nanking decade, a period of economic and institutional development as well as considerable freedom that was cut short by the Japanese invasion of 1937. Against that onslaught, Chiang led an indomitable resistance that was arguably China’s finest twentieth century hour, but when the struggle was completed, he gambled on an offensive war to destroy his Communist rivals for power, and lost almost everything...Chiang inspired powerful loyalty among his closest Chinese followers and had Western friends as well, not the least of whom was Henry Luce, publisher of Time magazine. “[Source: Arthur Waldron, a professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania, China Brief (Jamestown Foundation), October 22, 2009]

Good Websites and Sources on Early 20th Century China Sun Yat-sen Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Time Asia ; My Grandfather Sun Yat-sen Asia Week ; May 4th Movement Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Chiang Kai-shek Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; New York Times Obituary New York Times ; Madame Chiang Kai-shek Wikipedia article Wikipedia ;

Good Websites and Sources on Empress Dowager Cixi: Court Life During the Time of Empress Dowager Cixi; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Cixi’s Luxurious Life ; Book on Cixi; The Last Emperor Puyi Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Time Asia ; Hartford Courant; Puyi Biography

Good Chinese History Websites: 1) Chaos Group of University of Maryland ; 2) WWW VL: History China ; 3) Wikipedia article on the History of China Wikipedia 4) China Knowledge; 5) e-book ; Links in this Website: Main China Page (Click History)

Books: 1) The Generalissimo: Chiang Kai-Shek and the Struggle for Modern China by Jay Taylor (Belknap, 2009); 2) Chiang Kai-shek: China’s Generalissimo and the nation He Lost by Jonathan Fenby (Carrol & Graf, 2004); 3) China: A New History by John K. Fairbank; 4) China's Imperial Past: An Introduction to Chinese History by Charles O. Hucker; 5) In Search of Modern China by Jonathan D. Spence; 6) The Chan's Great Continent: China to Western Minds by Jonathan Spence (Norton, 1998). 7) Cambridge History of China multiple volumes (Cambridge University Press). 8) Shark Fins and Millet is an excellent depiction of China in the 1930s by Polish-born journalist Ilona Ralf Sues, who met up with Big-Eared Du and Madame Chiang Kai-shek. You can help this site a little by ordering your Amazon books through this link:

Chiang Kai-shek's Early Life

Young Chiang Kai-shek

Chiang Kai-shek was born in 1887 in a remote village in the eastern province of Zhejiang. The son of a village salt merchant, he was raised by his widowed mother and began working at the age of nine after his father died. When he was 14, he entered an arranged marriage. He later obtained a divorce from wife.

At the age of 18, Chiang left China to train at Tokyo's Military Preparatory Academy. Chiang was impressed by Japanese discipline and sophistication and hoped to bring the same qualities to the Chinese army. He liked the Japanese winters and said that living in Japan gave him a fondness for "eating bitterness."

In 1911, Chiang returned to China and joined the Kuomintang and became a young officer in the new Republic of China army. He became a military aid to Sun Yat-sen but lost his position when Sun was ousted and was forced to seek exile in Japan

Chiang’s rise to power began as a disciple of Sun Yat-sen, founder of the Kuomintang or Nationalist Party, who was supported by the Soviet Union. In 1923, Chiang had spent three months in the USSR consulting, seeking cooperation and addressing the executive committee of the Comintern. In June 1924, he stood beside Sun Yat-sen on the platform as the Whampoa Military Academy, of which he would become superintendent, was opened. It is here that the soon-to-be-victorious Nationalist army was trained. It was made possible by a Russian gift of 2.7 million yuan and a monthly stipend of 100,000 yuan. Chiang Kai-shek’s military academy trained a new generation of officers who would soon embark on the Northern Expedition. Zhou Enlai (1898---1976), who later become premier of China under the communists, was a political commissar at this academy.[Source: Arthur Waldron, a professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania, China Brief (Jamestown Foundation), October 22, 2009]

Chiang Kai-shek’s Character and Background

Chiang Kai-shek was a man full of contradictions. After he converted from Buddhism to Methodism in 1930 he felt the Bible revealed God's plan for China. He said, "To my mind the reason we should believe in Jesus is that He was a leader of a national revolution." Yet, despite his Christian inspirations, he was not shy about using violence or underhanded methods to achieve his objectives. In Shanghai, for example, he hired gangsters from the brutal Green Gang to kill thousands of students and labor organizers with purported ties to the Communists. His ties to corruptions earned him the nickname “General Cash-My-Check.”

Sometimes Chiang Kai-shek lived like a monk and dressed in unadorned military fatigues. He didn’t like Western toilets. He could also be quite extravagant. In Taiwan, he lived in a home with rare Amur leopard skins draped on the walls and a panda skin rug in front of the fireplace.

In a review of Chiang Kai-shek, The Generalissimo by Jay Taylor, Perry Anderson wrote in the London Review of Books: Taylor makes a real attempt to capture Chiang’s tortuous personality. Seething with an inner violence that exploded in volcanic rages as a young man, once in power he succeeded in outwardly controlling it beneath a mask so rigid and cold that it isolated him even from his followers. Sexual rapacity was combined with puritan self-discipline, skills in political manoeuvre with bungling in military command, nationalist pride with retreatist instinct, threadbare education with mandarin pretension. ... A better sense of Chiang’s vindictiveness, and of the low-grade thuggishness of his regime, in which torture and assassination were routine, can be gained from Jonathan Fenby’s less inhibited account, Chiang Kai-shek: The Generalissimo and the China He Lost. [Source: Perry Anderson, London Review of Books, February 9, 2012]

"No other figure in the tangled constellation of the interwar Kuomintang acquires any relief in his story. The reasons why Chiang could rise to power require a contextual explanation, however. They do not lie in his individual abilities. For these were, on any reckoning, very limited. The extremes of his psychological make-up cohabited with his mediocrity as a ruler. He was a poor administrator, incapable of properly co-ordinating and controlling his subordinates, and so of running an efficient government. He had no original ideas, filling his mind with dog-eared snippets from the Bible. Most strikingly, he was a military incompetent, a general who never won a really major battle---decisive victories in the Northern Expedition that brought him to power going to other, superior commanders. What distinguished him from these were political cunning and ruthlessness, but not by a great margin. They were not enough on their own to take him to the top. [Ibid]

"The historical reality was that no outstanding leaders emerged from the confused morass of the KMT in the Republican period. The contrast between Nationalists and Communists was not just ideological. It was one of sheer talent. The CCP produced not simply one leader of remarkable gifts, but an entire, formidable cohort, of which Deng was one among several. By comparison, the KMT was a kingdom of the blind. Chiang’s one eye was a function of two accidental advantages. The first was his regimental training in Japan, which made him the only younger associate of Sun Yat-sen with a military background, and so at the Whampoa Academy commanding at the start of his career means of violence that his rivals in Guangzhou lacked. The second, and more important, was his regional background. Coming from the hinterland of Ningbo, with whose accent he always spoke, his political roots were in the ganglands of nearby Shanghai, with its large community of Ningbo merchants. It was this base in Shanghai and Zhejiang, and the surrounding Yangtze delta region, where he cultivated connections in both criminal and business worlds, in what was by far the richest and most industrialised zone in China, that gave him his edge over his peers. The military clique that ruled Guangxi, on the border with Indochina, were better generals and ran a more progressive and efficient government, but their province was too poor and remote for them to be able to compete successfully against Chiang. [Ibid]

Chiang Kai-shek Marries Madame Chiang Kai-shek

Chiangs wedding's
In 1926, a year after he became leader of the Kuomintang, Chiang Kai-shek married Soong Mei-ling, Known to some people as the "Dragon Lady," Soong was born in 1897 in Shanghai. She grew up in Piedmont, Georgia in the United States and graduated from Wellesley College in 1917. Her English was better than her Chinese.

In his diary the American General Joseph Stilwell described her as a “clever, brainy woman....Direct, forceful, energetic. Loves power, eats up publicity and flattery, pretty weak on her history. Can turn on charm at will and knows it.”

In her letters to her American friends, Madame Chiang Kai-shek wrote that her husband had the power and charisma of a military man and the charm and tenderness of a poet, sometimes suprising her with presents of plum blossoms.

Even so Chiang Kai-shek and his wife had a notoriously tempestuous relationship. He converted to Christianity They had no children. Chiang had a son from his first, marriage, who later became leader of Taiwan. Chiang had a second, adopted son, from his second marriage to a woman he chased when he was 32 and she was 13 and who later got a doctorate at Columbia University in New York.

Soong Sisters

20080217-Soong_sisters wiki.jpg
Real Soong Sisters
Madame Chiang Kai-shek was one of the Soong sisters. It was said of Soong sisters: “One loved money; one loved power; and one loved China.” Madame Chiang Kai-shek was the one who loved power. Soong Ching-ling, the wife of Sun Yat-sen. was the one who loved China. The third sister Soong Ai-ling, who married the banker H.H. Kung, a scion in one of China’s wealthiest banking families, was the one who loved money. The sister’s brother T.V. was an influential politician, serving as the Kuomintang finance minister and prime minister at various times.

The Soong sisters were daughters of Charlie Soong, a Shanghai-based missionary turned publishing tycoon who made a fortune selling Bibles. Charlie was brought up on Hainan Island in the South China Sea. He was taken by Methodist missionaries to North Carolina where he converted to Christianity (all the Soong sisters were Christians). All the Soong sisters were educated ay Wesleyan College for women in Macon, Georgia. T. V. Soong, Soong May-ling's eldest brother and the republic's finance minister, went to Harvard; his rival, the financier H. H. Kung, went to Oberlin and Yale.

Carrie Gracie of BBC News wrote: In Shanghai, “a century ago, foreigners unpacked a whole new fascinating way of life on the docks here. From Western ships came bicycles, engine parts and young Chinese with a vision of modernity - adventurers like Charlie Soong who had been out to see the world and had come back with ideas about revolution and the role of women. A Bible publisher and pillar of Shanghai society, Charlie had sons, and in any earlier generation he'd have ignored his daughters. But he had been educated by American Methodists and he believed in Christian virtue, democracy and the dignity of women. From this waterfront, he sent his daughters to America to get a grounding in all three. "It was the hope of the father that these women would come back from the West with the knowledge that they can change China, and change the fate of the people, of the women, and eventually of themselves," says Mabel Cheung, director of a film about the Soong sisters. [Source: Carrie Gracie BBC News, October 11, 2012 \~/]

20080217-soong_sisters film.jpg
Movie Soon Sisters
“As Shanghai boomed, their horizons expanded. And in 1914 the eldest, Ailing, made a strategic match with a young man, H H Kung, who traced his ancestry back to Confucius. Money was no object. He and his bride would become China's richest couple. Once Kung became finance minister, Ailing discovered a useful way of making her investments grow, explains Jonathan Fenby, who has written a history of modern China. "He would sit at home and conduct various negotiations about revaluing the currency, or doing this that or other. And she would be taking notes, and get on the phone to her broker afterwards and place large investments," he says. \~/

“Qingling, the second sister, married a very different kind of politician - Sun Yatsen, the revolutionary leader of China, who had become President of China after the overthrow of the Qing dynasty in 1912. As Sun was an older man and already married, Qingling's parents objected - so she jumped out of a window and eloped with him. Like many other young Chinese people at the time she believed passionately in the idea of a new China, a country freed from feudalism, poverty and imperial dynasties. A country with an equal role for women. Qingling became Sun Yatsen's constant companion as he struggled to make peace between republicans and warlords. \~/

“The youngest sister, Meiling, did not immediately marry. Qingling's husband Sun Yatsen died in 1925 and his movement split into warring camps. His successor, Chiang Kaishek, was a no-nonsense military man, some would say a fascist. Qingling was horrified by his tactics. And doubly horrified when she discovered her younger sister Meiling was planning to marry him... All three sisters were very much in the public eye, and in the news magazines almost as often as film stars, Verity Wilson, an expert on Chinese culture, told the BBC. "They were constantly on show in a way that the imperial family in days gone by, had never been," she says. \~/

Film: The Soong sisters were the subject of the1995 film by Cheung Yuen-ting, Three Sisters.

Divisions Between the Soong Sisters

Chiang Kai-shek and Soong Nay-ling in 1943

Carrie Gracie of BBC News wrote: “But ideology drove a wedge between the sisters. In 1927, Meiling married Chiang Kaishek, who soon afterwards launched a bloody purge of communists in Shanghai. Qingling left for the Soviet Union, and the following year Meiling became the first lady of China. "Qingling was making a lot of demonstrations and making a lot of noises, which really irritated Chiang Kaishek," says Mabel Cheung. "It was rumoured that he really wanted to assassinate Qingling, and it was really only Soong Meiling who tried to hold him back." [Source: Carrie Gracie BBC News, October 11, 2012 \~/]

“In 1937, when Japan launched a full-scale invasion of China, Chiang's nationalists and the communists were briefly reunited against the common enemy. The sisters ran field hospitals and literacy projects together. Meiling was something of an ambassador for her country, becoming the first private citizen of any country to address the House of Representatives in Washington. \~/

As soon as the Japanese had surrendered in 1945, the nationalists and communists turned on each other again - and this time it was a fight to the finish. Meiling fled with the nationalists to Taiwan and for the next two decades did her bit to ensure that the US sided firmly with the island against the mainland. Ailing went to America and Qingling stood by the revolution, showered with honours for the rest of her life by a grateful communist state. \~/

“After 1949, the three sisters were never together again, estranged by history... All three have taken their thoughts on that separation to the grave. In a cemetery in Shanghai there are tall cedars and flowers in gold and red, the colours of the Chinese flag. Qingling is buried here and there's a dazzling white statue of her. Her sisters are buried in America. Ailing died in 1973 and Meiling led a quiet life in a Manhattan apartment dying at the grand old age of 105, in 2003.

Madame Chiang Kai-shek

Soong May-ling giving a special radio broadcast

In 1936, Madame Chiang Kai-shek came to her husband's rescue when he was held hostage by rebel troops sympathetic with the Communists. She is also believed to have played a part in convincing her husband to form an alliance with the Communists to fight the Japanese. At one point, she led the Chinese air force.In the 1920s Madame Chiang Kai-shek set up schools for orphans of the revolutionary army. During the eight-year war with Japan, she visited combat units and hospitals. In 1943, she toured the U.S. and spoke twice before the U.S. Congress, trying to drum support for China in their struggle against the Japanese. In one speech she said, "The only thing oriental about me is my face."

Carrie Gracie of BBC News wrote: “Her command of English and familiarity with America were not her only weapons. "Many foreign journalists visiting her found her the kind of embodiment of the mysterious, beautiful Chinese woman," says Fenby. "There was one visiting American journalist, Edward Murrow, who simply wrote in his book, 'She is pure sex appeal.' "And there's a wonderful bit in the diaries of Alan Brooke, the British Chief of Staff, who depicts her sitting there with a slit skirt, slit to the hip almost, jewelled high-heeled shoes and dark glasses. And Alan Brooke said, I may not quote it exactly: 'From time to time she crossed her legs, and I heard a suppressed neigh, like a horse, from our younger officers.'"[Source: Carrie Gracie BBC News, October 11, 2012]

Meanwhile Meiling “became a convenient hate figure for China's leftists. Until the reform era in the 1980s, all good communists were taught that she was a wicked bourgeois. "As I was growing up, she was seen as a bad character," says Xun Zhou. "They always referred to those beautiful dresses - she used make-up and wore necklaces, all those things, as bourgeois elements do. And also she was on the nationalist side, which was the enemy." \~/

Chairman Mao died in 1976 and the idea of socialism with Chinese characteristics was dreamed up to bridge the divide between capitalism and communism. Make-up and necklaces didn't seem so wicked after all, and Meiling was rehabilitated. "In the past 10 or 15 years, she's more represented as this modern, beautiful, intelligent woman. In fact, there's probably more talk about her than her sister Qingling now." \~/

In his book Enter the Dragon: A Look at the Western Fever Dream of Insatiable Chinese Power Tom Scocca wrote, “Madame Chiang comes and goes in the struggle---now managing the air force, now smuggling furs and other goods through the overstrained military supply lines. She risks her life in the mud and chaos helping war victims and writes chatty letters back to a Wellesley classmate about the experience. She achieves her apotheosis not in China but in the US, on a prolonged lobbying tour seeking more aid in the fight against Japan: enrapturing Congress and lecture crowds with her speechmaking (and her wardrobe), convincing her hosts that they are in the presence of a great leader of a great democratic nation. She urges lawmakers to “help bring about the liberation of man's spirit in every part of the world” and is at the center of a star-studded extravaganza for thirty thousand US sympathizers in the Hollywood Bowl...while she carried on a torrid and barely concealed affair with former Republican presidential nominee Wendell Willkie.

Revelations from Chiang Kai-shek’s Diary

Chiang, Soong and Chennault

The diaries of Chiang Kai-shek are looked over by research fellow Tai-chun Kuo at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. "There are many private things," Kuo told Caixin Online. "He wrote about daily life, philosophy, competitors, friends. He was very honest and straightforward. He wrote about how he felt, about how he controlled his sexual desire." [Source: Sheila Melvin, Caixin Online, July 12, 2013 +=+]

Sheila Melvin wrote on Caixin Online, “The diaries reveal a man who appears to have been trying to do what he thought best for his country – even if he wasn't immediately succeeding and the collateral damage was terribly high. They also seem to show that his Christian faith – which has often been seen as a political ploy – was in fact genuine. Many people, including myself, thought Chiang Kai-shek was a fake Christian – that he did it to marry Mei-ling," explained Kuo. "But after we read the diaries none of us questioned it. He read the Bible every day, he copied sentences from the Bible, he mentioned God, he asked for God's help – if not every day, then every other day." On one occasion in 1944, during the battle of Hengyang, Chiang bargained with God, promising in his diary to build the world's largest cross and have it set on Mt. Hengyang, if only God would help him to successfully defend the city. As Kuo explained, "He wrote, 'God, I have tried my best.' Every time when he was suffering, he turned to God." When prayer failed, he even contemplated suicide, suggesting it would be the only alternative if the war were lost; in later years, when the civil war was indeed lost by his side, he criticized himself for being too stubborn, overly confident, and failing to listen to advice. +=+

"Soong Mei-ling, apparently did not understand her husband's obsession with diary writing. She perhaps recognized its dangers and, according to Kuo, believed that "we should go out without leaving any traces, only ashes." But Chiang's decision to keep this long and detailed record of his thoughts – to leave traces - will ultimately enable scholars to further flesh out the caricature he has become, and the historical record along with it. Chiang Kai-shek will never be a hero to anyone, and the list of his errors, miscalculations, and outright wrongs is likely to remain long. But perhaps one day he will be perceived as a man who, in his own words, did his best." +=+

Chiang Kai-shek and the Whampoa Academy

Edward Wong wrote in the New York Times, “It was 1926, not long after the fall of the Qing dynasty, and much of China had been divided among warlords. In the south, leaders of the young Kuomintang mustered an army. At its head rode Chiang Kai-shek, who called to his side officers he had helped train, and together they marched north to take down the warlords, one by one. [Source: Edward Wong, New York Times, December 27, 2012 +++]

“The Northern Expedition was one of the first major tests for graduates of the Whampoa Military Academy, founded just two years earlier on quiet Changzhou Island, about 10 miles east of central Guangzhou, then known to the West as Canton. Mr. Chiang was the academy’s first commandant, appointed by Sun Yat-sen, the idealistic firebrand who wanted to build an army that would unite China. +++

“When Sun Yat-sen founded the Whampoa academy, his goal was to unite China and to revive China as a nation, which is exactly the same mission that Secretary Xi is on,” said Zeng Qingliu, a historian with the Guangzhou Academy of Social Sciences who wrote a television script for a drama series on Whampoa. “Under that goal and that mission, Chinese people from all over the world and across the country were attracted to Whampoa.” +++

“The first class at Whampoa had 600 students, 100 Communists among them, Mr. Zeng said. Prominent Russian advisers worked at the school. Zhou Enlai was the political director, and other famous Communists held posts or trained there. But the school was never under the party’s control. +++

“The Kuomintang moved it to the city of Nanjing in 1927, after a split with the Communists, and then to the southwestern city of Chengdu, after the Japanese occupied Nanjing, then known as Nanking. After the Kuomintang moved to Taiwan, they established a military academy there that they called the successor to Whampoa. But when historians speak of Whampoa, they mean the original incarnation of the school, before it moved from Guangzhou, Mr. Zeng said. Japanese bombs decimated the campus in 1938.” +++

Chiang and Sun Yat-sen at Whampoa

Kuomintang Under Chiang Kai-shek

After Sun Yat-sen's death in 1925, the Kuomintang splintered into competing factions. Chiang Kai-shek allied himself with warlords in southern and central China and emerged as the Kuomintang leader in 1926. He built up his army with the help of the Soviet Union, who regarded the Kuomintang as more progressive than the warlords in the north, and was able to crush the warlords in the north.

Chiang Kai-shek formally became head of the Kuomintang in 1927.In 1928, Chiang led his army from southern China into Beijing. For political ideology he combined Sun's "Three Principles of the People" with his own "New Life Movement," based on Methodist principals.

In December 1931, Chiang’s government collapsed after the Japanese took control Manchuria. Tens of thousands of students rioted in Nanking, taking virtual control of the government there. In Manchuria students demonstrated against the unwillingness of the Chinese army under Chiang to fight the Japanese.

Around the time this was happening Chiang wrote in his journal, “The war with Japan is not a matter of victory or defeat. It’s a matter of life or death for a people and their country” and “our determination will even overcome fate. I’ll wipe out the disgrace” and “we will not think about victory or defeat and national interest. We will sacrifice ourselves to show the class of our country and display national spirit.” Before and during World War II the Kuomintang mounted little resistance against the Japanese.

KMT soldiers needed “marriage report” to get married and could not get married without their superiors' approval. [Source: China Post, July 27, 2014]

China Under Chiang Kai-shek and the Kuomintang

Chiang Kai-shek and the warlord Long Yun

Chiang succeeded Sun Yatsen as the de facto leader of China. He broke with his Soviet advisers and with the communists but by 1927 was successful in defeating the northern warlords and unifying China. The years 1928 to 1937 are often referred to as the Nanjing Decade because of the national development that took place under Chiang’s presidency before World War II when China’s capital was in Nanjing (Southern Capital). The Northern Expedition had culminated in the capture of Beijing, which was renamed Beiping (Northern Peace). Thereafter, the Nanjing government received international recognition as the sole legitimate government of China.

Ordinary Chinese suffered greatly under Kuomintang leadership. Children were forced to work in factories 13 hours a day and sleep by their machines. Women were sold off as concubines and slaves. And magistrates lent money to peasants at outrageously high interest rates so they could buy expensive fertilizers, then lowered the price of the crops at harvest time and seized the land when the peasant couldn't pay back the loans. While Chiang Kai-shek's army warehouses overflowed with grain, people in the Hunan province were starving to death, and eating bark and leaves to survive.

Kuomintang soldiers were largely feared by the general population. Parents feared their daughters would be raped by them when they appeared in town. In some places bowls of urine were placed in houses when the soldiers were around to create a smell so vile no one would want to enter. One elderly woman told the New York Times, “None of the parents wanted to have their older girls at home. When the Nationalist soldiers came...young girls fled to the mountains, cut their hair and covered their faces with dirt.”

Chiang never controlled China, just changing parts of it. In the 1930s, Japan controlled Manchuria, the Communist held much of Shanxi, the Soviet Union controlled Mongolia and Xinjiang, and Europeans held the treaty ports on the coast. In these conditions Chiang moved his government from city to city based largely on which enemy he could strike a deal with.

Chiang attempt to hold the Japanese armies at bay while battling the Communists. After the Japanese launched a full-scale invasion in 1937 he joined forces with Mao and then joined the allies after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

During the Rape of Nanking Chiang Kai-skek and his top general escaped from Nanking while ordering Kuomintang troops to defend the city oven though he knew there was little they could do to stop he Japanese advance. Japanese historians have argued that many lives would have been saved had the nationalist army turned over the city to the Japanese .

Chiang Kai-shek and the New Life Movement

Chiang and Dai Li

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “In 1934, Chiang Kai-shek called for China to carry out a “New Life Movement.” At the time, Chiang was leader of the Republic of China, with his government in Nanjing. Chiang’s government, seriously underfunded, had only nominal control over vast areas of the country, which were actually run by warlords who had allied with Chiang and acknowledged the authority of his ROC government in theory while retaining substantial power (backed by their own armies) in practice. Chiang’s government was notoriously corrupt and not averse to cooperating with organized crime on projects such as opium “suppression” (i.e., monopoly), kidnapping, and assassination of political enemies. Japan had taken over northeastern China, or Manchuria, in 1932-1933 and renamed it “Manchukuo.” Within China, intellectuals had debated (and attacked) traditional Chinese values in the New Culture or May Fourth Movement, and the Communist Party, although driven underground in the cities, was active in the countryside. [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, <|>]

“Chiang Kai-shek heralded the "New Life Movement" to rally the Chinese people against the Communists and build up morale in a nation that was besieged with corruption, factionalism, and opium addiction. Rather than turning away from Confucian values as did the May 4 Movement, Chiang Kai-shek used the Confucian notion of self-cultivation and correct living for this movement. Here we see an attempt to revitalize what was seen by Chiang as the "essence" of being Chinese.” It was in this context that Chiang Kai-shek delivered his “Essentials of the New Life Movement” speech. <|> [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, <|>]

"Essentials of the New Life Movement" by Chiang Kai-shek

Chiang Kai-shek delivered his “Essentials of the New Life Movement” speech in September 1934 in the city of Nanchang, thus inaugurating the New Life Movement. On “The Object of the New Life Movement,” Chiang Kai-shek said: “Why is a New Life Needed? The general psychology of our people today can be described as spiritless. What manifests itself in behavior is this: lack of discrimination between good and evil, between what is public and what is private, and between what is primary and what is secondary. [Source: "Essentials of the New Life Movement" (Speech, 1934) by Chiang Kai-shek, from “Sources of Chinese Tradition: From 1600 Through the Twentieth Century”, compiled by Wm. Theodore de Bary and Richard Lufrano, 2nd ed., vol. 2 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000), 341-344; Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, <|>]

“Because there is no discrimination between good and evil, right and wrong are confused; because there is no discrimination between public and private, improper taking and giving [of public funds] occur; and because there is no distinction between primary and secondary, first and last are not placed in the proper order. As a result, officials tend to be dishonest and avaricious, the masses are undisciplined and calloused, youth become degraded and intemperate, adults are corrupt and ignorant, the rich become extravagant and luxurious, and the poor become mean and disorderly. Naturally it has resulted in disorganization of the social order and national life, and we are in no position either to prevent or to remedy natural calamities, disasters caused from within, or invasions from without. The individual, society, and the whole country are now suffering. … In order to develop the life of our nation, protect the existence of our society, and improve the livelihood of our people, it is absolutely necessary to wipe out these unwholesome conditions and to start to lead a new and rational life. <|>

“There are two kinds of skeptics: First, some hold that the four virtues are merely rules of good conduct. No matter how good they may be, they are not sufficient to save a nation whose knowledge and technique are inferior to others. Those who hold this view do not seem to understand the distinction between matters of primary and secondary importance. People need knowledge and technique because they want to do good. Otherwise, knowledge and technique can only be instruments of dishonorable deeds. Li, yi, lian, and chi are the principal rules alike for the community, the group, or the entire nation. Those who do not observe these rules will probably utilize their knowledge and ability to the detriment of society and ultimately to their own disadvantage. Therefore, these virtues not only can save the nation but also can rebuild the nation. <|>

“Second, there is another group of people who argue that these virtues are merely formal refinements that are useless in dealing with hunger and cold. … [Yet] when these virtues prevail, even if food and clothing are insufficient, they can be produced by human labor; or, if the granary is empty, it can be filled through human effort. On the other hand, when these virtues are not observed, if food and clothing are insufficient, they will not be made sufficient by fighting and robbing; or, if the granary is empty, it will not be filled by stealing and begging. The four virtues, which rectify the misconduct of men, are the proper methods of achieving abundance. Without them, there will be fighting, robbing, stealing, and begging among men.” <|>

Meaning of Li, Yi, Lian, and Chi by Chiang Kai-Shek

Chiang, Song and two sons

On the “Meaning of Li, Yi, Lian, and Chi,” Chiang Kai-shek said in his “Essentials of the New Life Movement” speech: “Although li, yi, lian, and chi have always been regarded as the foundations of the nation, yet the changing times and circumstances may require that these principles be given a new interpretation. As applied to our life today, they may be interpreted as follows: Li means “regulated attitude.” Yi means “right conduct.” Lian means “clear discrimination.” Chi means “real self-consciousness.” The word li (decorum) means li (principle). It becomes natural law when applied to nature; it becomes a rule when applied to social affairs; and it signifies discipline when used in reference to national affairs. A man’s conduct is considered regular if it conforms with the above law rule, and discipline. When one conducts oneself in accordance with the regular manner, one is said to have the regulated attitude. [Source: "Essentials of the New Life Movement" (Speech, 1934) by Chiang Kai-shek, from “Sources of Chinese Tradition: From 1600 Through the Twentieth Century”, compiled by Wm. Theodore de Bary and Richard Lufrano, 2nd ed., vol. 2 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000), 341-344; Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, <|>]

“The word yi means “proper.” Any conduct that is in accordance with li — i.e., natural law social rule, and national discipline — is considered proper. To act improperly, or to refrain from acting when one knows it is proper to act, cannot be called yi. The word lian means “clear.” It denotes distinction between right and wrong. What agrees with li and yi is right, and what does not agree is wrong. To take what we recognize as right and to forgo what we recognize as wrong constitute clear discrimination. The word chi means “consciousness.” When one is conscious of the fact that his own actions are not in accordance with li, yi, lian, and chi, one feels ashamed. <|>

“From the above explanations, it is clear that chi governs the motive of action, that lian gives the guidance for it, that yi relates to the carrying out of an action, and that li regulates its outward form. The four are interrelated. They are dependent upon each other in the perfecting of virtue. <|>

Main Points of the New Life Movement

20080217-200px-Kmtarmy wiki.jpg
Kuomintang army
In the conclusion of his “Essentials of the New Life Movement” speech, Chiang Kai-shek said: “In short, the main object of the New Life Movement is to substitute a rational life for the irrational, and to achieve this we must observe li, yi, lian, and chi in our daily life. 1) By the observance of these virtues, it is hoped that rudeness and vulgarity will be got rid of and that the life of our people will conform to the standard of art. By art we are not referring to the special enjoyment of the gentry. We mean the cultural standard of all the people irrespective of sex, age, wealth, and class. It is the boundary line between civilized life and barbarism. It is the only way by which one can achieve the purpose of man, for only by artistically controlling oneself and dealing with others can one fulfill the duty of mutual assistance. … A lack of artistic training is the cause of suspicion, jealousy, hatred, and strife that are prevalent in our society today. … To investigate things so as to extend our knowledge, to distinguish between the fundamental and the secondary, to seek the invention of instruments to excel in our techniques — these are the essentials of an artistic life, the practice of which will enable us to wipe out the defects of vulgarity, confusion, crudity, and baseness. [Source: "Essentials of the New Life Movement" (Speech, 1934) by Chiang Kai-shek, from “Sources of Chinese Tradition: From 1600 Through the Twentieth Century”, compiled by Wm. Theodore de Bary and Richard Lufrano, 2nd ed., vol. 2 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000), 341-344; Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, <|>]

“2) By the observance of these virtues, it is hoped that beggary and robbery will be eliminated and that the life of our people will be productive. The poverty of China is primarily caused by the fact that there are too many consumers and too few producers. Those who consume without producing usually live as parasites or as robbers. They behave thus because they are ignorant of the four virtues. To remedy this we must make them produce more and spend less. They must understand that luxury is improper and that living as a parasite is a shame. <|>

“3) By the observance of these virtues, it is hoped that social disorder and individual weakness will be remedied and that people will become more military-minded. If a country cannot defend itself, it has every chance of losing its existence. … Therefore our people must have military training. As a preliminary, we must acquire the habits of orderliness, cleanliness simplicity, frugality, promptness, and exactness. We must preserve order, emphasize organization, responsibility, and discipline, and be ready to die for the country at any moment.” <|>

Chiang Kai-shek Taken Prisoner

On December 12, 1936, a year after the Long March, Chiang Kai-shek was taken prisoner by his own generals at Hua Qing Pool, a Tang Dynasty resort near Xian. In what later became known as the Xian Incident, Chiang was taken, reportedly wearing only pajamas, after a Manchurian general named Zhang Xueiling (General Chang)---who wanted Chiang to turn his attention form fighting the Communists to fighting the Japanese---made a deal with Zhou Enlai for the Communists and Kuomintang to cease hostilities and unite against the Japanese.

According to one story Chiang was held for two weeks before he escaped by jumping out of window. In truth, Chiang met with Communist and Manchurian leaders and endorsed the deal made by Zhang and Zhou, bringing a temporary end of the Civil War. The deal was reportedly worked out by Madame Chiang who arrived in Xian 11 days after her husband was captured and managed to sweet talk Zhang into setting him free within 48 hours. Chiang was released by Zhang who was later arrested and imprisoned by Chiang who never forgave him. Zhang remained in a Taiwan jail until 1992, seventeen years after Chiang's death.

A few months later, Chiang maneuvered the Manchurian troops out of the Xian area and was getting ready to make a move on the Communists when the Japanese mounted a massive invasion in 1937 and Chiang was forced to cancel his plans and defend his territory against the Japanese.

Xian Incident

Zhang Xueliang

Zhang Xueliang was the eldest son of Zhang Zuolin, a warlord who ruled parts of northeast China. After his father was assassinated by the Japanese in 1928, Zhang swore allegiance to the Nationalist government. Although he fought against the Communists, he contributed to uniting China’s forces against Japan in the Xian Incident. After being court-martialed for kidnapping Chiang Kai-shek, Zhang was kept under house arrest in several locations in China and Taiwan. He regained his freedom around 1990 and later emigrated to Hawaii. He is regarded as a “hero of history” in China.

Kiyota Higa wrote in the Yomiri Shimbun, “Zhang Xueliang, who in 1936 was instrumental in forging a united front between the Kuomintang (Chinese Nationalist Party) and Communists to fight the Japanese, spent more than 10 years under house arrest in the sleepy mountain village of Hsinchu, northern Taiwan. In what is now known as the Xian Incident, Zhang, then a Kuomintang general, helped kidnap the party’s leader, Chiang Kai-shek. Zhang later spent nearly 50 years under house arrest, first in mainland China and later in Taiwan. [Source: Kiyota Higa, Yomiri Shimbun, July 4, 2013]

In 1946, Zhang was moved to this village from Chongqing, the Nationalist government’s wartime base in mainland China. “Tossing and turning, I could not sleep. Tears dry slowly on my pillow,” Zhang wrote. He filled his time writing poetry, in addition to reading and gardening. A statue of Zhang reading as an old man stands in one of the house’s tatami rooms.

"China Cannot Be Conquered”: 1939 Speech by Chiang Kai-shek

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “Chiang Kai-shek inherited, among other things, the role of defining and strengthening Chinese nationalism, a force that he hoped to use to unify the Chinese people behind him and his government. The speech below on national unity was delivered by Chiang in January 1939 when China was in a full.scale war with Japan. [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, <|>]

Chiang and Mao toasting Japan's defeat in 1945

In his “China Cannot Be Conquered” speech, Chiang Kai-shek said: “We are fighting this war [against the Japanese] for our own national existence and for freedom to follow the course of national revolution laid down for us in the Three Principles of the People. … You [high.level Kuomintang officials] should instruct our people to take lessons from the annals of the Song and Ming dynasties. [Source: "China Cannot Be Conquered" (Speech, 1939) by Chiang Kai-shek from “Chinese Civilization: A Sourcebook”, edited by Patricia Buckley Ebrey, 2nd ed. (New York: The Free Press, 1993), 401-406; Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, <|>]

The fall of these two dynasties [to the Mongols and the Manchus, both non-Chinese] was not caused by outside enemies with a superior force, but by a dispirited and cowardly minority within the governing class and society of the time. Today the morale of our people is excellent. … Our resistance is a united effort of government and people. … Concord between government and people is the first essential to victory. “The hearts of our people are absolutely united.”

Chiang Kai-skek’s Bad Rap and General Stilwell

Sheila Melvin wrote on Caixin Online, “ Chiang was put into impossible military and political positions by an unreliable Washington and the cantankerous “Vinegar Joe” Stilwell, the American general in China, who once referred to Chiang as ‘Peanut.’ “It is well known that Stilwell detested Chiang Kai-shek. According to Kuo, this was not only because of the shape of his head, but because Stilwell regarded Chiang as a "little person." His diaries seem to reveal that Chiang Kai-shek was oblivious to Stilwell's disdain. "When Stilwell arrived in Chongqing in March 1942," Kuo explained, "Chiang Kai-shek opened his arms. He saw himself as senior and was willing to educate Stilwell – he told him to be patient and consult, to learn from the experiences of Chinese generals." In his diary, Chiang noted, "I gave Stilwell lessons." Stilwell, however, in his own diary – also in Hoover Institution archives – wrote, "Peanut gave me lessons – bullshit." [Source: Sheila Melvin, Caixin Online, July 12, 2013]

In World War II, Chiang was accused of caring little for ordinary Chinese and getting others to fight his battles so he could conserve his forces to fight the Communists after the war. Arthur Waldron wrote: "The negative picture of Chiang can to a certain extent be traced back to one man, the American General Joseph W. Stilwell, whom Roosevelt sent to advise Chiang, and who soon came to despise him. Stilwell, not called Vinegar Joe for nothing... Stilwell was himself the poor strategist: for example, now that we have all the documentation, it is clear that the American four star gravely under-estimated the Japanese in Burma (Myanmar), throwing away tens of thousands of troops in the ill-judged and failed Myitkina offensive. Chiang’s inclination to hold to the defensive was clearly prudent and would have been a better course of action. [Source: Arthur Waldron, a professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania, China Brief (Jamestown Foundation), October 22, 2009]

Chiang, Soong and Stilwell

"A second wellspring of anti-Chiang sentiment was the unhappy American attempt, led by General George C. Marshall, to bring internal peace to post-War China by creating a coalition government between Chiang’s Nationalists and Mao Zedong’s Communists which foundered for many reasons, one of which was that Marshall had great leverage over Chiang, who depended upon the United States for support, but none whatsoever over the Communists, who were amply supplied by Moscow. Marshall never fully understood this fact, nor did many others. The American ambassador, Leighton Stuart, for example, who had lived in China for decades as an educator and was fluent in the language, believed that ties between the Chinese Communists and Moscow were tenuous and insignificant. [Ibid]

In a review of Chiang Kai-shek, The Generalissimo , Perry Anderson wrote in the London Review of Books: Central to The Generalissimo is the aim of reversing the verdict of Barbara Tuchman’s book on the American role, personified by General Stilwell, in the Chinese theatre of the Pacific War. For Taylor, it wasn’t the long-suffering Chiang, but the arrant bully and incompetent meddler Stilwell who was to blame for disputes between the two, and failures in the Burma campaign. Stilwell was no great commander. Taylor documents his abundant failings and eccentricities well enough. But they scarcely exonerate Chiang from his disastrous sequence of decisions in the war against Japan, many of them---even at the height of the fateful Ichigo offensive of 1944---motivated by his conviction that Communism was the greater danger. From the futile sacrifice of his best troops in Shanghai and Nanjing in 1937 to the gratuitous burning of Changsha in 1944, it was a story without good sense or glory. Despite strenuous scrubbings by recent historians to blanco his military record, it is no surprise that, from a position of apparent overwhelming strength after the surrender of Japan, he crumpled so quickly against the PLA in the Civil War. [Source: Perry Anderson, London Review of Books, February 9, 2012]

“There too Taylor tends to attribute to the US substantial blame for the debacle---Marshall, who had picked Stilwell, cutting a not much better figure in this part of his narrative---which he hints could have been avoided had Washington been willing to provide the massive support needed to help Chiang hold North China or, failing that, a line south of the Yangtze. These are not the sentiments of the Republican lobby that denounced the “loss of China” in the 1950s. Taylor has an independent mind. Describing himself as a moderate liberal and foreign policy pragmatist, he is quite capable of scathing criticism of US policies in full support of Chiang---attacking the “breathtaking” irresponsibility of Eisenhower in threatening war with the PRC during the Quemoy crisis of 1955, and composing with Dulles a secret policy document on the same island three years later, “extraordinary for its ignorant and far-fetched analysis.” What remains constant, however, is the American visor through which Chinese developments are perceived. [Ibid]

"Taylor concludes his story with the claim that Chiang has triumphed posthumously, since the China of today embodies his vision for the country, not that of the Communists he fought. This trope is increasingly common. Fenby retails a lachrymose variant of it, quite out of character with the rest of his book, a tourist guide in the PRC---as good as a taxi-driver for any passing reporter---telling him what an unnecessary tragedy KMT defeat in the Civil War was. In such compensation fantasies, Deng becomes Chiang’s executor, and Western visions of what China should be, and will become, are reassured. [Ibid]

Image Sources: Chiang Kai shek, Ohio State University; Chiangs wedding, wikipedia ; Soong sisters, wikipedia; 5) Soong Sisters film ; Kuomintang army, wikipedia

Text Sources: Asia for Educators, Columbia University <|>; New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated November 2016

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