The Generalissimo: Chiang Kai-shek and the Struggle for Modern Chinaby Jay Taylor
Pub. Date: 04/15/2009
Publisher: Harvard University Press
Winner of the 2010 Gelber Prize
One of the most momentous stories of the last century is China’s rise from a self-satisfied, anti-modern, decaying society into a global power that promises to one day rival the United States. Chiang Kai-shek, an autocratic, larger-than-life figure, dominates this story. A modernist as well as a neo-Confucianist, Chiang/b>… See more details below
Winner of the 2010 Gelber Prize
One of the most momentous stories of the last century is China’s rise from a self-satisfied, anti-modern, decaying society into a global power that promises to one day rival the United States. Chiang Kai-shek, an autocratic, larger-than-life figure, dominates this story. A modernist as well as a neo-Confucianist, Chiang was a man of war who led the most ancient and populous country in the world through a quarter century of bloody revolutions, civil conflict, and wars of resistance against Japanese aggression.
In 1949, when he was defeated by Mao Zedong—his archrival for leadership of China—he fled to Taiwan, where he ruled for another twenty-five years. Playing a key role in the cold war with China, Chiang suppressed opposition with his “white terror,” controlled inflation and corruption, carried out land reform, and raised personal income, health, and educational levels on the island. Consciously or not, he set the stage for Taiwan’s evolution of a Chinese model of democratic modernization.
Drawing heavily on Chinese sources including Chiang’s diaries, The Generalissimo provides the most lively, sweeping, and objective biography yet of a man whose length of uninterrupted, active engagement at the highest levels in the march of history is excelled by few, if any, in modern history. Jay Taylor shows a man who was exceedingly ruthless and temperamental but who was also courageous and conscientious in matters of state. Revealing fascinating aspects of Chiang’s life, Taylor provides penetrating insight into the dynamics of the past that lie behind the struggle for modernity of mainland China and its relationship with Taiwan.
- Harvard University Press
- Publication date:
- Edition description:
- New Edition
- Product dimensions:
- 6.70(w) x 9.30(h) x 5.70(d)
Table of Contents
- List of Maps
- Note on Romanization
- I. Revolution
- 1. A Neo-Confucian Youth
- 2. The Northern Expedition and Civil War
- 3. The Nanking Decade
- II. War of Resistance
- 1. The Long War Begins
- 2. Chiang and His American Allies
- 3. The China Theater
- 4. Yalta, Manchuria, and Postwar Strategy
- III. Civil War
- 1. Chimera of Victory
- 2. The Great Failure
- IV. The Island
- 1. Streams in the Desert
- 2. Managing the Protector
- 3. Shifting Dynamics
- 4. Nixon and the Last Years
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The absence of a bibliography is a serious defect in this hardcover edition published by Harvard University Press. It is a pity as Jay Taylor has written the latest and an excellent biography on Chiang Kai Shek. Reviewers of this book portrayed this book as groundbreaking, far surpass previous scholarship, and provide the most authoritative assessment of Chiang Kai Shek. And yet as recent as 2003 we had the excellent biography by Jonathan Fenby titled Generalissimo Chiang Kai Shek and the China He Lost. It is unfortunate that this book is not referred or analysed in this book. The Fenby's biography evokes the atmosphere better. Fenby gave more detailed info and writes with a flair that is typical of a good journalist of which he is one. Taylor in his biography adopts the traditional view that the Empress Dowager was all-powerful and had sided with the Boxers in the Boxers Uprising. It is unfortunate that there was no discussion at all of the contrary view taken by Sterling Seagrave in his very well-researched biography of the Empress Dowager called Dragon Lady- The Life and Legend of the Last Empress of China. Sterling had presented compelling evidence that the traditional view was based on false facts concocted by George Morrison the Peking correspondent of the Times of London , Sir Edmund Backhouse the chinese translator for Morrison and JOP Bland the Shanghai correspondent of the Times of London. I would still recommend this book. The strength of this book is that Taylor had access to the extensive diaries of Chiang Kai Shek when he was given a set in 2003 by the Taiwanese authorities. These diaries were not available to Fenby when Fenby wrote his biography. Ultimately I would recommend reading these 2 books as Chiang Kai Shek's life is the history of China spanning the fall of the Manchu Empire in 1911 to the Communist victory in 1949 and finally the history of Taiwan. Chiang's life in China till his flight to Taiwan was a violent life, a life where there was not a single day of peace and tranquility. To comprehend such a complex and tumultuous life one needs to read both these 2 books. There are some minor errors in the notes. For example Han Su Yin's book on Zhou En Lai is called Elder Son and Eldest Son at note 133 and 135 and 159 at pages 622 and 623. The correct title is Eldest Son. Iris Chang who wrote The Rape of Nanking is called Irish Chang at note 58 at page 626.
"The Generalissimo" by the veteran Foreign Service Officer Jay Taylor, who had extensive involvement with China during his career and is a keenly observing reporter who had complete access to Chiang Kai-sheks journals - and many other sources - is a readers most desired companion with his objectivity, insights, and worldly-wise humor. Whoever believes he knows - or wishes to know - how the China of today has so dramatically come on the world's stage, this provocative book helps one to grasp the internecine struggles engulfing China before, during, and after WW11. Chiang lost the struggle with Mao Zedong for the mainland and retreated to the small island of Taiwan where Chiang and his wife, Madame Chiang, along with his sons, presided over the remarkable transition to one of the most successful nations of modern history. This small, democratic republic is now the envy of the giant mainland communist state, and as the grand image of Mao Zedong fades in history, the emerging consensus seems to favor the elevation of Chiang as Taylor skillfully lays out. Chiang's long, tumultuous career involved nearly all the great political and military personalties of the twentieth century, and for that fact alone this is a book worth reading for it fleshes out in fascinating detail - some very personal - the machinations of the great actors on history's stage over that span of time. And not least of all his beguilling, western educated wife Mayling who was his true partner on this incredible journey.
Taylor's work is very well researched. It's major strength and weakness is his dependency on memoir as evidence (although this is well contextualized by contemporary research). One thus gets excellent perspective of the major players--especially Chiang's views as recorded in his personal diary. That said, what we get is a highly nuanced version of the old KMT line--brilliant Chiang, betrayed by warlords, let down by the US, loser of a propaganda war with the underhanded commies of the CCP. The work fails to address the rampant corruption in KMT (perhaps 50% of all aid went into the pockets of the Soongs and other Chiang allies), the fundamental inability of the KMT to mobilize the people was well as the CCP (perhaps because no one in the KMT wanted to undertake serious reform), and the fact that much of Chiang's ability to lead stemmed from the fact that he was an unassertive center around which other players negotiated (at least until after Taiwan reforms). We are left with the old school narrative of poor Chiang and the righteous (albeit ever so slightly flawed) KMT stabbed in the back by the nefarious forces of international communism. That said, after reading through these biases--I loved it and could not put it down.
Taylor's book on the life of Chiang Kai-Shek is well written and based upon detailed research. A significant part of the information presented is new and based upon recently released papers and letters. One of the strongest points of the book is that it does not start with any pre-suppositions about the strength or weakness of Chiang Kai-Shek, but lets the chips fall where they may. Needless to say, that have been many opinions of Chiang over the years, many of which are unfounded. What is particularly interesting is Chiang's relationship with Stalin, and the influence that his wife, Soong Mayling had had on his decisions. Another enlightening aspect of the book was how his relations with the US actually may have hurt his success on mainland China. A great read filled with insightful analysis and surprising information.
a rare record of the Generalissimo that is very absorbing. only throwback is that it is soooo detailed to loose focal point and sometimes find it un-interesting.