The Generalissimo: Chiang Kai-shek and the Struggle for Modern China

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Overview

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.

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Editorial Reviews

New Yorker
Chiang Kai-shek has long been viewed as a failure for having lost mainland China to Mao's People's Liberation Army in a stunningly short span of time. This richly detailed biography argues that Chiang's neo-Confucian vision for a modern China may yet win...Drawing on a revelatory cache of newly available diaries and records, Taylor reveals the complexities of the soldier and statesman, showing him to be shockingly brutal at times, oddly passive at others, naïvely earnest, quick to tears, and always surrounded by intrigue.
Far Eastern Economic Review
More than three decades after his death, Chiang is still the most controversial and polarizing figure in Taiwanese politics. In his new biography, Jay Taylor attempts to weave a life out of historical fact and rescue one of the central figures of modern Chinese history from the emotional effervescence of both supporters and detractors...Taylor does much to overturn the popular reading of [Chiang] and to illustrate Chiang's contributions to the Allied war effort. While his scholarship presents a more nuanced view of Chiang, it also uncovers a darker narrative for the Allies, who repeatedly failed to honor their commitments to Chiang...Judging by his stated goal of challenging assumptions and rounding out cardboard characterizations of Chiang, Taylor succeeds admirably. He uncovers a man devoted to reversing a century of humiliation in China.
— Robert Green
Choice
What makes Taylor's biography unique is his use of documents from the Guomindang Party's archive and Chiang's recently released diaries, which span the entirety of Chiang's adult life and offer intimate insight into his inner world, particularly his relationships with his sons and his struggle to reconcile Confucianism and Christianity...In describing each period, Taylor is always careful to situate Chiang in the context of domestic and international politics, thus making this book an accessible introduction to modern Chinese politics.
— L. Teh
The Economist
This enthralling book by Jay Taylor of Harvard University shows that [the] conventional views of both Chiang and the Chinese civil war are caricatures. It is the first biography to make full use of the Chiang family archive. This includes Chiang's own diary, in which he wrote at least a page of classical Chinese daily from 1918 to 1972. The picture that emerges is of a far more subtle and prescient thinker than the man America's General Joseph Stilwell used to refer to as "peanut," and Britain's chief of staff, Field-Marshal Lord Alanbrooke, dismissed in Cairo as "a cross between a pine marten and a ferret."
Times Higher Education
Master of his material, [Taylor] provides excellent in-depth accounts of episodes such as Chiang's kidnapping by Zhang Xueliang, the Manchurian exiled warlord, at Christmas 1936, the negotiations over the years between Nationalists and Communists and the old man's later years in Taiwan...This is the most thorough inquest on the Generalissimo so far.
— Jonathan Fenby
Financial Times
The traditional view of "General Cash-My-Check" as a corrupt and incompetent bit-part player in the story of modern Chinese history is overturned here. Taylor suggests that far from being an incompetent dictator he was actually a shrewd and even noble man, making the best out of a bad hand.
— George Pendle
Literary Review
Even in the rapidly widening field of modern Chinese history, it is unusual and gratifying to read a book that upsets not only the reader's previous views but even those of the author himself...Now a different Chiang stands before us. Drawing on new material, years of interviews with the dwindling number of those with first-hand memories of the Chiang family, and scrutiny of Chiang's voluminous diaries, Taylor reveals a much more interesting and despite his stiff exterior, frequently adaptable Chiang...The book is a huge advance on our knowledge of what happened in China from the early twentieth century to the present day, when an updated version of Chiang's Kuomintang is again in power in Taipei...There will be no oblivion [for Chiang]. Jay Taylor has seen to that...A substantial and comprehensive contribution to our knowledge of China.
— Jonathan Mirsky
New York Times Book Review
Now that Jay Taylor has written his comprehensive book The Generalissimo: Chiang Kai-shek and the Struggle for Modern China, we are able to see Chiang as a man of considerable cunning, brutality and patience who skillfully played a weak hand against the Japanese and Mao's forces while extracting huge sums from the Americans.
— Jonathan Mirsky
The Tablet
Reading [Taylor's] excellent, scholarly work, the fruit of five years' research, one does not warm to Chiang but comes to appreciate the emotional complexity of his character, and to admire his fortitude in the face of colossal odds.
— Simon Scott Plummer
Times Literary Supplement
Taylor succeeds in recovering a complicated man who was responsible for military and economic success as well as stunning failures...The Generalissimo is now the best English--language biography available. Taylor has considerable narrative skills, and is the first Western biographer to have drawn on Chiang Kai--shek's handwritten diaries.
— Jeremy Brown
Washington Post Book World
Jay Taylor's new biography, The Generalissimo: Chiang Kai-shek and the Struggle for Modern China, challenges the catechism on which generations of Americans have been weaned. Marshaling archival materials made newly available to researchers, including about four decades' worth of Chiang's daily diaries and documents from the Soviet era, it torpedoes many of that catechism's cherished tenets. This is an important, controversial book... Chiang emerges as a flesh-and-blood man rather than the buffoonish cardboard-cutout figure he has generally been portrayed as.
— Laura Tyson Li
New York Review of Books
This careful culling and quoting of Chiang's diaries is a device Taylor uses effectively to show Chiang's personal qualities. Taylor rejects the commonly held notion that these diaries deserve to be ignored, as being devoid of historical interest; instead, by juxtaposing quotations from Chiang's diaries with vivid and detailed descriptions of the major political and military events unfolding in the wider world, he gives a kind of intimacy to what otherwise might be merely inchoate reflections. Thus, to some extent, Taylor has been able to construct a series of more emotional linkages between Chiang and the world within which he worked.
— Jonathan D. Spence
Christian Science Monitor
Taylor shows in great detail that Chiang and his often-maligned troops fought more effectively against Japan's heavily armed and well trained war machine than is generally realized. He also depicts in a mostly positive light Chiang's performance during a quarter of a century in exile at the head of the Nationalist government on Taiwan, where he set the stage for the island's shift from dictatorship to democracy...Generalissimois well-written, and takes on an epic quality as Taylor guides us through many turning points in modern Chinese history. He draws on new materials, but his greatest strength is the fairness of his approach.
— Dan Southerland
marginalrevolution.com
A new and apparently exhaustive biography...This could well be one of the more important non-fiction books of the year.
— Tyler Cowen
Taiwan Today
Through using newly available archival materials dating back some 40 years, including Chiang's daily diaries, Kuomintang and ROC government documents, Russian records and interviews with key figures, the [Taylor] has produced a deeply researched book that follows the generalissimo from his days on the mainland until his death in Taiwan. But what makes Taylor's work so special are the numerous in-depth and eminently readable accounts of Chiang's life. For the first time, the grandiose layers of appearance and reality that the generalissimo built up around him are stripped back to reveal the man behind the myth. Taylor's epic book is a landmark tome in Chinese studies because it shows that the generalissimo, far from being a sham Caesar who lost the mainland to Mao Zedong and communism in a surprisingly short period of time, gave the nation its best government in the 20th century. This revisionist take, which is told with a flair befitting the subject, shows Chiang to be an honorable and talented man who was subject to ungovernable fits of temper that often led to impetuous decisions...[This] excellent biography...should be mandatory reading for those seeking to garner a better understanding of the mainland and its political and social direction in the 21st century.
— Jean Brisebois
Laura Tyson Li
Jay Taylor's new biography…challenges the catechism on which generations of Americans have been weaned. Marshaling archival materials made newly available to researchers, including about four decades' worth of Chiang's daily diaries and documents from the Soviet era, it torpedoes many of that catechism's cherished tenets. This is an important, controversial book…Taylor carefully reconsiders the received wisdom, yet his book is no polemic. Having begun with stereotyped preconceptions, he evidently grew sympathetic to his subject in the telling. But he does not shrink from detailing the worst abuses of Chiang's oppressive rule both on the mainland and on Taiwan.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

American historians tend to portray Chiang Kai-Shek (1887--1975) as an inept dictator who mismanaged China until Mao Zedong expelled him in 1945 and he finished his life ruling Taiwan under the protection of the U.S. military. But this thick, heavily researched but lucid biography by Taylor, a research associate at Harvard's Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, describes an impressive figure who left China a greater legacy than he has been given credit for. An ambitious officer, Chiang took power when Sun Yat-sen died in 1925. Attempting to unify a chaotic nation, he fought warlords and rival Communists and then spent nine even bloodier years fighting the Japanese. Those expecting the traditional account of how Chiang hoarded American military aid in preparation for a postwar showdown with the Communists will read instead of the massive losses his troops suffered fighting the Japanese while Mao husbanded his forces. Taylor does not conceal Chiang's brutality and diplomatic failures, but he is an admirer who makes a good case that Chiang governed an almost ungovernable country with reasonable skill and understood his enemies better than American advisers did. 41 b&w illus., 4 maps. (Apr.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Taylor (research assoc., Fairbank Ctr. for Chinese Studies, Harvard), best known for his biography of President Chiang Kai-shek's son, Ching-kuo, follows up with an equally engaging biography of Chiang Kai-shek himself, founder of the Republic of China (ROC) on Taiwan. Indeed, this book is arguably less a biography than a modern history of China. Drawing heavily on Chiang's personal diaries, the text reveals a soldier who was curiously self-contradictory in both actions and personality. Although an ill-tempered and ruthless politician, Chiang was a courageous intellectual who loved and sacrificed for his country. Taylor reveals the complex relationship among Republican China on Taiwan, Communist China, and the United States and shows that while Chiang was an archrival of Mao, he nonetheless secretly consulted with his mainland counterparts on most policy developments. Although he ran a tightly regulated police state with brutal suppression of dissidents, Chiang's rule ultimately raised personal income, health, and education levels on the island, setting the stage for Taiwan's evolution of a Chinese model of democratic modernization. An excellent addition to the field of modern Chinese history; recommended for academic audiences.
—Allan Cho

Washington Post Book World

Jay Taylor's new biography, The Generalissimo: Chiang Kai-shek and the Struggle for Modern China, challenges the catechism on which generations of Americans have been weaned. Marshaling archival materials made newly available to researchers, including about four decades' worth of Chiang's daily diaries and documents from the Soviet era, it torpedoes many of that catechism's cherished tenets. This is an important, controversial book... Chiang emerges as a flesh-and-blood man rather than the buffoonish cardboard-cutout figure he has generally been portrayed as.
— Laura Tyson Li

The Economist
This enthralling book by Jay Taylor of Harvard University shows that [the] conventional views of both Chiang and the Chinese civil war are caricatures. It is the first biography to make full use of the Chiang family archive. This includes Chiang's own diary, in which he wrote at least a page of classical Chinese daily from 1918 to 1972. The picture that emerges is of a far more subtle and prescient thinker than the man America's General Joseph Stilwell used to refer to as "peanut," and Britain's chief of staff, Field-Marshal Lord Alanbrooke, dismissed in Cairo as "a cross between a pine marten and a ferret."
Literary Review

Even in the rapidly widening field of modern Chinese history, it is unusual and gratifying to read a book that upsets not only the reader's previous views but even those of the author himself...Now a different Chiang stands before us. Drawing on new material, years of interviews with the dwindling number of those with first-hand memories of the Chiang family, and scrutiny of Chiang's voluminous diaries, Taylor reveals a much more interesting and despite his stiff exterior, frequently adaptable Chiang...The book is a huge advance on our knowledge of what happened in China from the early twentieth century to the present day, when an updated version of Chiang's Kuomintang is again in power in Taipei...There will be no oblivion [for Chiang]. Jay Taylor has seen to that...A substantial and comprehensive contribution to our knowledge of China.
— Jonathan Mirsky

New Yorker
Chiang Kai-shek has long been viewed as a failure for having lost mainland China to Mao's People's Liberation Army in a stunningly short span of time. This richly detailed biography argues that Chiang's neo-Confucian vision for a modern China may yet win...Drawing on a revelatory cache of newly available diaries and records, Taylor reveals the complexities of the soldier and statesman, showing him to be shockingly brutal at times, oddly passive at others, naïvely earnest, quick to tears, and always surrounded by intrigue.
Times Higher Education

Master of his material, [Taylor] provides excellent in-depth accounts of episodes such as Chiang's kidnapping by Zhang Xueliang, the Manchurian exiled warlord, at Christmas 1936, the negotiations over the years between Nationalists and Communists and the old man's later years in Taiwan...This is the most thorough inquest on the Generalissimo so far.
— Jonathan Fenby

Christian Science Monitor

Taylor shows in great detail that Chiang and his often-maligned troops fought more effectively against Japan's heavily armed and well trained war machine than is generally realized. He also depicts in a mostly positive light Chiang's performance during a quarter of a century in exile at the head of the Nationalist government on Taiwan, where he set the stage for the island's shift from dictatorship to democracy...Generalissimois well-written, and takes on an epic quality as Taylor guides us through many turning points in modern Chinese history. He draws on new materials, but his greatest strength is the fairness of his approach.
— Dan Southerland

marginalrevolution.com

A new and apparently exhaustive biography...This could well be one of the more important non-fiction books of the year.
— Tyler Cowen

New York Review of Books

This careful culling and quoting of Chiang's diaries is a device Taylor uses effectively to show Chiang's personal qualities. Taylor rejects the commonly held notion that these diaries deserve to be ignored, as being devoid of historical interest; instead, by juxtaposing quotations from Chiang's diaries with vivid and detailed descriptions of the major political and military events unfolding in the wider world, he gives a kind of intimacy to what otherwise might be merely inchoate reflections. Thus, to some extent, Taylor has been able to construct a series of more emotional linkages between Chiang and the world within which he worked.
— Jonathan D. Spence

Far Eastern Economic Review

More than three decades after his death, Chiang is still the most controversial and polarizing figure in Taiwanese politics. In his new biography, Jay Taylor attempts to weave a life out of historical fact and rescue one of the central figures of modern Chinese history from the emotional effervescence of both supporters and detractors...Taylor does much to overturn the popular reading of [Chiang] and to illustrate Chiang's contributions to the Allied war effort. While his scholarship presents a more nuanced view of Chiang, it also uncovers a darker narrative for the Allies, who repeatedly failed to honor their commitments to Chiang...Judging by his stated goal of challenging assumptions and rounding out cardboard characterizations of Chiang, Taylor succeeds admirably. He uncovers a man devoted to reversing a century of humiliation in China.
— Robert Green

Financial Times

The traditional view of "General Cash-My-Check" as a corrupt and incompetent bit-part player in the story of modern Chinese history is overturned here. Taylor suggests that far from being an incompetent dictator he was actually a shrewd and even noble man, making the best out of a bad hand.
— George Pendle

New York Times Book Review

Now that Jay Taylor has written his comprehensive book The Generalissimo: Chiang Kai-shek and the Struggle for Modern China, we are able to see Chiang as a man of considerable cunning, brutality and patience who skillfully played a weak hand against the Japanese and Mao's forces while extracting huge sums from the Americans.
— Jonathan Mirsky

Times Literary Supplement

Taylor succeeds in recovering a complicated man who was responsible for military and economic success as well as stunning failures...The Generalissimo is now the best English—language biography available. Taylor has considerable narrative skills, and is the first Western biographer to have drawn on Chiang Kai—shek's handwritten diaries.
— Jeremy Brown

The Tablet

Reading [Taylor's] excellent, scholarly work, the fruit of five years' research, one does not warm to Chiang but comes to appreciate the emotional complexity of his character, and to admire his fortitude in the face of colossal odds.
— Simon Scott Plummer

Taiwan Today

Through using newly available archival materials dating back some 40 years, including Chiang's daily diaries, Kuomintang and ROC government documents, Russian records and interviews with key figures, the [Taylor] has produced a deeply researched book that follows the generalissimo from his days on the mainland until his death in Taiwan. But what makes Taylor's work so special are the numerous in-depth and eminently readable accounts of Chiang's life. For the first time, the grandiose layers of appearance and reality that the generalissimo built up around him are stripped back to reveal the man behind the myth. Taylor's epic book is a landmark tome in Chinese studies because it shows that the generalissimo, far from being a sham Caesar who lost the mainland to Mao Zedong and communism in a surprisingly short period of time, gave the nation its best government in the 20th century. This revisionist take, which is told with a flair befitting the subject, shows Chiang to be an honorable and talented man who was subject to ungovernable fits of temper that often led to impetuous decisions...[This] excellent biography...should be mandatory reading for those seeking to garner a better understanding of the mainland and its political and social direction in the 21st century.
— Jean Brisebois

Choice

What makes Taylor's biography unique is his use of documents from the Guomindang Party's archive and Chiang's recently released diaries, which span the entirety of Chiang's adult life and offer intimate insight into his inner world, particularly his relationships with his sons and his struggle to reconcile Confucianism and Christianity...In describing each period, Taylor is always careful to situate Chiang in the context of domestic and international politics, thus making this book an accessible introduction to modern Chinese politics.
— L. Teh

New Republic online

[An] important book...Coming closer to Chiang than previous biographers, Taylor provides new insight on his character—a combination of unwavering physical bravery and discipline with a sense of martyrdom and shame...Taylor's long section on Chiang's years in Taiwan is one of the most masterful parts of his book, opening up a subject that no one else had seriously investigated.
— Andrew J. Nathan

Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, Harvard University - william C. Kirby
The story of Chiang Kai-shek is so big, so interwoven with the story of modern China, and so complex, that it has defied a good biographical treatment. Now, Jay Taylor has provided us with a strong, vivid, and eminently readable biography of this major twentieth-century leader that captures his 'life and times' better than any previous work in English.
David Lampton
This splendid biography far surpasses previous scholarship on Chiang Kai-shek, providing new insights into the savage international and civil wars in China that raged for almost thirty years as well as Chiang's quarter century on Taiwan where he laid the predicate for democratic governance on the besieged island.
,
Robert Sutter
Following his masterful account The Generalissimo's Son, Taylor has fully tapped Chiang Kai-shek's personal diaries and a comprehensive range of sources to provide the most authoritative assessment of this towering figure in the Chinese revolution and global politics of the 20th century.
Andrew J. Nathan
[An] important book...Coming closer to Chiang than previous biographers, Taylor provides new insight on his character--a combination of unwavering physical bravery and discipline with a sense of martyrdom and shame...Taylor's long section on Chiang's years in Taiwan is one of the most masterful parts of his book, opening up a subject that no one else had seriously investigated.
Washington Post Book World - Laura Tyson Li
Jay Taylor's new biography, The Generalissimo: Chiang Kai-shek and the Struggle for Modern China, challenges the catechism on which generations of Americans have been weaned. Marshaling archival materials made newly available to researchers, including about four decades' worth of Chiang's daily diaries and documents from the Soviet era, it torpedoes many of that catechism's cherished tenets. This is an important, controversial book... Chiang emerges as a flesh-and-blood man rather than the buffoonish cardboard-cutout figure he has generally been portrayed as.
Literary Review - Jonathan Mirsky
Now that Jay Taylor has written his comprehensive book The Generalissimo: Chiang Kai-shek and the Struggle for Modern China, we are able to see Chiang as a man of considerable cunning, brutality and patience who skillfully played a weak hand against the Japanese and Mao's forces while extracting huge sums from the Americans.
Times Higher Education - Jonathan Fenby
Master of his material, [Taylor] provides excellent in-depth accounts of episodes such as Chiang's kidnapping by Zhang Xueliang, the Manchurian exiled warlord, at Christmas 1936, the negotiations over the years between Nationalists and Communists and the old man's later years in Taiwan...This is the most thorough inquest on the Generalissimo so far.
Christian Science Monitor - Dan Southerland
Taylor shows in great detail that Chiang and his often-maligned troops fought more effectively against Japan's heavily armed and well trained war machine than is generally realized. He also depicts in a mostly positive light Chiang's performance during a quarter of a century in exile at the head of the Nationalist government on Taiwan, where he set the stage for the island's shift from dictatorship to democracy...Generalissimois well-written, and takes on an epic quality as Taylor guides us through many turning points in modern Chinese history. He draws on new materials, but his greatest strength is the fairness of his approach.
marginalrevolution.com - Tyler Cowen
A new and apparently exhaustive biography...This could well be one of the more important non-fiction books of the year.
New York Review of Books - Jonathan D. Spence
This careful culling and quoting of Chiang's diaries is a device Taylor uses effectively to show Chiang's personal qualities. Taylor rejects the commonly held notion that these diaries deserve to be ignored, as being devoid of historical interest; instead, by juxtaposing quotations from Chiang's diaries with vivid and detailed descriptions of the major political and military events unfolding in the wider world, he gives a kind of intimacy to what otherwise might be merely inchoate reflections. Thus, to some extent, Taylor has been able to construct a series of more emotional linkages between Chiang and the world within which he worked.
Far Eastern Economic Review - Robert Green
More than three decades after his death, Chiang is still the most controversial and polarizing figure in Taiwanese politics. In his new biography, Jay Taylor attempts to weave a life out of historical fact and rescue one of the central figures of modern Chinese history from the emotional effervescence of both supporters and detractors...Taylor does much to overturn the popular reading of [Chiang] and to illustrate Chiang's contributions to the Allied war effort. While his scholarship presents a more nuanced view of Chiang, it also uncovers a darker narrative for the Allies, who repeatedly failed to honor their commitments to Chiang...Judging by his stated goal of challenging assumptions and rounding out cardboard characterizations of Chiang, Taylor succeeds admirably. He uncovers a man devoted to reversing a century of humiliation in China.
Financial Times - George Pendle
The traditional view of "General Cash-My-Check" as a corrupt and incompetent bit-part player in the story of modern Chinese history is overturned here. Taylor suggests that far from being an incompetent dictator he was actually a shrewd and even noble man, making the best out of a bad hand.
Times Literary Supplement - Jeremy Brown
Taylor succeeds in recovering a complicated man who was responsible for military and economic success as well as stunning failures...The Generalissimo is now the best English--language biography available. Taylor has considerable narrative skills, and is the first Western biographer to have drawn on Chiang Kai--shek's handwritten diaries.
The Tablet - Simon Scott Plummer
Reading [Taylor's] excellent, scholarly work, the fruit of five years' research, one does not warm to Chiang but comes to appreciate the emotional complexity of his character, and to admire his fortitude in the face of colossal odds.
Taiwan Today - Jean Brisebois
Through using newly available archival materials dating back some 40 years, including Chiang's daily diaries, Kuomintang and ROC government documents, Russian records and interviews with key figures, the [Taylor] has produced a deeply researched book that follows the generalissimo from his days on the mainland until his death in Taiwan. But what makes Taylor's work so special are the numerous in-depth and eminently readable accounts of Chiang's life. For the first time, the grandiose layers of appearance and reality that the generalissimo built up around him are stripped back to reveal the man behind the myth. Taylor's epic book is a landmark tome in Chinese studies because it shows that the generalissimo, far from being a sham Caesar who lost the mainland to Mao Zedong and communism in a surprisingly short period of time, gave the nation its best government in the 20th century. This revisionist take, which is told with a flair befitting the subject, shows Chiang to be an honorable and talented man who was subject to ungovernable fits of temper that often led to impetuous decisions...[This] excellent biography...should be mandatory reading for those seeking to garner a better understanding of the mainland and its political and social direction in the 21st century.
Choice - L. Teh
What makes Taylor's biography unique is his use of documents from the Guomindang Party's archive and Chiang's recently released diaries, which span the entirety of Chiang's adult life and offer intimate insight into his inner world, particularly his relationships with his sons and his struggle to reconcile Confucianism and Christianity...In describing each period, Taylor is always careful to situate Chiang in the context of domestic and international politics, thus making this book an accessible introduction to modern Chinese politics.
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674033382
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 4/15/2009
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 752
  • Product dimensions: 6.70 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 5.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Jay Taylor is a Research Associate at the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies at Harvard University.
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Table of Contents

  • List of Maps
  • Acknowledgments
  • Note on Romanization
  • Prologue
  • 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


  • Epilogue
  • Notes
  • Index

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  • Posted July 22, 2009

    The Generalissimo is a fascinating read

    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.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 27, 2009

    Most recent biography on Chiang Kai Shek

    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.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 27, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    for history buffs this is a great read of an amazing story

    "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.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 14, 2013

    Book Review The Generalissimo: Chiang Kai-shek and the Struggle

    Book Review
    The Generalissimo: Chiang Kai-shek and the Struggle for modern China
    By Jay Taylor, reviewed by Gerrit van der Wees

    Taylor did an incredible amount of research to produce this biography of Chiang Kai-shek. He presents a compelling account of the Generalissimo’s life and times, and adds many insights into events and developments, both during Chiang’s rise to power in the
    1910s and 1920s, during the long Civil War with the Communists, and during his repressive rule in Taiwan from the end of World War II until his death in 1975.

    Taylor portrays Chiang as a more benign human being, with both strong and weak points. He describes times when Chiang, as China’s president and top commander of China’s military forces, had keen insights in what was going to happen, and other times when he utterly failed to make the right decisions. Taylor also touches extensively on Chiang’s personal weaknesses, his womanizing, his failure to control the rampant corruption in the Kuomintang – which continues to this day – and most importantly, his total ruthlessness against anyone or any group which seemed to challenge his control of the political and military establishment.

    Whether he succeeds in presenting a convincingly more benign portrait of Chiang Kai-shek remains to be seen. Certainly in the area of military strategy and tactics, Taylor presents evidence that Chiang saw matters more clearly than some of his US counterparts: in 1941 he counseled General Joseph Stilwell against an offensive against the Japanese forces in Burma, and advocated a defensive approach. However, Stillwell underestimated the size and strength of the Japanese, went on the offense … and badly lost, prompting his well-documented escape march through the jungles of Burma.

    Taylor describes in great detail the endless intrigues and maneuvering by Chiang and his wife Soong Mei-ling, in particular their quest to squeeze more financial and military assistance out of President Roosevelt for the beleaguered but corrupt Chinese Nationalists. He also describes at length the perpetual tug-of-war between Chiang Kai-shek and US General Joe Stilwell over strategy and tactics in the war against Japan. Interestingly, based on documents, Taylor – more often than not – comes down on the side of Chiang, blaming much of the tension on the stubbornness of Stilwell.

    Taylor also goes into significant detail in describing Chiang’s repressive rule in Taiwan after the end of World War II, including a fair account of the “February 28th” Massacre in 1947, when Chiang sent troops from China to Taiwan to put down protests by the native Taiwanese against the corruption of the arriving Chinese mainlanders, leading to a massacre of some 28,000 people, many of them students, professionals and leading political members of the Taiwanese community. For the next four decades the Taiwanese were prohibited from even mentioning “228”, and it wasn’t until the democratization of the late 1980s that it was possible to talk about it.

    Where we would strongly disagree with Taylor is his assertion that Chiang’s rule in Taiwan laid the foundation for Taiwan’s prosperity and “set the stage for Taiwan’s development of a vigorous democracy.” This is simply not the case. It can actually be argued that without the presence of the Chiang regime, Taiwan would have fared much better, both in terms of economic development as well as the transition to democracy: following World War II, Taiwan had — due to the Japanese colonial period — a much better infrastructure than China ever had, and would have prospered better if Chiang had not been there to perpetuate his wasteful “recover the mainland” line.

    On the issue of democracy: Chiang gave only lip-service to this idea in order to maintain his ties with the successive US governments, but in the meantime continued a repressive one-party dictatorship for several decades. In fact, Taiwan’s momentous transition to democracy in the 1980s was driven by the grassroots, native Taiwanese, democracy movement and came about in spite of vigorous opposition from the ruling Kuomintang. Sadly, at the present time, the successors of this same Kuomintang are – again —
    disregarding basic democratic principles, and are causing an erosion of Taiwan’s hardwon human rights, democracy and press freedom in an apparent attempt to drive Taiwan closer to their old archenemies of the CCP.

    A final note: one point that stands out throughout Taylor’s narrative is the lack of understanding among US policy makers of the forces at work, both in the 1930s and ’40s with the crucial role played by Moscow behind the scenes, and again in the early 1970s,
    when Chou En-lai kept Chiang Kai-shek informed of what the Americans were doing behind his back.

    At the present critical juncture in cross-strait relations, is US policy similarly misinformed and misguided in face of the unprecedented collaboration of KMT and CCP in undermining Taiwan’s international position and future as a free and democratic nation?

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  • Posted July 2, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    China duped by the CCP again!

    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.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 6, 2009

    very detailed history of the Generalissimo

    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.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 19, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted April 16, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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