Chiang Kai-shek (Taiwan, China)

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Chiang Kai-shek (transliterated as Chiang Chieh-shih in the modern Wade-Giles romanisation) was leader of the Nationalist government of China from 1928 to 1949 and President from 1928 to 1931 and from 1943 to 1949. Defeated in the civil war against the Communists (1946–49), Chiang fled with the remains of his forces to Taiwan where he continued to style himself President of the Republic of China until his death in 1975.

Chiang was born on 31 Oct. 1887 in Zhejiang province into a prosperous commercial and farming family. He trained for a military career, first at a military academy in northern China (1906–07) and then in Japan (1907–11), where he met young Chinese who were conspiring against the Manchu imperial dynasty. Chiang became a convert to revolutionary ideas. When the 1911 uprising against the emperor broke out, Chiang returned home.

Early Life

Chiang took part in the fighting that overthrew the imperial system and was equally involved with the revolutionaries against the authoritarian president, Yuan Shih-kai, in 1913–16. In 1918 Chiang joined Sun Yat-sen’s Nationalist Party and became Sun’s close ally. Following the overthrow of Yuan, China disintegrated at the hands of local warlords. Sun reorganised the party on Soviet lines and sent Chiang to Moscow to study the Soviet system and Red Army in 1923. Returning to China, Chiang was placed in charge of a military academy at Huangpu, near Guangzhou, and built an effective army. At this stage the Nationalists were co-operating with the Communists to re-establish national unity, but rivalry between the two parties increased, particularly after the death of Sun in 1925.

As commander in chief of the Nationalist army from 1925, Chiang’s power grew. In April 1927, he tried to suppress the Chinese Communist Party in a bloody campaign in which thousands of Communists were slaughtered. The remains of the party fled to the far western province of Jiangxi, beyond the reach of the Nationalists. In 1928 Chiang’s army entered Beijing. With the greater part of the country reunited under Chiang’s rule, he formed a government in Nanjing, which became the capital of China.

Career Peak

Chiang’s power was illusory. The Communists controlled part of the south-west where they had established a Chinese Soviet Republic, the warlords could rebel again at any time and, in 1931, the Japanese invaded and occupied Manchuria. Chiang ignored the Japanese, concentrating on crushing the Communists. After a long campaign, the noose tightened round the Communist “statelet” but its leaders and a sizeable army escaped across China on the Long March (1934–35). Attempting to revive national unity, Chiang reinstated Confucianism as the state religion in 1934—although he was a Christian. In Dec. 1936 Chiang was kidnapped by military leaders who wanted to confront Japan rather than the Communists.

The full-scale invasion of China by the Japanese in 1937 obliged Chiang to call a truce with the Communists to face the common enemy. Compared with the Communists, Chiang’s armies made little headway against the Japanese. In 1938 Chiang removed his capital to Chongqing, where he sat out the war. After the defeat of Japan following the use of nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the United States, Nationalists and Communists began negotiations concerning the future shape of China’s government. But the talks broke down and civil war resumed in 1946. A crushing series of defeats led to the Communist victory. Chiang retreated to Taiwan with the remains of his forces.

Backed by the United States, Chiang insisted that he continued in office as President of the Republic of China. But his territory had been reduced to the island of Taiwan and a few small islands off the coast of China. Still technically at war with the Communists, Chiang maintained martial war and ruled as a dictator. American aid allowed Chiang to achieve remarkable economic development and soon Taiwan had a much higher standard of living than mainland China. Despite a defence pact with the USA in 1955, which guaranteed American assistance if the Communists should attack Taiwan, a rapprochement between Washington and Beijing troubled Chiang’s final years. He died on 5 April 1975, 4 years before the United States severed its diplomatic ties with the Nationalists.

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