Chiang Kai-Shek

Chiang Kai-Shek

Also romanized as Jiang Jieshi and known as Jiang Zhongzheng, was a Chinese political and military leader who served as the leader of the Republic of China between 1928 and 1975. Chiang was an influential member of the Kuomintang (KMT), the Chinese Nationalist Party, and was a close ally of Sun Yat-sen. He became the Commandant of the Kuomintang’s Whampoa Military Academy and took Sun’s place as leader of the KMT following the Canton Coup in early 1926. Having neutralized the party’s left wing, Chiang then led Sun’s long-postponed Northern Expedition, conquering or reaching accommodations with China’s many warlords.

Chiang Kai-Shek was born in Fenghua, during the Qing Dynasty, in 1887. He was a politician and military leader who unified China after the overthrow of the Manchu dynasty and led the country to victory against Japan, but lost the power then, four years later, to the Communists. He founded nationalist China on the island of Taiwan. Born into a modest family of merchants, in an isolated village full of farmers, Chiang has enrolled at a military college in Paoting, in northern China. Between 1907 and 1911, Chiang entered the Tokyo Shinbu Gakko, a military college. The future Chinese revolutionary leader, Sun Yat-Sen was one of his classmates. He was part of the Japanese army, and was impressed by the discipline of the Japanese soldiers and their ability to endure very difficult conditions. He returned to China in 1911, in Shanghai more exactly, once with the outbreak of the revolution.

Chiang Kai-Shek started the war against the Japanese in 1937, but the truce between the nationalists and communists was not really respected at its full terms. Chiang moved his capital to Chongqing after the Japanese captured Nanjing and once the Sino-Japanese war became part of the Second World War, he began playing an important role on the world’s great stage. Nationalist China began to be seen as a strong opponent of Japan, and the General with monk figure, dressed in plain clothes, began to socialize with Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill.

Chiang withdrew in 1949 in Taiwan, where he established a loose dictatorial regime. The last years of his life were overshadowed by the decision of his former allies, Japan and the United States, which recognized mainland China. The first decades after the Nationalists moved the seat of government to the province of Taiwan were associated with the organized effort to resist against Communism, which was by then known as the “White Terror”, during which about 140.000 Taiwanese were imprisoned for their real or perceived opposition to the Kuomintang. Most of those prosecuted were labeled by the Kuomintang as “bandit spies” (匪諜), meaning spies for Chinese Communists, and were eventually punished.

Believing that corruption and lack of morals were key reasons that the Kuomintang lost mainland China to the Communists, Chiang attempted to purge the corruption by dismissing members of the KMT accused of graft. Some major figures in the previous mainland Chinese government, such as H. H. Kung or T. V. Soong, exiled themselves to the United States. Though politically authoritarian and, to some extent, dominated by government-owned industries, Chiang’s new Taiwanese state also encouraged economic development, especially in the export sector. A popular sweeping “Land Reform Act”, as well as American foreign aid during the 1950’s, laid the foundation for Taiwan’s economic success, which became one of the Four Asian Tigers. He nevertheless left behind the prosperous island of Taiwan, which has developed an original democracy. Chiang led Taiwan as a peaceful dictator until his death. On 5 April 1975, Chiang Kai-Shek died in Taipei, Taiwan.

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