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Chiang Kai-shek

Chiang Kai-shekChiang Kai-shek, also romanized as Chiang Chieh-shih or Jiang Jieshi and known as Chiang Chungcheng, was a political and military leader. Chiang Kai-shek was born in Fenghua, Chechiang province on October 31, 1887. Chiang’s father was a local merchant who died when Chiang was eight. Having spent a year in a Chinese military academy, in 1907, Chiang went to Tokyo to attend the Japanese Army Military State College. While in Japan, Chiang took part in revolutionary activities led by Sun Yat-sen.

Sun Yat-sen and, later, Chiang Kai-shek formed the Nationalist army. In 1924, when Sun set up a military academy near Canton in southern China, Chiang was appointed commandant of the school. After Sun’s death, Chiang assumed leadership of the Nationalist Party. In 1926, he launched the Northern Expedition against warlords, which in two years achieved China’s unity. This expedition proved to be extremely successful in subduing some of the warlords. However, as the expedition progressed, it developed anti-foreign overtones. In addition, the Communist and the Kuomintang leftists were converting the expedition into a social and economic revolution and were creating many international enemies through their violent treatment of foreigners. In April of 1927 Chiang dispatched his troops to liquidate the Communists. This marked the beginning of the enmity between Chiang and the Communists.

Since Chiang's coup against the Communists was not authorized by the central committee of the Kuomintang, he was dismissed from his post as Commander in Chief. However, the leftist members of the Kuomintang soon realized that the Communists really were agents of Moscow. This cleared the way for a reconciliation between the left and right wings of the Kuomintang. Chiang returned early in 1928. During this period, Chiang consciously decided to stop the revolution short of the masses and to preserve the Confucian and traditional order in China. His liquidation of the Communists without authority indicated that it was his personal decision. Chiang's refusal to equalize land ownership and to pursue the pro-Soviet policy originated by Sun supports this idea and appears to be a logical extension of his decision to retain the traditional Chinese values.

In the spring of 1928 Chiang continued the Northern Expedition from the Yangtze to Peking. Peking was taken in June. China was finally reunited, at least in name, in December 1928 when Chang Hsueh-liang (the Young Marshal) declared his allegiance to the Kuomintang. This reunification, however, was more form than fact. Chiang, rather than subduing the remaining warlords, created a weak system of alliances. This lack of a firm power base throughout China continually created mutual distrust and resulted in great obstacles to the successful implementation of important reforms and programs.

After the Communists had failed in their attempt to establish a proletarian revolutionary base in Wuhan and had withdrawn into their base areas in Kiangsi province, Chiang attempted to complete their destruction. Between 1930 and 1933 Chiang launched four military operations against the Communist base areas. All of these campaigns ended in failure due to superior Communist intelligence networks and Chiang's ineptitude. Japan inadvertently contributed to the failure of the third and fourth Nationalist operations by invading Manchuria in 1931 and with the attack on Shanghai in 1932-1933.

Chiang's external problems as leader of the Kuomintang regime began when he attempted to exert his influence in the semi-autonomous region of Manchuria. This brought him into direct conflict with Russia and Japan, the two powers who had spheres of influence in the area. The Sino-Soviet conflict of 1929 was his first confrontation.

Unable to match the Japanese on the battlefield, the Nationalists signed the Tangku Truce in May 1933 and agreed to withdraw from the Peking-Tientsin area. After signing away part of Northern China in the Tangku Truce, four years of relative peace with the Japanese followed in which Chiang again turned his attention on the Communists. In 1934, with the aid of German advisors, Chiang devised a military campaign against the Communists which was accompanied by an economic blockade that separated and isolated the Communists from the people and almost succeeded in destroying them.

Rather than risk total annihilation in a positional battle, the Communists broke out of the encirclement and began the "long march" from Kiangsi province to northern Shensi province. This six thousand mile march ended in the fall of 1935 with 20,000 of the original 80,000 Communists surviving the journey.

In December of 1936 Chiang flew to the headquarters of the Manchurian Army, at Sian, for a first hand look at the situation. On arrival, Chiang was kidnapped by the "Young Marshal," who demanded a united front against Japan. Chiang refused to negotiate and was released on 25 December, after Chou En-lai interceded in Chiang's behalf.

During the war against the Japanese from 1937 to 1945, Chiang was China’s generalissimo. The Japanese eventually gained control of most of the populated areas and economic centers in China and forced Chiang to move his government to Chungking, deep into the interior of China. Even after these defeats Chiang refused to surrender and the Japanese did not have the manpower to occupy all of China. A deadlock ensued.

When the United States entered the war against Japan, both the Communists and Nationalists acted as if the war had already been won and began to think in terms of a postwar struggle between themselves. The war with the Japanese weakened Chiang’s forces and corruption eroded his government’s legitimacy. While the Nationalists and Communists at first cooperated against Japan, they soon split. Lead by Mao Tse-tung, the Communists proved very effective at gaining the support of China’s millions of peasants.

As the U.S. contemplated involvement in World War II, Joseph “Vinegar Joe” Stilwell was selected — over his personal objections — to serve as Chief of Staff to Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his old friend, Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall. In the China-Burma-India Theater, he commanded and was responsible for the Lend-Lease supplies going to China and later was assigned as Deputy Commander of the South East Asia Command. His primary objective after arrival was to keep the Burma Road open so that American supplies could continue to flow into China. His efforts proved to be in vain.

Stilwell spoke Chinese fluently and had extensive experience in that country. However, his contempt for Chiang, whom he called "Peanut," was widely known.' Nor was he a fan of President Roosevelt, whom he called "Old Softy." Considering himself a professional military man with only soldierly concerns, Vinegar Joe found the Burmese mud preferable to the muck of politics in Washington and Chungking.

In a forceful letter to General Marshall, FDR wrote: "Stilwell has exactly the wrong approach in dealing with Generalissimo Chiang .... [T]he Generalissimo came up the hard way to become the undisputed leader of four hundred million people-an enormously difficult job to attain any kind of unity from a diverse group of all kinds of leaders, ... [Chiang] finds it necessary to maintain his position of supremacy. You and I would do the same thing under the circumstances. He is the Chief Executive as well as the Commander-in-Chief, and one eannot speak sternly to a man like that or exact commitments from him the way we might do from the Sultan of Morocco."

Stilwell immediately ran into difficulties with Chiang and one of his own subordinates, Claire Chennault (1890-1958), the commander of the American Fourteenth Air Force in China. The difficulty between Chiang and Stilwell evolved from a complex of internal Kuomintang problems that were a direct result of Chiang's previous myopia, preoccupation with the Communists, and preservation of Confucian tradition.

The whole tangled structure of Chinese politics, culture, and society was reflected in the question of what troops would obey whom under what set of circumstances. Loyalty being a conditional virtue in most men, only an observer gifted with clairvoyance could state with accuracy that such and such a division would obey the orders of Chungking under all circumstances. Thus, the Chinese Ministry of War would not attempt to order certain Yunnanese and Szechwanese divisions to leave their native provinces. On another occasion, a very senior general officer of the Chinese Government bitterly protested giving lend-lease to the troops of a certain war area commander, of unchallenged loyalty to Chinese nationalism and the Allied cause, at a time when those troops were hotly engaged with the Japanese. The war area commander was then out of favor in Chungking, and only a very few insiders would have known why.

China had about 3,819,000 men under arms. Of these, 2,919,000 were formed into 246 divisions classed by the Chinese as "front-line" troops. The number of Chinese divisions was more than three times as many divisions as the United States had in the field in 1945. A veritable flood of lend-lease equipment, in hundreds of thousands of tons every year, would have been needed to arm 316 divisions and 47 brigades, after they had been taught how to use and maintain it. A small amount, spread over all these units with a nice eye to face and patronage, would have been spread so thin as to have no effect on the situation. Thus, 1,080 75-mm. howitzers would give a modest artillery complement, not far below Japanese standards, to thirty divisions. Spread evenly over 316 divisions it would amount to about three new pieces for each division, which would leave each unit only nominally less ineffective than before.

Chiang Kai-shekChiang feared, and rightly so, that if the armies of the warlords were as well-trained and equipped as his own, the precarious control he had over them would disappear and the warlords would feel strong enough to exert their own influence and drift away from or challenge Kuomintang control. Therefore Chiang impeded Stilwell's training program and generally restricted it to the forces directly under his control.

Stilwell tried to convince Chiang to make the necessary reforms and consolidate his control while the Communists were weak and restricted and the Kuomintang had the active economic and moral support of the Western powers. Chiang was not impressed with these arguments and felt that the accumulation of planes and tanks through the lend-lease program would provide the power he needed to handle the Communists after the defeat of the Japanese.

Chennault constantly complained that he should be allocated more of the tonnage. He insisted that if given sufficient tonnage his air force alone could defeat the Japanese without the support of ground forces. This provided Chiang with a convenient face-saving alternative to sacrificing his troops in battle with the Japanese and allowed him to hoard his men and supplies for the inevitable battle with the Communists. The fallacy of this solution was that, as soon as the air power began to hurt the Japanese they would take the airfields which were not defendable because of the poorly equipped and deployed Chinese ground forces. After a series of disagreements with Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek and other key officials, Stilwell was recalled from his command by President Roosevelt.

The Nationalists, occupied at war’s end with repatriating almost three million Japanese and blamed by many for an economy devastated by war, were very unpopular. Four years of fighting between Communists and Nationalists followed the defeat of Japan. It appears that the payment for all of Chiang's past sins of commission and omission, stupidity and ineptitude, came due at the same time.

The poorly trained, ill-led, half-starved and often abused Chinese armies that Chiang had been boarding deserted en masse. Entire divisions switched to the Communist side taking their American equipment with them. The Whampoa clique complicated matters by discriminating against provincial commanders. The destruction of Chiang's armies on the battlefield was only part of the overall problem. Due to protracted corruption and gross mismanagement at high levels, the Chinese economy had receded into a state of hyper-inflation. This devastated the Chinese middle class and resulted in increased corruption on a wider scale.

The Nationalist effort was dealt a decisive blow by the Communists in late 1948 and early 1949. Chiang committed some fifty divisions of his remaining two hundred divisions to form a strong point on the plains around Hsuchow. The encircled Nationalist troops surrendered on 10 January 1949. When it was over, the Nationalists fled to Taiwan, and Mao ruled China.

With the end of World War Two Taiwan was, at least de facto, restored to the Republic of China. Chiang Kai-shek appointed Chen Yi, an ally of him, governor of the island. Chen Yi arrived on October 25 1945. The military forces of the Republic of China under the Kuomintang (Chinese Nationalist Party — Chung-kuo Kuo-min-tang — usually shorted to Kuomintang, KMT) arrived in Taiwan after the war and started to erase all vestiges of Japanese rule and to bring the island under Nationalist Chinese political, economic, and cultural influence.

Rather than treating Taiwan as a liberated area, the KMT forces confronted the local population as enemy collaborators. Businesses were looted and goods were seized as KMT military officers and politicians took charge. The abolition of the use of widely spoken Japanese and the imposition of Mandarin Chinese led to communications and political problems. Taiwanese political groups and the media sought influence, but mainlanders predominated in the key provincial administrative positions. Provincial and local assembly elections took place in 1946, but the Taiwanese found their elected bodies had only limited powers.

Anti-mainlander violence flared on February 28, 1947, prompted by an incident in which a cigarette seller was injured and a passerby was shot to death by Nationalist authorities. The island-wide rioting was brutally put down by Nationalist Chinese troops, who killed thousands of people. As a result of the February 28 Incident, the native Taiwanese felt a deep-seated bitterness to the mainlanders. The unrests ended bloodily. Regarding the Kuomintang’s own records, at least 28,000 people were killed.

The Korean War proved to be a gift to Chiang. On June 27, 1950, President Harry S. Truman, reversing his earlier decision not to become further involved in the Chinese civil war, ordered full support to Chiang and instructed the U.S. Seventh Fleet to “neutralize” the Taiwan Strait to prevent possible attacks from the mainland. Chiang offered to send his troops to fight in Korea, an idea supported by General Douglas MacArthur. The offer, however, was turned down by the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff. At the end of July 1950, Chiang received MacArthur in Taipei. The two discussed the possibilities of military cooperation, but nothing concrete came of the meeting and no Nationalist forces ever fought in Korea.

But fervent anti-Communism and the indubitable fact that he was an enemy of the Communist Chinese gave added legitimacy to his regime and opened the floodgates of U.S. aid. In the decades to follow, Chiang’s regime became progressively less brutal and eventually opened to something close to democracy. In addition, the island republic’s economy boomed by the 1970s, until by the 1980s, its gold reserves actually surpassed those of the United States.

During the 1950s, the KMT authorities implemented a far-reaching and highly successful land reform program on Taiwan. They redistributed land among small farmers and compensated large landowners with commodities certificates and stock in state-owned industries. Although this left some large landowners impoverished, others turned their compensation into capital and started commercial and industrial enterprises. These entrepreneurs were to become Taiwan’s first industrial capitalists. Together with refugee businessmen from the mainland, they managed Taiwan’s transition from an agricultural to a commercial, industrial economy.

Chiang was the president of the Republic of China on Taiwan until his death April 5, 1975. When Chiang Kei-shek died, he was succeeded by his son, Premier Chiang Ching-kuo (Jiang Jingguo), as head of the party and president of the Republic of China.

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Page last modified: 02-01-2020 18:41:19 ZULU