From Publishers Weekly
Chiang Kai-shek's life (18871975) coincided with some of the most violent and chaotic decades of Chinese history, and as this son of a salt merchant from the lower Yangtze came into his own, his destiny became increasingly entwined with the agonizing destiny of China. Many of Chiang's actions, including his 1949 flight to Taiwan, directly shaped that destiny. In this chronicle of his life, Fenby, former editor of the Observer and the South China Morning Post, recounts the generalissimo's rise amid the gruesome power struggles of warlords; the political machinations that enabled his gradual assumption of political power during the Kuomintang regime; his tortuous attempts to fend off Japanese imperial expansion while also trying to exterminate the fledgling Communist movement; and his eventual defeat at the hands of Mao's Red Army. Fenby's account of Chiang's early life is the most detailed part of the book and relies heavily on excerpts from a memoir by Chiang's second wife (whom he cast aside to forge a political marriage and strategic alliance with the youngest daughter of the powerful Soong family) and on journalistic tidbits from Western observers and participants; these accounts are always colorful and engaging if sometimes less than analytical. Whatever one might think of the man-depicted here as explosive-tempered, superhumanly ambitious, profoundly conservative and authoritarian, and not above forging alliances with underworld gang leaders-one cannot read this biography without marveling at the sheer magnitude of his arc of power and the scope and unifying impact of his life on a once-decentralized nation. B&w photos, maps.
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During the American political wars of the mid-1950s, "Who lost China?" was a question used by the Left and the Right to bludgeon each other. Of course, China was never ours to lose. If any single person can be accused of "losing" the most populous nation on earth, it has to be Chiang Kai Shek. Journalist Fenby has written the first comprehensive biography of Chiang in the past 30 years and makes skillful use of newly available sources from mainland China, Taiwan, and the West. The result is a fascinating, often surprising portrait of the man and his nation as it endured the trials of revolution, foreign occupation, and civil war. This is no simplistic exercise in Chiang bashing. Fenby consistently pays tribute to Chiang's dedication to lifting his nation out of its morass. But, as Fenby shows time and again, Chiang's egotism, stubbornness, and his often shocking ignorance of his own people doomed him to failure. This is an important work that will deepen our understanding of the past, present, and future of China. Jay FreemanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved