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Chiang Kai-Shek: China's Generalissimo and the Nation He Lost Hardcover – December 10, 2003

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 562 pages
  • Publisher: Carroll & Graf Publishers; 1st Carroll & Graf Ed edition (December 10, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0786713186
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786713189
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.4 x 1.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #901,309 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

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

From Booklist

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 Freeman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Customer Reviews

Fenby's book is full of fascinating detail.
Denys Firth
It is well known that Chiang Kai-shek was supported by Big-Eared Du, who controlled the opium trade in Shanghai.
Eric Langager
He does not hold back any facts, but just does not make strong judgements.
Crossfit Len

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

35 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Crossfit Len on February 9, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have been waiting for this book for a long time. Not particularly this book, but any modern updated biography of Chiang Kai Shek. In recent years we have gotten updated biographies of Mao and Ho Chi Minh and now finally Chiang Kai-Shek.
First and foremost, this is a well written, well researched book. It is easy to read and never boring. So on that sense it is a good biography. The book also has some great pictures and good maps at the beginning of the book.
The book does a terrific job showing the politics going on in China between 1911 and 1945. The books strongest points about Chiang Kai-Shek are on his battles against the warlords and desires to eliminate the communists. I also felt the book did a great job discussing his wife, and her famous family the Soongs.
That being said, I felt the book was weak in its overall assessment of Chiang Kai-Shek. I got the impression that the author really did not want to make any strong judgements about Chiang Kai Shek. He does not hold back any facts, but just does not make strong judgements. However, the author is highly critical of Sun Yatsen, and General Stillwell. Two great men in history, this author is not afraid to judge, but Chiang Kai Shek he does not.
Sun Yatsen was a great leader and had such a vision for China, but Fenby is highly critical of him. Stillwell was exactly right on how Chiang Kai-Shek would lose China and was dead on in his assessment of KMT corruption. Instead, Fenby is critical of Stillwell. For a better look at Stillwell look at the Recent book on the Burma Road.
Also, I was surprized at how rushed the author gets at the end on the ultimate Communist victory.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By H. Argun on June 16, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book was more than a biography of Chiang. For someone with little background knowledge of 20th century Chinese history it also taught me much of what the Chinese people have went through in the last 100 years as far as suffering, fighting, and just trying to survive. The book goes into extreme detail in describing nearly every facet of Chiang's life from what he was wearing at each of his weddings, to the names of all of his associates and their relevance/importance at each stage of his life. Basically the book paints a picture of many opportunities and resources that were at Chiang's disposal that were basically squandered. I was a little suprised at the amount of wealth that Chiang possessed and the amount of corruption that he both tolerated and at times encouraged. It was also very discouraging to read about the fact that he had such little regard for human life and for all of the people that perished at his hands. Overall, this was an eye opening book and one of the best biographies that I have ever read. With the number of current news stories about China on the increase, I believe that this book is essential reading for anyone interested in current events/world affairs and I would highly recommend it.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Sergey Radchenko on January 13, 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Fenby chose the Xi'an incident of December 1936 as the prologue for the book, exposing his readers right away to the drama of Chiang's detention, a key turning point in the Generalissimo's struggle for China. If Zhang Xueliang, who arrested Chiang, instead supported his commander in the final assault on the Communist positions, perhaps China would be reunified there and then. These ifs - Chiang's long list of lost opportunities - are brought vividly to light in this excellent biography, highlighting Chiang's numerous failures, as well as his remarkable ability to bounce back from the brink of defeat.

Chiang's main problem, in Fenby's account, was his method of leadership. Chiang was a master of political intrigue, of playing one rival faction against another, of forging and breaking alliances. But often Chiang's scheming, even if it achieved his immediate narrow ends, undermined his long-term objectives, fatally weakening the Generalissimo at crucial turning points in the struggle against the Japanese and the Communists. A micromanager, Chiang lacked a broader vision of what he wanted to accomplish: ultimately, even though he won many battles, he lost the war.

Fenby pulls no punches in his account of Chiang's relationship with his main ally and sponsor, the United States. The stars of the powerplay - the Generalissimo and "Vinegar Joe" Stillwell - were both at fault for allowing their personal vendettas interfere with the broader war effort. Each side pulled strings in Washington, leaving Roosevelt at a loss as to what to do about China, which was anyhow way down his list of priorities.
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22 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Prince Roy on November 11, 2005
Format: Paperback
This important book fills a glaring void that exists in the historical record of modern China. While historians have always provided ready attention to Mao Zedong and communist China, they never accorded the same serious examination to the role and legacy of Chiang Kai-shek. Before this book, most of the resources on Chiang dated from the 1970s and earlier, largely consisting of hagiographic accounts penned by pro-KMT Chinese living in Taiwan or abroad, or similar propaganda fluff pieces financed by the Henry Luce China Lobby. A well-reasoned, independent account of Chiang's life was thus long overdue, and Fenby comes through in a huge way.

He writes an engaging narrative of Chiang, a person of quite humble origins, who became one of the world's most famous and powerful figures. Fenby also provides detailed, careful background on the China of Chiang's time, particularly that of the 1911 Revolution and subsequent warlord period. This is important in understanding why Chiang allied with the types of people and strata of society that he did, and why this alliance alienated vast numbers of Chinese, providing moral fodder and legitimacy for the alternative offered by Mao. Much of Fenby's information regarding Chiang's early political career comes from an autobiography written by his largely-forgotten second wife, Chen Jieru (Jennie). While this relationship is common knowledge in Taiwan, she is practically unknown in the west. Her book is entitled Chiang Kai-shek's Secret Past, and what Fenby was able to glean from it has whetted my appetite to read the book myself.

Fenby is at his best when he examines the decades-long struggle for control of China between Chiang and Mao.
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