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The Generalissimo: Chiang Kai-shek and the Struggle for Modern China Paperback – May 30, 2011

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. American historians tend to portray Chiang Kai-Shek (1887–-1975) as an inept dictator who mismanaged China until Mao Zedong expelled him in 1945 and he finished his life ruling Taiwan under the protection of the U.S. military. But this thick, heavily researched but lucid biography by Taylor, a research associate at Harvard's Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, describes an impressive figure who left China a greater legacy than he has been given credit for. An ambitious officer, Chiang took power when Sun Yat-sen died in 1925. Attempting to unify a chaotic nation, he fought warlords and rival Communists and then spent nine even bloodier years fighting the Japanese. Those expecting the traditional account of how Chiang hoarded American military aid in preparation for a postwar showdown with the Communists will read instead of the massive losses his troops suffered fighting the Japanese while Mao husbanded his forces. Taylor does not conceal Chiang's brutality and diplomatic failures, but he is an admirer who makes a good case that Chiang governed an almost ungovernable country with reasonable skill and understood his enemies better than American advisers did. 41 b&w illus., 4 maps. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From The New Yorker

Chiang Kai-shek has long been viewed as a failure for having lost mainland China to Mao’s People’s Liberation Army in a stunningly short span of time. This richly detailed biography argues that Chiang’s neo-Confucian vision for a modern China may yet win. Chiang saw himself as central to China’s destiny, yet his years in exile were some of his happiest; as he once wrote, “Trouble is an excellent tonic.” While Mao was inflicting the Great Leap Forward on mainland China, Chiang was instituting a widely admired program of land reform on Taiwan, and today the raucously democratic island is often looked to in the People’s Republic as a model of prosperity. Drawing on a revelatory cache of newly available diaries and records, Taylor reveals the complexities of the soldier and statesman, showing him to be shockingly brutal at times, oddly passive at others, naïvely earnest, quick to tears, and always surrounded by intrigue.
Copyright ©2008 Click here to subscribe to The New Yorker --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 752 pages
  • Publisher: Belknap Press (April 30, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674060490
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674060494
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.4 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #239,076 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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79 of 81 people found the following review helpful By William Krause on April 26, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I have come upon Jay Taylor's engaging writing only recently when I read his fascinating overview of the world's two most populous nations, China and India in his book "The Dragon and The Wild Goose". The refreshingly unbiased viewpoint of this veteran Foreign Service Officer presents instead of thinly disguised extrapolations of his own canny wisdom and insights, rather a keenly observed journalist's overview of the realities of these complex societies with an objectivity that is both pragmatic and prophetic. When I heard of Taylor's recently released historical overview of Ghiang Kai-shek in the "The Generalissimo", I put it on a must read list, and found it another gem of his factually based analysis(he was given complete access to Chiang's personal journals, as well as many others involved in his epic story). Whoever believes they know, or would like to know, how China arrived at its present, dynamic role on the world stage, you have to read "The Generalissimo" to fully grasp the internecine struggles that engulfed China before, during, and after World War Two. Chiang lost the battle on the mainland to Mao Zedong, retreating to the small island of Taiwan where he continued his struggles to somehow bring a modern, coherent and unified China about. This has not happened in the sense of Taiwan and the mainland politically joined, but Chiang and his sons created a miraclous transformation of a small island into one of modern history's most successful democratic nations, and it seems evident now that the mainland regime rightly would like to emmulate this marvel.
Chiang's long, tumultuous career involved nearly all the major political personalties of the twentieth century - including his own beautiful and beguilling, western educated wife, Madame Chiang.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By D. Pan on September 29, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This is the much anticipated followup to Taylor's previous biography of Chiang Ching-Kuo, "The Generalissimo's Son." Using the same narrative style, Taylor's examination of Chiang Kai-Shek uses previous unavailable private diary entries and other newly released sources to paint an entirely different portrait of the man.

This is a very sympathetic book about CKS, and it has stirred up controversy amongst those who are not disposed to any positive assessment of CKS's legacy. But I think that overall it is pretty fair to the man. CKS was a complicated man - reserved, incorruptible, emotional, who clearly saw his destiny tied to that of Modern China. He was cursed (or blessed) by fate to be in the middle of some of the most tumultuous events of the 20th Century. Always dealt a weak hand in relation to his opponents, he made the most of them and survived all of his calamities with calm and optimism of brighter days ahead. Taylor doesn't gloss over CKS's faults, particulary his inbability to punish the corrupt, especially those who were close or related to him. His use of "white terror" methods on Taiwan and previous association with the Green Gang in Shanghai were not glossed over. But on the balance, his crimes pale in comparison with those of his rival, Mao Tse-Tung.

The book extensively examines Chiang's record during the period of the Northern Expedition, the Sino-Japanese War, the Civil War and his exile to Taiwan where he lived out the remainder of his life. The impression the reader comes away with is one of a survivor who manages to repeatedly recover from nearly impossible situations and thrive in spite of the odds. Despite a bad beginning in Taiwan, CKS managed to use the opportunity to remake Taiwan in the image he wanted of an economically prosperous and ultimately democratic alternative to the People's Republic. That is his legacy to history, and the jury is still out on whether his or Mao's vision of China will ultimately prevail.
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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful By cybergel78 on July 15, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is not an exaggerated review from me. This coming from a student of Chinese history. I have read several biographies of both Mao and Chiang, be it from Jung Chang, Dr Li Zhishui (Mao's physician), Philip Short, etc. Of course, in my opinion, Dr Li's first person account of the events of post-Civil War China from 1949 - 1976 remains utterly the best first hand account of Mao as a flawed mortal.

Chiang has understandably been vilified not only by the Chinese communists, but also by the West. The West will always be puzzled by this short thin-railed man with an equally thin mustache, who seemed to be always in a Sun Yat Sen suit with an Americanised dragon lady, Soong May-Ling, by his side. The couple and Chiang's ideals and beliefs are the epitome of contradictions.

Chiang, despite his neo-Confucianism, was actually a Christian. Despite his xenophobic views, he had many Eurasian grandchildren. In his early war years, he professed a love for the German Wermacht and the Russian Soviets. This was of course curtailed with the onset of the Japanese invasion into China.

For all that's worth, Jay Taylor presents a pretty good picture of the Generalissimo. Not so much on the personal details of his sordid affairs, unlike Jonathan Fenby's biography, but an in-depth insight on his wartime strategies, his machismo, his stoic lifestyle (early to bed and early to rise; at least half an hour of doing breathing exercises in front of his mirror and stating the day's objectives)

A recommended read if you are not intimidated by the thickness and weight of the tome.
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