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73 of 75 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars great read of wonderous story
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...
Published on April 26, 2009 by William Krause

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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Who is the beholder?
This book should be read in parallel with the biography of General Joseph Stilwell by Barbara Tuchman, whose negative assessment of Chiang Kai-shek during WWII it aims to rebut. It is an excellent biography in the sense that it seems to tell all about the life of the subject, but it falls short on military history. The maps are barely adequate, although there is one...
Published 5 months ago by Adam B. Ritchie Jr.


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73 of 75 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars great read of wonderous story, April 26, 2009
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. Taylor deftly sketches the many significant players passing across Chiang's stage like Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai, Roosevelt, Churchill, Stalin, Truman, Generals Stilwell and Marshall, and even Wendell Wilkie who conceivably had a one night tryst with Madame Chiang. And best of all, you travel this remarkable journey in the presence of a reader's most treasured companion, a keenly observing narrator who is questioning but equitable, and objectively sympathetic with a world-wise humor. This is a great read of a wonderous story. William Krause Princeton, NJ
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars When life hands you lemons, make lemonade, September 29, 2009
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D. Pan (Washington DC) - See all my reviews
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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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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Riveting read from cover to cover, July 15, 2009
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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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21 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Scholarly masterpiece, October 19, 2009
By 
Li, Tsung Tee (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC) - See all my reviews
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The penetrating insight in the sentence Taylor concluded this masterful treatise, that "The vision that drives modern China in the twenty-first century is that of Chiang Kai-shek, not Mao Zedong" sets this biography apart. That vision is not Marxism, not capitalism, not democracy, yet not brutal dictatorship strictly for personal gains. I define the theory as "Chiangism" to encompass what is being implemented in Beijing today. In practice, the theory calls for uniting the country under one party with political power concentrated in the central government and using whatever means (including measured "terror" by internal security agents) for the party to stay in power. Economically it practices market economy with a measure of government participation. Buying time during a "tutelage period", the government builds up the "wealth of the nation" and the civil society (through education) and slowly allows for bottom up participation (under very, very careful control). The government, hopefully, eventually practices democracy (preferably not in one's lifetime) and, in the meantime, fends off outside pressure with a dose of nationalism. Class struggle is out, even as the wealth gap widened far beyond what it was before the revolution (the new rich class is overwhelmingly the children of the leaders of the "proletarian" revolution) there will be no Maoism. Shooting a few hundred students is one thing but massive starvation, like what happened in 1960, or mob killing (like during Cultural Revolution and other "Movements") are to be avoided.
What we can say now is that the current rulers in Beijing are students of Chiang, not Mao.

Taylor is to be congratulated for being the first writer to have obviously studied many sources and resisted the temptation of painting a one-sided caricature of a complex man during an extremely tumultuous time in Chinese history. This is a sign of scholarship not the usual cheap polemics.

Chiang, with all his faults and shortcomings, emerged as an incorruptible man dedicated to building a modern China and an unwavering leader during the "War of Resistance" against Japanese aggression. He had the misfortune of having to work with General Josef Stilwell, whose cowardice, treachery and glaring stupidity cried out between the pages. Stilwell even hatched a plan to murder Chiang, his superior officer, in the midst of the war. As Stilwell was the key man between the US-China joint war efforts, Chiang showed his weakness in not insisting on a change of personnel at the beginning, dawdled for years and finally did demand the removal of the man. He must be infatuated with the United States and suffered, as a consequence, lasting damage to his rule. The conspiracy of the Soong sisters with Stilwell to oust Chiang during the war, if true, would do real damage to the legacy of Madame Chiang.

Only in Taiwan, was Chiang able to suppress his many oppositions and implement land reform and build up the economy. The heavy investment in education and sound economic policies bred a middle class and enabled his son to end the "tutelage period" and established democracy.

This book is a must read for anyone interested in the history of that period. The PRC had just celebrated her 60 Anniversary and, in the gigantic ceremony, not a mention was made of the ideology of Mao. One would hope the rulers in Beijing could follow Chiang's footsteps successfully to their logical conclusions.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Historical figure missunderstood and betrayed., December 15, 2009
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I found this to be another impressively researched historical account of China's 20th century history, as well as the Generalisimo himself. You are left with the very strong sense that Chiang Kai-shek, who while pursuing the task of shaping "modern China", faced communist insurgency, Japanese occupation, world war II, misunderstanding and mistrust from his allies, deserves a much better place in history than he has been given so far. Given the developments in China the last 60 years, one can not help wonder what could have been? If people in China today knew the facts, would they really think that the "right party" won the civil war? What was the 60 year celebration all about, when the first 40 years were completely wasted?
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant and long overdue revision of history, July 29, 2011
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This review is from: The Generalissimo: Chiang Kai-shek and the Struggle for Modern China (Paperback)
The Generalissimo sheds shocking new light on Sino-American relations, and the view isn't pretty. Under a string of administrations (in fact all of them) from the 1930s on, the United States showed itself to be an untrustworthy ally, shamelessly betraying the Nationalist Chinese again and again. Supposed "wise men" like Acheson and Kissinger come across as buffoons and sellouts to the communists. The most amazing insight of the book is that the prosperous, democratic Taiwan of today is exactly what the "wise men" of the 1940s insisted that Chiang Kai Shek could never deliver and his communists opponents would. Tens of millions of dead and decades of suppression later, it now seems that China is coming around, not to Mao's vision, but to Chiang's.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Highly Detailed Professional Account, December 26, 2010
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This is one of the most complete biographies I have ever read. It is highly detailed, providing almost a daily account of the life of Chiang Kai-shek. If you are looking for a more general book on Chiang's life, you may want to look elsewhere, but this book is certainly thorough and complete.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Objective Source for Modern Chinese History, June 14, 2009
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Like Mao the Unknown Story, this book takes me into many Chinese historical events, especially from 1911 to 1949, vividly and truthfully. Chiang' s diary, archived files from Russia and even PRC, memoirs of the key participants of the history, all organised and extracted in an orderly, and easy to understand way.
What really interested to me is why Chiang lost to Mao. Taylor provided here very comprehensive sources and analysis, including Chiang's diary--Chiang always tried to be an honest man, and he wanted to be remembered as one who could face the history, but Mao had no rule to restrict him. It's sad that Mao won and brought China backward for at least 50 years, but Chinese people at last won, and history is not an innocent girl who can be dressed into whatever her dresser wants her to be.
Other interesting things to know including the roles Japan and Russia played in all those events.
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20 of 28 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Most recent biography on Chiang Kai Shek, May 27, 2009
The absence of a bibliography is a serious defect in this hardcover edition published by Harvard University Press. It is a pity as Jay Taylor has written the latest and an excellent biography on Chiang Kai Shek.

Reviewers of this book portrayed this book as groundbreaking, far surpass previous scholarship, and provide the most authoritative assessment of Chiang Kai Shek. And yet as recent as 2003 we had the excellent biography by Jonathan Fenby titled Generalissimo Chiang Kai Shek and the China He Lost. It is unfortunate that this book is not referred or analysed in this book.

The Fenby's biography evokes the atmosphere better. Fenby gave more detailed info and writes with a flair that is typical of a good journalist of which he is one.

Taylor in his biography adopts the traditional view that the Empress Dowager was all-powerful and had sided with the Boxers in the Boxers Uprising. It is unfortunate that there was no discussion at all of the contrary view taken by Sterling Seagrave in his very well-researched biography of the Empress Dowager called Dragon Lady- The Life and Legend of the Last Empress of China. Sterling had presented compelling evidence that the traditional view was based on false facts concocted by George Morrison the Peking correspondent of the Times of London , Sir Edmund Backhouse the chinese translator for Morrison and JOP Bland the Shanghai correspondent of the Times of London.

I would still recommend this book. The strength of this book is that Taylor had access to the extensive diaries of Chiang Kai Shek when he was given a set in 2003 by the Taiwanese authorities. These diaries were not available to Fenby when Fenby wrote his biography.

Ultimately I would recommend reading these 2 books as Chiang Kai Shek's life is the history of China spanning the fall of the Manchu Empire in 1911 to the Communist victory in 1949 and finally the history of Taiwan. Chiang's life in China till his flight to Taiwan was a violent life, a life where there was not a single day of peace and tranquility. To comprehend such a complex and tumultuous life one needs to read both these 2 books.

There are some minor errors in the notes. For example Han Su Yin's book on Zhou En Lai is called Elder Son and Eldest Son at note 133 and 135 and 159 at pages 622 and 623. The correct title is Eldest Son. Iris Chang who wrote The Rape of Nanking is called Irish Chang at note 58 at page 626.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Straight forward and reasonably unbiased, April 2, 2010
A very straight forward prose combined with a sympathetic interpretation of events means that the reader can appreciate Chiang's perspective in a convincing way. Use of historical records also dispels myths or propaganda. He might have been a controversial figure but this book should be able to present a fresh picture by being objective and reasonably fair.
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The Generalissimo: Chiang Kai-shek and the Struggle for Modern China
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