The sharper edge to traveling in Asia

WoWasis book review: Jay Taylor’s ‘The Generalissimo: Chiang Kai-shek and the Struggle for Modern China’

Written By: herbrunbridge - Oct• 16•11

As we here at WoWasis found when we visited Taiwan, English books on Chiang Kai-shek are damned hard to find. Chiang isn’t a very popular figure in many Taiwanese circles, which is why, as a bookstore clerk explained to us, books on Chiang would be found in the “China,” rather than the “Taiwan” section of the store.

Nevertheless, as pointed out by Jay Taylor in his The Generalissimo: Chiang Kai-Shek and the Struggle for Modern China (2011, ISBN 978-0-674-06049-4), Chiang is an important figure historically, and a critical player in defining the Taiwan of today. This book, comprising 607 pages of text including a postscript for the paperback edition, is exhaustive, drawing on interview, documents, and Chiang’s diaries, now located at the Hoover Institution. Of particular interest was Chiang’s political affiliation with Zhou Enlai, who secretly disclosed discussions between mainland China and the Nixon administration to Chiang.  (Taylor has also written an exceptional book on Chiang Kai-shek’s son Ching-kuo, who presided over the political modernization of Taiwan, The Generalissimo’s Son: Chiang Ching-kuo and the Revolutions in China and Taiwan).

Chiang’s early history, conflicts with Mao Zedong’s People’s Liberation Army, his flight to Taiwan, and Cold War actions are all described, as is his relationship with Madame Chiang (Soong Mayling). The latter, from her emphasis on inculcating progressive hygienic measures to the masses, to her meetings with various officials in the U.S., is a fascinating character in herself discussed liberally by the author. It also provides insight into the growth of Chiang’s son Chiang Ching-Kuo, who followed in his father’s footsteps and is the subject of one of Taylor’s previous books.

The book is recommended for anyone wishing to understand the progression of Taiwan from a Japanese colonial entity to an Asian economic power, and from a military state to a democracy. Buy it now at the WoWasis eStore.

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