Chiang Kai-shek was born in 1887 and died in 1975. Chiang Kai-shek was the natural successor to Sun Yat-sen and, alongside Mao, he was to play a fundamental role in China’s history in the Twentieth Century.
Chiang in 1930
Chiang Kai-shek had a humble beginning, but he received an education that lead him to attending a Japanese military staff college and serving in the Japanese Imperial Army for several years. A keen supporter of Sun Yat-sen, he returned to the newly created republic of China in 1911. His task was to create an army for the Nationalists (Guomindang). Chiang Kai-shek was chosen by Sun Yat-sen to lead the Guomindang’s military academy at Whampoa which was set up in Canton. Chiang was sent to Moscow for six months in 1923 studying how the Red Army was organised.
In later years and once he was the leader of the Guomindang, Chiang tended to favour those who had worked at Whampoa and appointed them to important jobs within the Guomindang.
When Sun Yat-sen died in 1925, there was a power struggle for his successor. Chiang had two advantages over his rivals. First, he was seen by most as the leader of the Guomindang army which was considered a loyal and disciplined army likely to fight for Chiang. Second, he was in a politically central position in China.
In 1926, Chiang consolidated his position in the Guomindang by successfully embarking on a campaign against the warlords. By June 1928, he had control of Canton, Beijing and Nanking – three of the most important cities in China. He was also the party’s chairman and commander-in-chief of the army.
In September 1928, the Organic Law gave Chiang what amounted to dictatorial powers over China. Chiang was appointed president but his hold over the whole nation was never secure simply because of the vast size of the country and the fact that his army could not be in all parts of the nation at all times. This is why the Communists selected Yanan as a safe place at the end of the Long March. The Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931 and their eventual attack on China in 1937 also lead to vast areas of China not being under Chiang’s control.
Critics within the Guomindang claimed that Chiang was more concerned about maintaining control within the party and in areas he had power over rather than co-ordinate a campaign against the Japanese aggressors. However, the Japanese invasion of Manchuria did win Chiang sympathy at an international level and confirmed that he was seen as the legitimate leader of China. His public acceptance of Methodism in 1930 also made him seem more western to those that held power in the influential western nations. This drive to get himself accepted by the west as leader of China alienated sections of the army. The army had already rebelled against his leadership in 1930 and 1933 and in December 1936, some dissident army officers kidnapped Chiang angered that he was not using the full force of the army against the Japanese.
These dissident officers were in contact with the Chinese communists and it was the communists who persuaded these officers to release Chiang after 13 days in captivity. Chiang had to agree to end his military campaign against the communists and to use his military resources against the Japanese. A united front against the Japanese made for a more deadly foe and as a result the Japanese launched a full-scale invasion against Chiang’s strongest military bases in July 1937. Such was their success, that Chiang had to move his capital to Chungking.
He remained in Chungking until the end of World War Two. Here he organised resistance to the Japanese and was seen to be an ally of the forces fighting the Japanese in the Far East. This further strengthened his position as legitimate leader of China. In 1943, Chiang was invited to attend the Cairo Conference where he met with Churchill and Roosevelt. Chiang was clearly seen as the post-war leader of China. In this sense, they had exaggerated his power. Moa and the Communists had done great damage to the Japanese invaders and in the process they had gained very valuable experience in guerilla warfare. The Communist Red Army had a simple philosophy – attack the Japanese invaders and help out those Chinese people who had been under the rule of the Japanese. To have army personal help you out in your day-to-day living was alien to most if not all Chinese who had a recent history of war lord abuse and general chaos to live with. This was the Red Army’s heart and minds policy. By August 1945, the Red Army was in a powerful position to attack the Guomindang’s army and civil war ensued in China after the end of World War Two.
The outcome of the civil war was not necessarily a forgone conclusion but the more victories the Communists achieved, the more defection took place in the Guomindang’s army. Also corruption in Chiang’s army was rife and it suffered accordingly.
Chiang expected help from his ‘friends’ in America. This never materialised simply because President Truman had been advised that Chiang’s cause was a lost one and that the Chinese Communists would win the civil war. In January 1949, Beijing fell to the Communists and Chiang resigned as president of China. His followers left for Taiwan (Formosa) and on march 1st 1950, Chiang resumed his presidency of the Chinese Republic. Chiang remained president of the Chinese Republic until his death in 1975. The island became very influenced by America and was a base to America’s huge Pacific naval fleet. Chiang never gave up hope that America would provide the military help that he needed to re-take mainland Communist China. This never came but he did lead an island that was very prosperous when compared to mainland China. Close links with Japan and America ensured that Chiang’s Formosa remained free from an attack from the communists in China.