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One of the most momentous stories of the last century is China's rise from a self-satisfied, anti-modern, decaying society into a global power that promises to one day rival the United States. Chiang Kai-shek, an autocratic, larger-than-life figure, dominates this story. A modernist as well as a neo-Confucianist, Chiang was a man of war who led the most ancient and populou One of the most momentous stories of the last century is China's rise from a self-satisfied, anti-modern, decaying society into a global power that promises to one day rival the United States. Chiang Kai-shek, an autocratic, larger-than-life figure, dominates this story. A modernist as well as a neo-Confucianist, Chiang was a man of war who led the most ancient and populous country in the world through a quarter century of bloody revolutions, civil conflict, and wars of resistance against Japanese aggression. In 1949, when he was defeated by Mao Zedong--his archrival for leadership of China--he fled to Taiwan, where he ruled for another twenty-five years. Playing a key role in the cold war with China, Chiang suppressed opposition with his "white terror," controlled inflation and corruption, carried out land reform, and raised personal income, health, and educational levels on the island. Consciously or not, he set the stage for Taiwan's evolution of a Chinese model of democratic modernization. Drawing heavily on Chinese sources including Chiang's diaries, "The Generalissimo" provides the most lively, sweeping, and objective biography yet of a man whose length of uninterrupted, active engagement at the highest levels in the march of history is excelled by few, if any, in modern history. Jay Taylor shows a man who was exceedingly ruthless and temperamental but who was also courageous and conscientious in matters of state. Revealing fascinating aspects of Chiang's life, Taylor provides penetrating insight into the dynamics of the past that lie behind the struggle for modernity of mainland China and its relationship with Taiwan.


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One of the most momentous stories of the last century is China's rise from a self-satisfied, anti-modern, decaying society into a global power that promises to one day rival the United States. Chiang Kai-shek, an autocratic, larger-than-life figure, dominates this story. A modernist as well as a neo-Confucianist, Chiang was a man of war who led the most ancient and populou One of the most momentous stories of the last century is China's rise from a self-satisfied, anti-modern, decaying society into a global power that promises to one day rival the United States. Chiang Kai-shek, an autocratic, larger-than-life figure, dominates this story. A modernist as well as a neo-Confucianist, Chiang was a man of war who led the most ancient and populous country in the world through a quarter century of bloody revolutions, civil conflict, and wars of resistance against Japanese aggression. In 1949, when he was defeated by Mao Zedong--his archrival for leadership of China--he fled to Taiwan, where he ruled for another twenty-five years. Playing a key role in the cold war with China, Chiang suppressed opposition with his "white terror," controlled inflation and corruption, carried out land reform, and raised personal income, health, and educational levels on the island. Consciously or not, he set the stage for Taiwan's evolution of a Chinese model of democratic modernization. Drawing heavily on Chinese sources including Chiang's diaries, "The Generalissimo" provides the most lively, sweeping, and objective biography yet of a man whose length of uninterrupted, active engagement at the highest levels in the march of history is excelled by few, if any, in modern history. Jay Taylor shows a man who was exceedingly ruthless and temperamental but who was also courageous and conscientious in matters of state. Revealing fascinating aspects of Chiang's life, Taylor provides penetrating insight into the dynamics of the past that lie behind the struggle for modernity of mainland China and its relationship with Taiwan.

30 review for The Generalissimo: Chiang Kai-Shek and the Struggle for Modern China

  1. 4 out of 5

    Adam

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. This was a damn good book. Best biography I've read, and one of the top books I've read in general. Full disclosure: I am very interested in Republican China, so it might not have the same effect on everyone. Chiang Kai-shek was the "forgotten" Ally during World War 2. He was President of the largest nation with the Allies, and the country that suffered more civilian deaths than any other. Yet,he was thrown under the bus time and time again. Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin would meet and discuss This was a damn good book. Best biography I've read, and one of the top books I've read in general. Full disclosure: I am very interested in Republican China, so it might not have the same effect on everyone. Chiang Kai-shek was the "forgotten" Ally during World War 2. He was President of the largest nation with the Allies, and the country that suffered more civilian deaths than any other. Yet,he was thrown under the bus time and time again. Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin would meet and discuss war strategy without even notifying Chiang of their meetings. In the meantime, Chiang's ill equipped and poorly trained peasant troops fought the Japanese for eight straight years. Contrast this to industrialized France, which fell in six weeks. Had Chiang surrendered, the 1 million Japanese soldiers in China would have been free to fight elsewhere in Asia or Europe. Who knows what might have happened with an extra 1 million Japanese for Allies to fight? The cast of characters in this book belong in a movie. Chiang's inner circle included: -Joseph Stilwell, the American military advisor whom Chiang grew to hate, attempted time and time again to seize control of the Chinese military, constantly withholding supplies and persuading Chiang to send his best troops to help fight in Burma instead of keeping them in the homeland. -Claire Chennault, the American ace pilot who led the "Flying Tigers," shot own countless Japanese planes and paved the way for Chinese Nationalist victories. -General Zhang, the "Manchurian Marshall." A wealthy, opium-addicted warlord who sought to avenge the death of his father. -General Feng, the "Christian General" who baptized his troops with a fire hose. -General Bai, a Chinese Muslim, brilliant tactician, and fierce anti-Communist -Zhou Enlai, the charismatic Communist leader who was an expert at deceiving the Americans and secretly negotiated between Mao and Chiang for decades. -Mao Zedong, exposed in this book as a truly malevolent servant of Stalin who would stop at nothing to seize power. He was content watching Japan walk all over China so long as it worked to his ends. Most significant in Chiang's life was Soong Mayling, his wife, translator, and chief confidante. Born into enormous wealth and a graduate of Wellesley, she had celebrity status in both the US and China. She spoke with presidents, before Congress, and was Time Magazine's "Person of the Year" in 1937. Chiang adored her, and the modern, openly romantic couple offered the world a very surprising model of what China could have become. Abandoned by all his World War 2 allies, Chiang fought and lost a civil war against the Communists. Exiled to Taiwan, he sought to establish a perfect society there and win over the hearts and minds of the mainland. Through luck and substantial political skill, he managed to defend the island from what seemed like certain defeat by a vast, well trained Communist army. In his later years, he set the groundwork for democracy in Taiwan that allowed it to develop into the advanced, wealthy society it is today. Meanwhile, Mao destroyed the mainland's economy and social structure. It will be decades before mainland China can catch up to Taiwan's current standard of living, and maybe even longer before they have comparable civil liberties. Chiang was not at all perfect. He had a terrible temper, and often refused good advice. He was also a dictator, killing political opponents and postponing democratic reforms for decades. But he was consistently honest, incorruptible, and had genuine aspirations for a powerful and united China for China's sake, not his own. He was arrogant at times, but did not have a huge ego (he forbade statues of him from being built in Taiwan). He had brilliant political and military foresight, but it still wasn't enough to win him the unwavering support of the US (who appears extremely fickle and deceptive in this book). I don't mean to give an overly glowing review of this man, but the book portrays his life in a very positive light. Given the fact that every other source I've ever read about Chiang Kai-shek describes him as a corrupt and bungling dictator, this extremely well-researched book throws these notions out the window with example after concrete example. The book doesn't drag on historical detail, but focuses on the personalities and dramatic encounters that spanned Chiang Kai-shek's long life. It's really written like a great film, and I couldn't put it down. The vast evidence in this book leads me to believe I'm getting a much better picture than some of the lesser books about Chinese history I've read, and I think any story about a sort of "forgotten hero" tends to be pretty interesting. Anyone looking for a fascinating (true!) story about who was likely America's best ally in World War 2 should give this book a try. The writing and research are impeccable, so it's certainly not just fluff.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Lynda

    For now I have returned this book back to the library as I had trouble finishing it. The writing style is a bit mechanical. I skipped a large portion in the middle and went straight to the part where CKS started his government on Taiwan. I had to learn more about the recent history of Taiwan and it is a work in progress for me. I might choose another title to focus on CKS's rule over Taiwan which to me is a fascinating period.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    The Generalissimo: Chiang Kai-Shek and the Struggle for Modern China, by Jay Taylor is a biographical account of Chiang Kai-Shek in the tumultuous history of post-Qing China and its experiments with modernization. This biography is revisionist in nature, looking at Chiang's actions with a critical, but favourable light, and chronicling the decisions he made based on personal prejudice, political realities and the necessities of survival. Chiang's diaries, KMT political documents and personal acc The Generalissimo: Chiang Kai-Shek and the Struggle for Modern China, by Jay Taylor is a biographical account of Chiang Kai-Shek in the tumultuous history of post-Qing China and its experiments with modernization. This biography is revisionist in nature, looking at Chiang's actions with a critical, but favourable light, and chronicling the decisions he made based on personal prejudice, political realities and the necessities of survival. Chiang's diaries, KMT political documents and personal accounts from those who knew and worked with him are all examined as source material, along with military accounts and popular history. This is an interesting historical biography, chronicling Chiang's rise in the KMT to second in command to Sun Yat-Sen. After Sun's death, Chiang began to maneuver within the party, and eventually take a position of power. He dealt at times harshly, at times leniently with China's many warlords to try and position the KMT as China's number one power base. He fought many battles with the Japanese occupying forces, and began to try and influence world leaders to support his cause in China. Chinese troops were instrumental in the Burma campaigns of WWII, and also held there own in China against millions of Japanese invaders from Manchuria and coastal China. At this time he had another thorn in his side, the CCP (Mao's communist party) and all together he simultaneously balanced internal chaos and disunion, international invasion and pressure to conform to world ideologies. He often worked with people he disagreed with and people he hated, while fighting old friends and allies on the battlefield. He sacrificed his own personal beliefs to try and reform China along modernist lines, and worked closely with both the West and Soviet spheres to try and accomplish his idea of a modern China. Post-WWII the KMT lost the battle for China, and fled to Taiwan, where they still reside. Chiang and his son ruled Taiwan with an iron fist, and his wife went abroad to seek international assistance for the KMT cause of retaking the mainland. Even so, international opinion often went against the KMT, and increasingly, nations began to recognize the Beijing government as China's sole government, and Taiwan as a separate nation. Chiang saw all of this happening, and witnessed the Cold War through a critical eye, careful to always look first after the survival of the KMT in Taiwan and his own legacy. He engaged in covert operations in mainland China, supported rebellions in Indonesia and Myanmar, and sought military and financial aid from all comers. He also cracked down on internal dissent and threats to his own power ruthlessly, executing suspected communist infiltrators, engaging in espionage against KMT rivals, and supporting anti-communist coups in South Vietnam and abroad. Chiang was quite the character, and Taylor does a marvelous job intricately detailing the Generalissimos' life and legacy. The details are intense, intimate but unbiased in detail. He looks at both the good and bad without criticism. This is a grand history of one of the great movers and shakers of the modern age. Although Chiang is often remembered as the "man who lost China" there are many other factors involved. He also won Taiwan, and began the course of it's meteoric rise to the financial powerhouse it enjoys in modern times. His legacy as the man who helped change China from Empire to modern state should not be forgotten. Even in CCP circles he is remembered as a Chinese patriot. All in all, this is a grand biography worthy of a grand character in world history. It is also one of the few popular history books on the subject. Many gloss over Chiang's contribution to Chinese history, but Taylor has written the definitive biography on the subject. It is, for better or worse, extremely detailed, lengthy, and completely uncritical. I have great respect for this work, and would highly recommend it.

  4. 5 out of 5

    arkadi cloud

    This is a very dry book. I love history books but I fell asleep reading this many nights. It was an effort to get through it (took me 2.5 months!) even though I am intensely interested in Taiwanese history. It only started to get interesting after Chiang Kai-Shek retreated to Taiwan and that is 400 pages into this 600 page book. The last 200 pages are about his time in Taiwan up until his death. This book is very, very kind to CKS. It paints him as a benevolent father figure who knows what's best This is a very dry book. I love history books but I fell asleep reading this many nights. It was an effort to get through it (took me 2.5 months!) even though I am intensely interested in Taiwanese history. It only started to get interesting after Chiang Kai-Shek retreated to Taiwan and that is 400 pages into this 600 page book. The last 200 pages are about his time in Taiwan up until his death. This book is very, very kind to CKS. It paints him as a benevolent father figure who knows what's best for the people and not as a power hungry dictator who was obsessed with 'unifying China' whether or not that's what the Taiwanese wanted. There is only 1 sentence in the whole 600 pages mentioning the 2/28 massacre which is still an important event up to this day. It barely mentions martial law and the white terror. These last two omissions alone tell you the kind of history they are writing for CKS. The book is a lot of boring back and forth exchanges such as CKS asks for more money and weapons from the US, they say no, CKS rants about it in his journal. The most I learned about CKS, the more I disliked him. I felt this book focused too much on the high level political minutiae than how CKS's decisions affected his soldiers, the war, and the development of Taiwan. I choose to read this book because it had high ratings on GoodReads and frankly there aren't many options. I shall have to read "Chiang Kai Shek: China's Generalissimo and the Nation He Lost" next.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Lauren

    By far the most comprehensive history of Chiang Kai-shek out there -- heft and length of the book alone are testament to the undertaking for both author and reader. Clearly entailed quite the research effort, to include accessing (and deciphering the calligraphy script of) Chiang's journals. A must-read for anyone interested in East Asian history.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Adam Morris

    This book is heavy going but in the end very satisfying. For people such as myself who know about China today but not much about the events of the twentieth century it very clearly explains the end of Imperial China, the rise of a “democratic” government and the eventual take over by the communists forcing the leadership into exile in Taiwan. Without dwelling too much on his childhood Taylor carefully chronicles Chiang’s association with Sun Yat-sen, his subsequent rise to power, his dealings fi This book is heavy going but in the end very satisfying. For people such as myself who know about China today but not much about the events of the twentieth century it very clearly explains the end of Imperial China, the rise of a “democratic” government and the eventual take over by the communists forcing the leadership into exile in Taiwan. Without dwelling too much on his childhood Taylor carefully chronicles Chiang’s association with Sun Yat-sen, his subsequent rise to power, his dealings first with the polluting Western presence, especially in Shanghai, with Japanese aggression and then with the communists in his own country. Although nominally holding various shared leadership positions within his political party (the KMT), the book makes clear that it was often Chiang himself or his wife that determined policy. It fully elaborates on the various relationships with the US and certain specific American advisors. The real wonder of this book is that one of the major sources to which Taylor constantly turned were the diaries and journals of Chiang Kai-shek himself which were presumably only recently available. It is suggested that these give the actions of Chiang and the KMT an entirely new perspective that often challenges the conceptions formed by previous China scholars who had no such access and relied often on a thoroughly Western interpretation of events.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Kelvin Hsu

    I have to say, Chiang Kai-Shek who has a completely negtive evaluation in mainland China, we must read his life biography written by a different writer. Otherwise, we will stick our opinions to only one aspect, that will be awful. The writer, Jay Taylor, finished this book by only prividing neutral facts for Chiang Kai-Shek and neutral judgement, it is a new aspect that we can judge Chiang Kai-Shek. But if a Chinese reader want to know more about Mr. Chiang, I highly recommend that he/ she should I have to say, Chiang Kai-Shek who has a completely negtive evaluation in mainland China, we must read his life biography written by a different writer. Otherwise, we will stick our opinions to only one aspect, that will be awful. The writer, Jay Taylor, finished this book by only prividing neutral facts for Chiang Kai-Shek and neutral judgement, it is a new aspect that we can judge Chiang Kai-Shek. But if a Chinese reader want to know more about Mr. Chiang, I highly recommend that he/ she should read this English version, its Chinese version may have some mistakes in translation which may cause different or wrong understanding.

  8. 5 out of 5

    The Book : An Online Review at The New Republic

    FOR MUCH OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY, Americans’ images of China were shaped by the actions of one couple—the “Gimo” Chiang Kai-shek and his glamorous wife Soong Mayling, known as “Madame.” One of the most important figures of the twentieth century—although now largely unremembered by Americans under the age of sixty—Chiang ruled China from 1927 until 1949, and then Taiwan from 1949 until his death in 1975. Read more... FOR MUCH OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY, Americans’ images of China were shaped by the actions of one couple—the “Gimo” Chiang Kai-shek and his glamorous wife Soong Mayling, known as “Madame.” One of the most important figures of the twentieth century—although now largely unremembered by Americans under the age of sixty—Chiang ruled China from 1927 until 1949, and then Taiwan from 1949 until his death in 1975. Read more...

  9. 4 out of 5

    David

    I thought this book was over-rated and that the author spent too much time trying to talk us into believing that Chiang was at heart a good man....and ignoring or giving most things weighted against me t short shrift. He made it sound like it was a good idea on Chiang's part to give in to the Japanese and fight the communists..and point he omits that the appeasement by the USA and England to Japan was in the long run as bad as the appeasement of England and France to Germany.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Kenneth Tubman

    Very good book to point out the opposition to Mao. Would China have been better of with Chiang Kai-Shek? Very well written and a clear read to understand China's modern day, past and present. America should have done more to help him with the Japanese and defeating Mao. At least he didn't kill 40 million folks like Mao.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Lian Chang

    I picked up this book when it was first released, and after making my way 75 pages in, I put it down again. For a historical biography, the writing felt mechanical -- this happened, then that happened, and so on. What was missing for me were the threads that connected the historical narrative to the inner life of the subject. Those threads became clearer after reading Marie-Claire Bergere's biography on Sun Yat-sen, the figure who preceded Chiang by a generation. In the established narrative of m I picked up this book when it was first released, and after making my way 75 pages in, I put it down again. For a historical biography, the writing felt mechanical -- this happened, then that happened, and so on. What was missing for me were the threads that connected the historical narrative to the inner life of the subject. Those threads became clearer after reading Marie-Claire Bergere's biography on Sun Yat-sen, the figure who preceded Chiang by a generation. In the established narrative of modern China's founding, Sun occupies the pinnacle of the triumvirate, the diverging successors below comprising Chiang Kai-shek (the leader of the Nationalists) and Mao Zedong (the leader of Communist revolutionaries). These figures are interwoven into the fabric of China's modernity, and it is difficult to enter into a story of Chiang Kai-shek without being first acquainted with the struggles the earlier generation of Chinese republicans underwent -- the humiliations of western imperialism (capitalist exploitation, as embodied by the British, American, French and German Treaty Ports; ideological infiltration from China's 'Big Brother' to the north, Soviet Russia); the backwardness, conservatism and foreignness of the Qing (a dynastic rule that originated in northern Manchuria, and which was therefore never entirely viewed as legitimate by large swaths of the ethnic Chinese population), then already on a downward slope of inexorable decay; the cultural awe and envy that China experienced as it watched its smaller Asian sister nation, Japan, as a result of its Meiji Restoration, explode economically, technologically, and militarily onto the world stage in the 19th century. For biographies to be read clearly against a twentieth century backdrop that saw so many world-shaking convulsions and uprootings, context is everything ... And the historical context in which Chiang Kai-shek lived his long life was an unimaginably momentous and perilous one. This book duly documents the Generalissimo's nine-decade long biographical arc, taking as its primary source, straight from the horse's mouth, the newly available Chiang Kai-shek papers at the Hoover Institute. It is a sober and even work, evening out the hagiographical and the demonizing tendencies that many historians alternatively harbor about Chiang's long and often controversial rule. Among his notable and notorious accomplishments: - his rise as a military officer (who in his youth received training in Japanese academies) to become Sun Yat-sen's trusted 'man of action.' Sun would die in 1925 never having achieved full unity of the fractious nation, but Chiang would take the mantle and eventually succeed in reconquering the north from the warlords and completing Sun's dream of the Northern Expedition and (nominally) Chinese unification and federalization in 1928 - his fragile but economically prosperous and politically progressive rule (based upon Sun's three principles of 'nationalism', 'democracy', and 'the people's livelihood') of Republican China during the Nanjing Decade of 1927 to 1937), in which he held together an undisciplined and self-interested coalition of warlords and military cliques with the gathering storm of a second Sino-Japanese war looming on the horizon - fighting the long war. despite Japan's decade-long occupation of Manchuria, the Chinese Theater began proper in 1937, when Japan, with its superior training and weaponry, launched an all-out assault upon the Chinese mainland via Shanghai in 1937. Chiang led a hard-fought, bloody, but ultimately failed resistance against the primary invasion, leaving Shanghai, then Nanking, then Wuhan -- successive provisional wartime seats of Nationalist (KMT) government -- to fall at the hands of the Japanese war machine - stubbornly tying up the Imperial Army in an eight-year long continental quagmire as the Generalissimo and his influential, western-educated Madame Chiang Soong Mayling, from their redoubt in Chungking deep in China's vast interior, harassed the Japanese and negotiated with the western powers for aid and intervention, all the while enacting economic and agricultural reforms in China's breadbasket provinces in order to keep the people fed. when assistance from President FDR finally came in the form of the American Generals Joe Stilwell (who led the Nationalist armies in Burma, where my mother's father fought as a soldier) and the beloved Claire Chennault (commander of the infamous Flying Tigers, which my father's father, an officer in Chiang's air force, worked with), alternately assisting with and vying against them on broad military strategy. (the book offers a mostly unflattering portrait of Stilwell, and tries to counterbalance the popular image the General enjoys in the US) - holding off as best he could, even with the war with Japan raging, the machinations of the Soviets and the growing influence of Mao's Revolutionary Army, which benefitted from the war by holing up in the northern provinces, supplied and maintained by Stalin, while Chiang's Nationalist (KMT) army fought vicious, prolonged and costly battles with the Japanese across central China and in the killing fields of the Burmese jungle. even at this early stage Chiang foresaw both victory against Japan and an unavoidable postwar struggle with the Communists, whom he envied for their organizational discipline and will -- characteristics he felt missing in his own chaotic, demoralized, poorly armed and trained Nationalist troops - winning the war against Japan but losing the war against Mao and the Communists, resulting in the Great Failure -- the deadly and humiliating exodus from the Chinese mainland to the tiny island of Taiwan with his senior military commanders, hundreds of thousands of Chinese loyal to the Nationalists, and all the gold held in the Shanghai treasury as well as thousands of cultural artifacts that Chiang had early stashed away (which he had first feared would be destroyed by the Japanese and now by the Communists -- these artifacts comprise the invaluable collection now housed in Taipei's National Palace Museum). - by a stroke of luck, narrowly sidestepping a post-'49 full-scale invasion of Taiwan by Mainland China only because the Korean War had been triggered first -- the bellicose Kim Sung-Il, itching for a takeover of South Korea, eventually mired the Chinese Red Army in a protracted stalemate with the US, which in turn enacted a series of defensive nuclear treaties with Chiang's beleaguered government. This strategic blunder cost the Communists their appetite for any sort of immediate large-scale Taiwan invasion. From then on, the Cold War's familiar chess match of detente and realpolitik would figure into Taipei's decision-making, as it would for another four decades in Beijing, Moscow, and Washington as well. - negotiating the murky and byzantine postwar / Cold War geopolitical realities. Chiang's government in Taiwan sought political influence over successive US administrations under Eisenhower, Truman, JFK, Johnson, and Nixon. US support was desperately needed by the Chiang's KMT for its existential security and its sense of international legitimacy (both Mao and Chiang held a 'One China Policy' to be sacrosanct -- neither wanted to see Taiwan as an independent state separate from the 'notion' of China; a source of much puzzlement in the west). From the 50s through to the 70s Chiang watched his own government's role in the world diminish while witnessing from across the Taiwan Strait the concomitant rise of Communist China, despite the twin disasters of the Great Leap Forward in the 50s and the Cultural Revolution of the 60s. Communist China's growing stature culminated in the normalization of relations under President Nixon (which the book presents in a cynical light; it portrays Nixon and Kissinger's schemes as a bad faith, face-saving, and obsequious project to extricate the US military from Vietnam). - establishing an autocratic and authoritarian government in Taiwan even as his cabinet of western-educated technocrats, with help of massive US aid, enacted far-reaching agricultural and industrial reforms that set the Taiwan "tiger" on its economic miracle from the 60s onward. - Chiang imposed martial law on the island after the KMT's arrival and brutally cracked down on political dissent, both on suspected Communist infiltrators, but more damagingly, on native Taiwanese political dissidents who naturally protested the arrival of the mainlanders. Chiang's son, Chiang Ching-Kuo, gradually saw internal tensions a more immediate and serious threat than external dealings with the Communists. Ching-kuo would eventually lead and ease the tensions by bringing more Taiwanese into the political process. Yet the repercussions of this period of terror resonate to this day. And on into the present ... As this book argues, the irony of where things stand between Chiang's Taiwan and Mao's China is that the economic model that Chiang established in Taiwan soon began to serve as a basis for the mainland's transformation to a market economy not long after Mao's death in 1975 -- China's shift from an unworkable central economy to a capitalistic, heavily privatized and distributed industrial program began when China opened up its land and resources for Taiwan businesses. Mass urbanization (soon replete with Tokyo- and Hong Kong-like neon spectacle-scapes), factories, thriving ports are the iconic images of China beginning in the 90s. These would not have occurred without a combination of Mao's successor Deng Xiao-ping's economic liberalization program along with Taiwan's know-how. And despite a superheated and often gridlocked parliament, Taiwan's government may one day serve as a model for a "Chinese democracy" -- full-scale political reform, unlike its economic cousin, is yet to come to the mainland, but it may yet resemble the system that Chiang Kai-shek and his son Ching-kuo built on the island. This book isn't the most accessible, and its prose can be flat and lacking in a sense of momentum. It is also not the easiest to follow without some background knowledge of modern Chinese history. But if you take the plunge -- if you want to gain a better knowledge of the extraordinary life of the Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, and even more so, the monumental twentieth century events against which it was lived, then I recommend this book highly. It's a meaty meal.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Rob Hocking

    This book is essentially a biography of Chiang Kai-shek, and frankly is one of the best books I have ever read. If you really want to understand the China Taiwan issue, I highly recommend this book. One of the first things about this book worth commenting on is its enormous size. Not just in terms of the number of pages (607, plus an additional 115 pages of notes), but their huge size. The book is massive - weighing 1.092kg. By contrast, when I weighed two of my other books with a comparable comb This book is essentially a biography of Chiang Kai-shek, and frankly is one of the best books I have ever read. If you really want to understand the China Taiwan issue, I highly recommend this book. One of the first things about this book worth commenting on is its enormous size. Not just in terms of the number of pages (607, plus an additional 115 pages of notes), but their huge size. The book is massive - weighing 1.092kg. By contrast, when I weighed two of my other books with a comparable combined length of 764 pages (but of a more normal size) their combined weight was only 0.655kg. As such, when I first saw this book in the store I was a little intimidated and worried I might not finish it. But as soon as I started reading this fascinating book, my doubts melted away. Actually, this book is so good that I find it difficult to write a review that does it justice. Especially when other excellent reviews exist, such as this one by the Washington post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/... Therefore, I'm going to keep my comments fairly brief and instead suggest that you read the review I just linked to above. My first comment is that while I have read many books about China's "century of change" - i.e. Sun Yat Sen's revolution and the fall of the Qing dynasty, the subsequent fragmentation of the country and then reunification under Chiang Kai Shek, the war with Japan and subsequent Civil war between the Chinese Nationalists under Chiang Kai Shek and the communists under Mao Zedong, this book was different for a number of reasons. Firstly, in any book on this subject, there is a natural "branch" that occurs at the end of the Chinese civil war. The branch is the following: Henceforth, to you follow the development of events on the mainland under Mao's communists? Or do you follow the defeated Nationalists to Taiwan, and follow the development of events there? Every other book that I have read on this topic has gone with the former. This book was the first to take the latter approach, and that already makes it interesting. Second, although there is massive overlap with books on this topic I have already read, this book goes into so much more detail than any of those books that it is well worth the read. This is partly because many of those books were written before Chiang Kai Shek's diary (as well as previously classified documents) became publicly available. The access to Chiang Kai Shek's diary provides a fascinating window into his inner world, and lets you get inside his head and understand the logic behind his decisions. To be honest, I my opinion of Chiang Kai Shek has changed dramatically - I once viewed him as essentially an incompetent con-artist. A con artist, because I believed (as other books suggested) that his conversion to Christianity was a publicity stunt to get aid from America, and incompetent, because despite his massive aid from America, he still somehow lost to Mao's army of peasants. In turns of Chiang's faith, his diaries make clear that it was genuine. In terms of American aid, what I didn't understand at the time is that while it's true that Chiang Kai Shek received massive aid from America, it's also true that the communists received massive aid from the Soviet Union. Moreover - and this is the critical bit - while the aid from America to the Nationalists ended after the defeat of Japan, the Soviet aid to the communists did not. Without this Soviet aid, it seems impossible that the communists could have won. Recently declassified Soviet documents make it clear just how great the involvement of Stalin was not only in China's civil war, but also the Korean War. Here's a passage that I found particularly interesting, which talks about why the invasion of Taiwan never took place: "The CIA estimated that 370,000 troops of the PLA's Third Field Army were now positioned on China's central coast and that at least 450,000 troops of Lin Biao's Fourth Field Army were nearby and available to support an invasion of Taiwan. The PLA had also assembled some 5000 junks and towable craft for the assault. While they did not look formidable, the junks, which had substantial wooden hulls and one foot thick keels, would not be easy to sink with the naval and aircraft weapons available to the Nationalists. Mao's forces were also mobilizing by air: radio transmissions indicated that PLA pilots were flying over Chinese cities for the first time. According to the CIA, the PLA already possessed 100 to 150 jet warplanes - an impressive achievement on the part of the Soviet Union as well as the People's republic. Taiwan had no such aircraft. In May, Kill Il-sung began moving his tanks and elite infantry units toward the border with South Korea. On May 13, after flying to Peking in a Russian plane, Kim told Mao that he had secured Stalin's consent to the "liberation" of the south, and he wanted to launch the invasion as soon as possible. When Mao asked for confirmation from Stalin, Moscow replied that if the Chinese disagreed, the invasion "must be postponed." Mao told the impatient Kim that U.S. involvement in a Korean conflict was possible and that he had expected the attack on South Korea would follow the PLA liberation of Taiwan. Nevertheless, he agreed to Kim's plan and promised Chinese support. Mao could easily have insisted that the invasion of Taiwan take precedence, but he did not. One explanation is that the striking defeat of the PLA's amphibious attack on Quemoy the previous September had made the Chairman double cautious about moving a half million men across eighty to a hundred miles of open water to attack Taiwan. Very likely the Chairman wanted to have a substantial air force with jet fighters and a large naval presence to deal with the Generalissimo's small inventory of World War II fighter planes and frigates. At the same time, the chances of a successful attack by the North Korean Army against the unprepared and much weaker army of the Republic of (South) Korea appeared high. If Kim could conquer South Korea, it would demoralize the Nationalists on Taiwan, and the island might then fall without a shot being fired. Whatever the reason, Mao's decision to agree to the early launching of Kim's invasion would have far-reaching consequences. If Kim had not attacked the South in 1950 and instead Mao had launched his junk armada against Taiwan in June, almost certainly the Truman administration would not have intervened to save Chiang Kai-shek. In addition, Mao's remarkable victory over Chiang Kai-shek on the mainland had generated an unbridled ambition in the Chairman, one that would have been fueled by a military success in Taiwan. Around the time that Kim Il-sung was in Peking, Ho Chi Minh secretly arrived to discuss Vietminh's coming military offensive. Mao, viewing the United States "as both a hostile enemy and a 'paper tiger'," saw three opportunities for transforming "through the barrel of the gun" the existing order in East Asia and thus in the world - Korea, Taiwan, and Vietnam" The book also explains, far more satisfactorily than any of the previous books or audiobooks I have read or listened to on the topic, just how it was that Chiang lost the mainland. The answer is complicated, but in essence is this: 1. In the final days of World War II, The Soviet Union invaded and occupied Manchuria (the Northeast of China, then held by Japan). Around the same time, there was a massive movement of Chinese communist troops into the area. Although Stalin had previously pledged to recognize only Chiang's government as the true government of China, not to aid the communists and not to allow them to infiltrate Manchuria, in actual fact he did none of these. The Soviet Union not only allowed the Chinese communists to infiltrate Manchura, they also heavily armed them - partially with recently captured Japanese arms, and partially with Soviet arms. 2. Chiang recognized early on that to attack Manchuria was hopeless - the communist position there was too strong. His best course of action was to try to hold on the portion of the country south of the great wall. Had he done this, the world today might be very different - with a communist "North China" consisting of only the Northeast provinces, and a democratic "South China" consisting of everything else. This, in turn, would likely have meant that the Vietnam war would never have taken place (communist north Vietnam was aided substantially by communist China), would have greatly changed the dynamic of the Korea war (since Manchuria borders North Korea, it is still likely that the Chinese communists would have intervened in the war - but with them only controlling a fraction of the country, the willingness of the American's to "take the war to China" may have been much higher. In fact, the Korean war might have ended with the defeat of not only North Korea, but also communist "North China", if for example Chiang's forces in South China and the US forces in Korea had simultaneously attacked the communist stronghold in Manchuria. It also may even have prevented the Khmer Rouge, also supported by communist China, from coming to power in Cambodia. 3. However, for various reasons, Chiang ended up going against his judgement and attacking the communists in Manchuria. The reasons here are complicated but essentially amount to American interference. After the defeat of Japan, the Americans were unwilling to help interfere militarily in the Chinese civil war, but sent a major General to China to try to arrange a peace settlement between the Nationalists and Communists. This settlement benefited the communists far more than the nationalists. They simply agreed to whatever the Americans asked on paper, but then didn't do what they had promised to do. For example, one of the terms of the peace settlement was that the communists would move most of their forces out of Manchuria, while at the same time the US government flew Nationalist forces in. The idea was to ensure that the nationalists enjoyed a 13 to 1 advantage in manpower their. The communists happily agreed, but then just didn't move their men. So when the American's airlifted the nationalist army's into Manchuria...and then left...they had essentially flown them into a death trap. It seems likely that if America had simply stayed out, Chiang would have stuck with his original plan and the world today would be very different. Here's a nice quote from this period: While Ambassador Stuart was telling Li that the United States would do nothing to help the Nationalists, boxcars loaded with Soviet supplies and special equipment were rolling regularly down the repaired rails from the Russian border to junctions close to the Yangtze. So...the present mess in Asia...aka North Korea, communist China, and an isolated Taiwan. Whose fault is it? On the one hand, it is obviously the fault of Japan, since it was their war of aggression that weakened Chiang to the point that the communists could gain the upper hand. Even Mao admits this - here's a humorous quote to that effect from one of my other books: "Unbeknownst to almost all Chinese nowadays, Mao virtually dismissed the idea that Japan should continually express contrition and remorse over the war of conquest it fought in China. Meeting with Japanese prime minister Kakuei Tanaka on September 27, 1972, at the time of normalization of their relations, after Tanaka expounded in his coy and abstract fashion that "by invading China, Japan created a lot of trouble for China," Mao replied in a way that blended irony with surprising Candor. "We must express our gratitude to Japan," he said. If Japan didn't invade China, we could never have achieved the cooperation between the KMT and the Communist Party. We could never have developed and eventually taken political power for ourselves. It is due to Japan's help that we are able to meet here in Beijing." But on the other hand, it is also the fault of Stalin, who was acting behind the scenes as a kind of puppet master the whole time, without which the Chinese communist party would not exist. And finally, it is also the fault of America, for intervening "half way" in the Chinese civil war - "helping" the nationalist armies by airlifting them into Manchuria, but then leaving them there to die when it became clear that Manchuria was a death trap. I could say a lot more, but I think I'll stop here. I loved this book and can't recommend it enough.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    I highly recommend this book to people interested in China between 1911-1945, Taiwan between 1945-1975 and the US involvement in Asia from WWII until Nixon's visit to Beijing. On all of these topics, Taylor weaves together a fascinating portrayal of the effectively insurmountable challenges faced by the Chinese nation and CKS's indispensible role on the front line. His portrayal of CKS breaks with conventional wisdom of an inept ignorant glorified warlord and shows a leader carefully managing a h I highly recommend this book to people interested in China between 1911-1945, Taiwan between 1945-1975 and the US involvement in Asia from WWII until Nixon's visit to Beijing. On all of these topics, Taylor weaves together a fascinating portrayal of the effectively insurmountable challenges faced by the Chinese nation and CKS's indispensible role on the front line. His portrayal of CKS breaks with conventional wisdom of an inept ignorant glorified warlord and shows a leader carefully managing a highly fragmented society and often succeeding, at least until 1937. After that, the Japanese empire and the Soviet support of the CCP were forces that he was incapable of defeating. Recognizing that, CKS attempted to utilize his weakness to his advantage. Here, too, he was largely successful, allying himself and manipulating the US government into providing extensive military and economic aid to Taiwan and laying the groundwork for what would become the most successful model for Chinese democracy after his death. CKS is a difficult historical figure to digest because he doesn't fit into a simple category. He saw himself as primarily a military leader but his political acumen is what made him the overall leader of China. He wasn't wildly successful at anything but taking into account the shattered society which he inherited and then had to defend against powers which were orders of magnitude stronger than him, he performed remarkably well. He was a man of impeccable personal integrity (at least with respect to corruption), adhering to strict neo-Confucian + Christian values, yet he tolerated rampant corruption in the KMT for decades. He was remarkable lack of cruelty for a traditional Chinese military leader, yet he bears responsibility for a number of major atrocities like unleashing the Yellow River in 1937 and the 2/28 incident in 1947. He had deep misgivings about capitalism and disdain for the wealthy but when forced to choose, threw his lot in with the Chinese upper class and later the US. He clearly foresaw the futility of US troops fighting in Vietnam but remained implacably anti-Communist and (at least in public) always in favor of going on the offensive. For all of these reasons, CKS is difficult to discuss in terms of archetypes and it's hard to have "an opinion" about him. There is no doubt, however, that he was a highly capable leader, one of the most clairvoyant and careful in the 20th century. He anticipated Japan's full-scale invasion of China, Japan's shift to SE Asia, eventual allied involvement in WWII and Japanese defeat--each event years in advance when the evidence was far from clear. At each new development, his government was amongst the weakest involved. But rather than squander his (still considerable) resources, he tried to leverage his position to what he believed was the ultimate advantage of the Chinese nation. In short, highly recommended. Note: Pakula's Last Empress deals with a lot of the same material. Her portrayal of the Stilwell period has a very different tone, implying that CKS's indecision and ignorance led the first Burma campaign and overall US relations to ruin, rather than Stilwell's arrogance and inability to seriously consider the strategic consequences of a campaign outside the battlefield. After reading both accounts (as well as Mitter's in Forgotten Ally) I have to say that Pakula's (which is also the "conventional wisdom" from US reports at the time) is not convincing. Her description fails to describe the details of the different proposed Burma campaigns and thereby makes a relatively consistent position on behalf of CKS (to support an invasian as long as its scope and chances of success are reasonable) appear irrational as the contours of the invasion including key provisions for naval and air support kept being changed, mostly by the British. Taylor gives a much more careful treatment of the Cairo conference, where the second Burma invasion was discussed. By going into the details of the positions of the political and military advisors from the US and UK, he shows that, despite Stilwell's reports, CKS maintained a consistent and reasonable position. Tellingly, the infamous incident in which CKS allegedly never heard of monsoons is carefully deconstructed by Taylor, while Pakula repeats it verbatim. According to Taylor, though, Soong apparently did say that CKS did not know what monsoons were, it seems that it was only the Western terminology that he was not familiar with. In his diary, CKS used the Chinese term for "rainy season" many times in discussion of SE Asia and he clearly was familiar with the phenomenon. The fact that Pakula did not take the trouble to clarify this story but rather repeat it verbatim casts a shadow on the scholarly quality of her entire book, in my opinion.

  14. 4 out of 5

    James

    Chiang Kai-Shek (also Jiang Jieshi) was one of the most polarising Chinese figures of the twentieth century, equally celebrated as the victor over the Japanese and reviled as the man who lost the Mainland to the Communists after defeat in the Chinese Civil War. Taylor's new, revisionary biography attempts to rehabilitate the man behind the superlatives and portray Chiang as a more nuanced and humanised figure: for example in discussing his conversion to Christianity after his marriage to Soong M Chiang Kai-Shek (also Jiang Jieshi) was one of the most polarising Chinese figures of the twentieth century, equally celebrated as the victor over the Japanese and reviled as the man who lost the Mainland to the Communists after defeat in the Chinese Civil War. Taylor's new, revisionary biography attempts to rehabilitate the man behind the superlatives and portray Chiang as a more nuanced and humanised figure: for example in discussing his conversion to Christianity after his marriage to Soong Mayling (Song Meiling). Drawing on numerous newly-available Chinese sources from the National Archives in Taiwan including Chiang's personal diaries, Taylor provides a much more detailed and personal biography of Chiang. Of particular note is the post-war history that Taylor narrates: the founding of a modern, renewed Republic of China on Taiwan, the intricacies of Cold War politics and how deeply betrayed Chiang and those on Taiwan felt as America, particularly, recognised the PRC in lieu of the ROC. Unlike previous biographies that categorically castigate Chiang for losing China owing to his own ineptitude, Taylor's biography takes a long view of history and proposes that the modern society and economy on Taiwan that arose as a result of both Chiang Kai-Shek and his son, Chiang Ching-kuo's rule as more in line with Sun Yat-sen's vision of China as opposed to the Communist rule on the Mainland. This biography is a welcome addition to scholarship on Modern Chinese history and politics, and a welcome change, too, to the scholarly treatment of Chiang himself. A better knowledge not only of China's twentieth-century history but also of its future is given on reading this.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Reza Amiri Praramadhan

    This is a biography about one of the most influential people in history of modern China (and perhaps Taiwan), Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek. If I had to choose between Mao Zedong and Chiang Kai-Shek, I’d choose Chiang. Austere, Disciplined and committed to the idea of Sun Yat Sen, he subjugated the bickering warlords, tried to modernise China, which actually went quite well until Japan attacked. In World War II, he held the line against Japan, against all odds, and after that, tried to beat the This is a biography about one of the most influential people in history of modern China (and perhaps Taiwan), Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek. If I had to choose between Mao Zedong and Chiang Kai-Shek, I’d choose Chiang. Austere, Disciplined and committed to the idea of Sun Yat Sen, he subjugated the bickering warlords, tried to modernise China, which actually went quite well until Japan attacked. In World War II, he held the line against Japan, against all odds, and after that, tried to beat the communists in a civil war until most of his troops were mauled in Manchuria by the communists, forcing him to retreat to tiny island of Formosa, or Taiwan. There, he focused his efforts to reclaim the mainland, which ended with US-China normalisation of diplomatic relations, that left Chiang and Taiwan in an awkward position it is in today. As Chiang is one of historical figures I admire, I enjoy quite much reading this book. Many aspects of Chiang are described, such as his ascetic daily life, his occasional temper bursts and sudden weepings, her illustrious wife, Soong Mayling, his private thoughts on world affairs, which was acquired from his highly detailed daily journal, and also his willingness to live to fight another day, such as his war of attrition against Japan, which strangely and unusually nonexistent in his decision to pour troops to Manchuria. I agree with the author’s opinion that Chiang Kai-Shek is the father of 21st century China, not Mao Zedong, for Maoism is much discredited even by the communist party today, and its development followed Chiang’s visions, although distortions can still be found here and there.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Kiril

    A thorough record of the life of one of the most prominent personalities in China's modern history, Jay Taylor's "The Generalissimo" is surely an interesting read for anyone wanting to learn more about China's history. While anyone knows who Mao Zedong is, I doubt that even half of those people know who Chiang is and what his contributions to his own nation and to the world as a whole are. This controversial figure, Chiang Kai-Shek, who is said to "have had everything in his hands and still lost A thorough record of the life of one of the most prominent personalities in China's modern history, Jay Taylor's "The Generalissimo" is surely an interesting read for anyone wanting to learn more about China's history. While anyone knows who Mao Zedong is, I doubt that even half of those people know who Chiang is and what his contributions to his own nation and to the world as a whole are. This controversial figure, Chiang Kai-Shek, who is said to "have had everything in his hands and still lost China to the commies", kept loyal to the Western world and the Allies, including the US, even when he was faced with betrayal. Fighting to keep his nation united, first against the raging warlords, then with the invading Japanese, then against the growing armies of Mao, he remained humble in his views and opinions. Trying to modernize Chinese society and carry out reforms, he never really got his chance to do so on the Mainland. Even though his Nationalist government was acting in a way that was not nearly democratic, the changes introduced by Chiang and his son spurred the economy of Taiwan and allowed for the establishment of a truly democratic, highly developed nation. As Taylor himself concludes, if Chiang could see what has become of his nation, ”he might believe that his long-planned, seemingly fanciful ‘counterattack’ had succeeded and that his successors had recovered the Mainland. Truly, the vision that drives modern China in the twenty-first century is that of Chiang Kai-shek, not Mao Zedong.”

  17. 4 out of 5

    Jack Hwang

    Jay Taylor has done a good job in handling such a complicated personality. The whole life of CKS was tangled with modern China. As a revolutionary, he kept his faith in Sun, Yi-Xian's dream of modernizing China. As a military leader (although not very talented), he overcame the Chinese warlords and unified China under a southern government. This was a really rare accomplishment. In the 3000 years of history of China, he was one of the only two southern leaders who have unified China. The other i Jay Taylor has done a good job in handling such a complicated personality. The whole life of CKS was tangled with modern China. As a revolutionary, he kept his faith in Sun, Yi-Xian's dream of modernizing China. As a military leader (although not very talented), he overcame the Chinese warlords and unified China under a southern government. This was a really rare accomplishment. In the 3000 years of history of China, he was one of the only two southern leaders who have unified China. The other is Chu, Yuan-Zhang, the first emperor of Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). As a politician, he was keen in making political gambles -- the outcomes were not always bad. As a strategist, he had quite some good insights in depicting the mist of the complex events -- although he sometimes screwed up with his conservatism and the lack of capabilities to execute. As a national leader, he lead a weak, poor, and backward China in war with modernized and industrialized Japan for 5 years without foreign aids. As a men ...., well he had his entourage of mistresses..... Jay Taylor has maintained an sympathetic but objective tone through out the whole works. Although constrained by his limited capability of comprehending materials written in Chinese, he apparently had done quite a job in obtaining and studying the Chinese records. Of course, some of his narratives could have been improved if he had been able to read Chinese materials more freely.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Anthony Caruso

    Well written, extremely insightful and engaging. The only downsides is the epilogue is kind of pointless and certain points/epochs/etc kind of drag on (like Stilwell being around in what seemed like a never ending period of Chinese history). Some may get annoyed by the random one paragraph tidbits about Chiang (like him getting into a car accident with Mayling, etc), but I found they rather interesting (and, frankly, a nice break from the serious stuff at times). I really enjoyed this book, but i Well written, extremely insightful and engaging. The only downsides is the epilogue is kind of pointless and certain points/epochs/etc kind of drag on (like Stilwell being around in what seemed like a never ending period of Chinese history). Some may get annoyed by the random one paragraph tidbits about Chiang (like him getting into a car accident with Mayling, etc), but I found they rather interesting (and, frankly, a nice break from the serious stuff at times). I really enjoyed this book, but it is still a bit dry if you are not used to reading nonfiction. However, you will come away having learnt more than you'll ever be able to remember. It gave a really comprehensive overview of Chiang life in an interesting way (skipping the boring 'growing up' part and the nearing of his death). I was pleasantly surprised to find myself learning a bit more about American history in the process, as well. I really don't have much more to say. Chiang is a fascinating man and the book is objective enough that you can pull away you own opinions of him. Read it if you are interested in Chinese history or Taiwanese history or famous political figures. Hell....this is even a really great book for Sino-US relations.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Ryan Qixu

    First balanced account of Chiang Kai-shek by a Western scholar. Using newly-available Chiang Kai-shek diaries which were deposited at the Stanford University since 2006, Taylor has managed to re-create a different image of Chiang from the usual negative portrayal that the CCP and Americans have tended to characterize him. There is no better way to analyze and understand the turbulent period of modern Chinese history without a comprehensive study of Chiang and hopefully the diaries would lead to First balanced account of Chiang Kai-shek by a Western scholar. Using newly-available Chiang Kai-shek diaries which were deposited at the Stanford University since 2006, Taylor has managed to re-create a different image of Chiang from the usual negative portrayal that the CCP and Americans have tended to characterize him. There is no better way to analyze and understand the turbulent period of modern Chinese history without a comprehensive study of Chiang and hopefully the diaries would lead to more insights about controversial periods in Chinese Republican history, especially Chiang's grand strategy against Japan during the 8 year Anti-Japanese struggle

  20. 5 out of 5

    Lance Greenlee

    This voluminous book was quite good when it focused on Chiang Kai-Shek and those closest to him, but when it came to the minor characters they were a myriad of names flurrying through the pages, which the author failed to make memorable by any real character development. Then, many pages later, the author would just drop them back in and expect the reader to remember them. I felt if they were important enough to include, there should have been more to their appearances in the book; probably many This voluminous book was quite good when it focused on Chiang Kai-Shek and those closest to him, but when it came to the minor characters they were a myriad of names flurrying through the pages, which the author failed to make memorable by any real character development. Then, many pages later, the author would just drop them back in and expect the reader to remember them. I felt if they were important enough to include, there should have been more to their appearances in the book; probably many should have been trimmed.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Greg

    I read this as part of the supplementary reading for the Brady Johnson Program in Grand Strategy. It presents a revisionist history of Chiang Kai Shek, that he was not the bumbling loser that he was presented in contemporary media in the US. It presents a broad picture of the man and his circle based on his diaries as well as other declassified sources. I enjoyed the read if for no other reason than one of my uncles served in the India China Burma Theater in WW II.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Mike Adamczyk

    If you’re looking for an exhaustive biography on Chiang Kai Shek that’s not tainted by the idiocy of the reporting by Joe Stilwell, this is it. My only issue is it focus too much on the man, and important events that occur, like military battles and the breaking of the dam to hinder the Japanese advance, receive only a few lines of context.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Brian

    I found it to be very interesting. Heavy on the military side of things, but gives a good dose of politics as well. He seems to gloss over Chiang's abuses a little bit, but on the whole it is well done.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Claire Baxter

    Someone I knew very little about. I'm now enlightened. This was an interesting book however it was a bit too long and detailed for me. The writing style was lucid and flowed well so it wasn't difficult to read, just a bit long.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Rippen Liu

    A bit biased. Spent too much of the book gossiping Stilwell, and various places just obviously making excuses for Chiang. Personal bias toward Chiang is just a bit too obvious in many parts of the book.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Shirley

    This is an extremely well researched book. Finally here is an unjudgemental and open-minded biography on Chiang Kai-shek's heroic and tragic life.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Brandon Chang

    The book is an amazing and accurate biography of Chiang Kai Shek that offered me knowledge that I had never before knew.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Justin

    The best English-language biography of Chiang Kai-shek.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Patrick

    A worthy revision of Jiang and his legacy, but there can be too much revision.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Sense Hofstede

    Relative sympathetic but comprehensive biography. Somewhat America-centric, though.

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