In my post today about Richard Nixon's Leaders , I will discuss things that Richard Nixon says about Chiang Kaishek. Chiang was the leader of mainland China before it became a Communist country under Mao Tse-Tung. Chiang would then go on to lead the country of Formosa, or Taiwan.
What I often heard in junior high school and high
school history classes was that Chiang Kaishek was a crook. We were
told that Chiang took the aid that the U.S. gave him to fight the
Communists and lined his own pockets and the pockets of his generals.
My junior high school social studies teacher said that, when the
Japanese were coming after China, Chiang did not lift a finger to fight
them, whereas Mao did. This teacher also said that the popular
designation of Taiwan as "Free China" was not entirely accurate, for
there are many rights that people do not have in Taiwan. In the
right-wing literature that I read, I encountered at least two
perspectives. The first essentially acknowledged that Chiang was far
from perfect, but it said that he was better than the bloodthirsty
Communists (for both the Chinese and also for the rest of the world),
and so the U.S. should have supported him more. The second portrayed
Chiang as a great guy. Robert Welch of the John Birch Society, in his
book Again, May God Forgive Us!, depicted Chiang as a devout Christian.
In my reading of Leaders,
I didn't see anything about Chiang Kaishek's alleged corruption, but
Nixon did have his share of criticisms of Chiang, or he mentioned
criticisms that other people had. First, Nixon says on page 245 that
Chiang was very "by the book" and rigid, and that this hindered him from
coming up with innovative strategies. Nixon states that "history is
made by those whose innovations exploited the opportunities of the
moment", and that "It was Chiang's misfortune that Mao was among the
latter." Nixon strikes me as someone who likes boldness in a leader. I
wonder if he was a fan of Captain James T. Kirk!
Second, Nixon on
pages 115-116 speculates that Chiang might have hindered the Communists
from taking over mainland China had he pursued a policy of land
reform. Chiang did precisely that as leader of Taiwan, as he "paid the
landlords for their land and distributed it to their peasantry", and the
"former landlords invested much of their money in industry while the
government encouraged foreign investment" (pages 244-245). According to
Nixon, that led to an economic boom in Taiwan. Had Chiang done that
sort of thing as leader of mainland China, Nixon speculates, "Mao might
not have been able to exploit the rural discontent that contributed to
the success of the Chinese Communist revolution" (page 116).
third, Nixon on pages 125-126 refers to the thoughts of Japanese Prime
Minister Shigeru Yoshida about Chiang. Yoshida had his doubts that
Chiang could still play a role in mainland China, for "Yoshida argued
that although Chiang was himself a Confucian scholar, he had irreparably
alienated the intellectuals, and...this was politically fatal." While
this was a negative on Chiang's part, it interested me to learn that he
was a Confucian scholar. He wasn't some unsophisticated despot.
like to turn now to three issues that pertain to Chiang Kaishek: his
revolutionary beliefs, his authoritarianism, and his Christian devotion.
start with his revolutionary beliefs. Nixon says on page 241 that
"Chiang revolted against the domestic corruption and international
weakness of the Manchu dynasty..." Chiang was also against widespread
opium addiction and foot-binding. In the 1920's, Chiang was with
"Sun-Yatsen's revolutionary Kuomintang party", and he even fought
alongside Communists. This was the case in World War II, as both
factions united against the Japanese. But Chiang turned on the
Communists in 1927, as he feared their increasing strength. Another
consideration that Nixon raises is that Chiang and Mao had two
approaches: that "Mao sought to erase the past while Chiang sought to
build upon it" (page 241). According to Nixon on page 242, the
Communists hated Chiang, yet they still "respected and even admired
him"; Chiang, however, did not respect the Communists.
authoritarianism, Nixon says on page 244 that Chiang "was not a
democrat, even though he did introduce constitutional government."
Chiang thought that the Chinese had too much freedom and needed
discipline. Nixon may have agreed with my junior high school teacher
that Taiwan was not exactly "Free China." At the same time, I question
whether Nixon would have seen that as necessarily a bad thing, for Nixon
in more than one place says that democracy is not the best system for
everyone. Nixon does laud Taiwan's free-market policies, though.
Chiang's Christian devotion, Nixon tells the story of how this came to
be on page 243. Chiang wanted to marry a woman named Mei-ling, whose
father manufactured and distributed Bibles. But Mei-ling's family was
hesitant to let this marriage happen, since Chiang was not a Christian.
Chiang offered to become a Christian, but he also decided to do a
serious study of the Bible, for he did not take his religion lightly.
During Chiang's marriage to Mei-ling, the two of them would "often pray
together for an hour in the morning."
I wonder how Chiang could
have been the crook that my teachers and history books say he was, when
he appeared to have so much substance. He opposed injustice in China.
He cared about his country. He was a scholar. On many mornings, he and
his wife would pray to God. Was he a mixture of good and bad? Did
selfishness get in the way of his ideals?