Reflections on a Wandering Life.....

Monday, May 16, 2005

Fengwei was animated at lunch today. He has been reading the book I loaned him. I picked it up at Borders when I was in the States during Spring Festival. The book, Chiang Kai Shek : China's Generalissimo and the Nation He Lost is a scholarly, and yet readable, journalistic exploration of one simple historic question, "Why did Chiang Kai-shek lose China?" It is a fascinating book. I showed it to Fengwei last time I was here, and he wanted to read it, so this week I am letting him borrow it while I am here.

The conundrum of Chiang Kai-shek, who he was, and why he lost, has occupied the attention of historians perhaps as much as any issue of the time. Different explanations have been offered, but he most significant and credible center around two key issues. One is the fact that Chiang Kai-shek was very slow to fight the Japanese as they were moving across China. Chiang always said, "The Japanese are a disease of the skin; the Communists are a disease of the heart." I have struggled with this, because in some respects, history has proven Chiang to be correct: The "force" that finally did him in was not the Japanese, it was the Communists. But the more I study this painful period of history, the more I am inclined to believe that their is some truth to the charge that Chiang Kai-shek was defeated, at least in part, because of his hesitation in fighting the Japanese. Chiang's main problem was that the Americans were not interested in coming to the aid of China until they themselves were attacked, and by that time, it was too late. And Chiang, because of his hesitation, lost the support of the common people, which the Communists, with their peasant roots, were very good at exploiting, and exploiting with all sincerity, because they really, really believed in what they were doing.

But the other main issue is the question of corruption. The KMT was notoriously corrupt, and this corruption seemed to extend to the Soong family, which was very influential in the development of China's history during this time. Chiang was tied to the mob in Shanghai. He was supported by "Big-Eared" Du of the Green Gang, who controlled the opium trade in Sin City. And the KMT soldiers were notorious for taking from the people whatever they needed. This book does not end the debate, but it supplies very good insight into the question.

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