The Generalissimo: Chiang Kai-shek and the Struggle for Modern China
By Jay Taylor
Harvard University Press, 2009, 736 pp.
Admirers of Taylor's long, engaging biography of the last authoritarian president of Taiwan, Chiang Ching-kuo, will welcome this thoughtful account of the life of Chiang's father, who governed China from 1927 until 1949 and then ruled Taiwan until his death in 1975. Chiang Kai-shek was the chief shaper of the Republic of China on the mainland, a major Allied leader in World War II, Mao Zedong's principal antagonist in the Chinese Civil War, and the primary architect of what became "the Taiwan miracle." For decades, he was the dominant figure in Americans' imagination of the Far East. Based on a vast Chinese-language literature -- including Chiang's diaries -- scores of interviews, and U.S. diplomatic materials, Taylor's book reevaluates Chiang as an honorable and talented, although flawed, figure who faced insurmountable odds with courage and composure. If Taylor does not quite crack the shell of this reserved, inhibited man, neither did his intimates. This revisionist account is bound to reshape the historical debate over the failure of democracy and the rise of communism in twentieth-century China.