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 ...Read MoreOne 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.Read Less
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The absence of a bibliography is a serious defect in this hardcover edition published by Harvard University Press. It is a pity as Jay Taylor has written the latest and an excellent biography on Chiang Kai Shek.
Reviewers of this book portrayed this book as groundbreaking, far surpass previous scholarship, and provide the most authoritative assessment of Chiang Kai Shek. And yet as recent as 2003 we had the excellent biography by Jonathan Fenby titled Generalissimo Chiang Kai Shek and the China He Lost. It is unfortunate that this book is not referred or analysed in this book.
The Fenby's biography evokes the atmosphere better. Fenby gave more detailed info and writes with a flair that is typical of a good journalist of which he is one.
Taylor in his biography adopts the traditional view that the Empress Dowager was all-powerful and had sided with the Boxers in the Boxers Uprising. It is unfortunate that there was no discussion at all of the contrary view taken by Sterling Seagrave in his very well-researched biography of the Empress Dowager called Dragon Lady- The Life and Legend of the Last Empress of China. Sterling had presented compelling evidence that the traditional view was based on false facts concocted by George Morrison the Peking correspondent of the Times of London , Sir Edmund Backhouse the chinese translator for Morrison and JOP Bland the Shanghai correspondent of the Times of London.
I would still recommend this book. The strength of this book is that Taylor had access to the extensive diaries of Chiang Kai Shek when he was given a set in 2003 by the Taiwanese authorities. These diaries were not available to Fenby when Fenby wrote his biography.
Ultimately I would recommend reading these 2 books as Chiang Kai Shek's life is the history of China spanning the fall of the Manchu Empire in 1911 to the Communist victory in 1949 and finally the history of Taiwan. Chiang's life in China till his flight to Taiwan was a violent life, a life where there was not a single day of peace and tranquility. To comprehend such a complex and tumultuous life one needs to read both these 2 books.
There are some minor errors in the notes. For example Han Su Yin's book on Zhou En Lai is called Elder Son and Eldest Son at note 133 and 135 and 159 at pages 622 and 623. The correct title is Eldest Son. Iris Chang who wrote The Rape of Nanking is called Irish Chang at note 58 at page 626.
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