Saturday, February 20, 2010

'China's Destiny' by Chiang Kai-shek

Near the end of 1943, Chiang and his undeclared ghostwriter, Tao Xisheng, completed China's Destiny , which embodied his views on China, its glorious culture and history, and its bright and shining future. It was Chiang's answer to Mao Zedong's major essay on the future of China, On The New Democracy. The book reflects Chiang's distinctly nationalist, highly anti-imperialist, and strictly authoritarian outlook, but on world affairs it struck a liberal, internationalist stance.

China's Destiny asserted that every Chinese had the right and 'the duty" to belong to the Kuomintang. Citizens, Chiang proclaimed, 'must pay special attention to and not neglect for a moment, the duty of obeying the state's policy." Discipline and loyalty were commanded. He quoted Sun Yat-sen's dictum that "we must free ourselves from the idea of 'individual liberty' and unite "into a strong cohesive body, like a solid mass formed by mixing cement with sand." Indeed, the political system that Chiang supported was openly authoritarian. He rejected liberalism as well as Communism and reaffirmed Sun Yat-sen's thesis that an indefinite period of political tutelage "must be followed to attain democracy." Like Sun, he made the disturbing assertion that the principle of nationalism "is the most meritorious of all human conditions," but this is as close to fascism as the book comes. He did make presumptuous but hardly malevolent claims that "the glories and scope of our ancient Chinese learning cannot be equaled in the history of any of the strong Western nations," and that the principles of the Chinese state were propriety, righteousness, modesty, and honor. But he also declared that "theories of superior civilizations and superior races,' must be forever eliminated.

Chiang's second book, Chinese Economic Theory, released about the same time as China's Destiny, was meant to be a textbook in the KMT's Central Political Training Institute. This work calls for a mixed, planned economy; a protectionist trade policy; an emphasis on national (state) ownership of large industries; and "control of private capital." Reflecting the book's strong socialist outlook, it calls on Western economists to abandon materialism and selfish individualism in favor of a "world of great harmony" where "human nature is developed to the highest one will be able to earn a living by sitting one will be unable to find work." The last paragraph in the first chapter of China's Destiny, after referring to the long struggle of Sun Yat-sen, boasts, "I, Chiang Kai-shek, have from the beginning been identified with restarting the Republic of China on the road to freedom and independence," and then follows with three innocuous uses of the word "I". After that, Chiang does not use the personal pronoun in the book or refer to his own political or historic role.

The Chinese government did not publish China's Destiny in English. Madame Chiang recommended against it, fearing that its prideful, socialist, anti-imperialist outlook- which did not distinguish among the foreign abusers of China- would antagonize Americans and especially the British. The only English edition of China's Destiny is apparently the one produced in New York by the leftist Amerasia magazine and its pro-Communist editor Philippe Jaffe. It could be argued that the book's extravagant moral tone and idealization of Chinese culture represented a high degree of naivete and self-delusion, but not a will to personal power- much less absolute power, ethnic cleansing, or territorial expansion. Never-the-less, Jaffe, John Service, and others in the so-called intelligence agencies of the American government equated China's Destiny with Hitler's Mein Kampf.

Chiang began is career as a revolutionary officer for Sun Yat-sen's Nationalist Revolution. After Sun's death, he assumed leadership of the movement and, against heavy odds, loosely united the most populous country in the world. He led the new Republic of China during a decade of endless rebellion, civil conflict, and economic depression while building key aspects of a modern civil government. Then, from a refuge above the gorges of the Yangtze, he commanded his army and the country in a prolonged and devastating eight-year war of resistance to Japan, the first half of which China fought virtually alone. With that war's end came four more bloody years, this time as the Nationalists and the Communists clashed in a traumatic civil war. Finally, defeated by Mao- the loyalty and discipline of whose cadres he always admired- he retreated to Taiwan, where he ruled as a dictator for another quarter century.

During all this time, Chiang's deep personal commitment to Chinese unity never wavered. Although he made compromises with the warlords to keep the country together, and he appeased the Japanese for five years while trying to build a modern army, he never surrendered China's sovereignty over any of its territory. His commitment to a unified China was probably one reason, after his defeat in Manchuria in 1948, that he made no real effort to hold on to the southern half of China. Instead, he chose to make his last stand on Taiwan, where he could at last take full dictatorial control, maintain the principle of one China *, and pursue his long-held dream of creating a modern state based on Confusion values.

Chiang stubbornly pursued hopeless defensive battles, but believed that displays of indomitable willpower and sacrifice were critical for rallying the Chinese people behind a long and painful conflict. His own courage in the face of physical danger was well known in China and at times he was widely popular. Once kidnapped, and often under fire at the front, he was also famous for visiting the camps of his enemies to parlay and for leaving besieged cities at the last hour.

At times, Chiang's actions sharply contradicted the Confusion and Christian teachings that he regularly turned to, as well as his belief in his own sincerity and moral virtue. On several occasions, he sanctioned extreme actions that amounted to moral blindness or turpitude. Among those were the killings he ordered or permitted in 1947 in Taiwan and the extensive executions during the first few years after his arrival on the island. These acts were an offense to humanity, and unnecessary even in terms of Chiang's own objectives of mass intimidation and control. The fact that Mao, Deng Xiaoping, and other Communist leaders were responsible for the deaths of innocent millions rather than thousands does not change that judgment.

But Chiang was not ruthless or violent by nature- in fact he was, as Mao thought, a naively earnest and conscientious man. Chiang never sought, in his diaries or elsewhere, to justify himself in regard to the extreme actions he took. If pressed he probably would have pointed to the savagery of the times- a massive war over the direction of world culture in which millions died, hundreds of millions suffered, and the survival of Chinese civilization seemed at stake. He once called himself a "man of war" and suggested that he bore a moral burden, the same burden that Truman and Churchill took on for their decisions on Hiroshima and Dresden. But of course, his most ruthless decisions also served to keep him in power, and to this he would likely argue that, as with his democratic allies, he had the mandate of his people to lead the national struggle for survival and unity and to do whatever was necessary to win.

During twenty-five years on Taiwan, operating in a microcosm of a stable and peaceful China, Chiang had his chance at nation-building, and in terms of social and economic indices ( and the principles outlined in China's Destiny) he laid the groundwork for Taiwan's leap into modernity ( the disparity of incomes in Taiwan is the least of any modern nation on the globe). Three decades after his death, he would be impressed with the island's success, but also with the emergence of the People's Republic as a great and respected nation. He would be especially pleased about the Peking regime's replacement of class struggle and world revolution with the ancient teachings of Confucius, once again drawing on China's great history as the cultural and moral center of Chinese civilization. He would see the new Chinese leaders as modern neo-Confucianists, dedicated to making China a harmonious, stable, and prosperous society, as well as a powerful and avowedly peaceful actor on the world stage. He would also certainly note with irony that both corruption and disparities in income in the new China are extremely high, probably higher than when he led the mainland, but certainly much higher than during his years on Taiwan. Soong Mayling, his wife, who in 2003 passed away in New York at the age of 105, would no doubt also appreciate Peking's efforts to stop spitting in the streets and other unhygienic customs. But most of all, if the Chiangs could see modern Shanghai and Beijing, they might well believe that their long planned "counterattack" had succeeded and their successors had recovered the mainland. Truly, it is their vision of modern China, not Mao's, that guides the People's Republic in the twenty-first century.


  1. * He shared the principle of one China with Mao. Zhou Enlai was was also Zhejiangese and he and Chiang easily conversed. As good-looking as a silent film star, Zhou was also good-humored, dignified, and polite, erudite and self-confident but modest and respectful. He was in Chiang's eyes, a sincere man. Over forty-seven years of competition, struggle, and violent conflict between the KMT and the CCP, an unusual relationship developed between the two, including mutual respect. They shared anti-imperialist and national sentiments and communicated important intelligence on issues vital to these interests through back-channels until their deaths. Thus, for example, Chiang was fully informed of all the contents of Zhou and Kissinger's conversations preparatory to Nixon's ground-breaking visit to China. They coordinated their efforts to keep foreign influences at bay and to support national unity even during periods during which they were engaged in direct armed conflict. They shared disdain for the bumbling, inchoate and ineffective policies , strategies and tactics of the United States government,( as well as the unreliability of the Soviets) though both, in positions of dependence, were required to mute criticisms of their respective allies.

  2. The Chiang's legacy in China has endured, but not without controversy. In 2007, the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party government on Taiwan removed more than two hundred busts and statues of the Generalissimo that had been put up around the island over the years after his death (he did not allow them during his lifetime.) But then in March 2008 there was a remarkable comeback by the old party of Sun Yat-sen and Chiang Kai-shek. In a sweeping victory, the formerly dictatorial, communally (mainlander) based Kuomintang won back the presidency of the Republic of China with-most impressively- majority support of the native Taiwanese.

    "When I die if I am still a dictator, I will certainly go down in the oblivion of all dictators. If, on the other hand, I succeed in establishing a truly stable foundation for a democratic government, I will live forever in every home in China."

  3. "The Generalissimo; Chiang Kai-Shek and the Struggle for Modern China" by Jay Taylor; The Belknap Press, 2009.

  4. Whether the present leadership of China rules by the neo-confucian principles more consistent with the political ideology of Chiang Kai-shek or some reworking of communist ones that takes into account the pragmatical lessons of its own history is a nicety we needn't bother with to any large degree. Both Chiang and Mao were modernizing nationalists attuned to the dialectics of human of human affairs, succeeding in their efforts in some respects, failing in others.