Saturday, February 20, 2010

The End of Chiang Kai-shek by Jay Taylor

April 5, 1975, was the last night of the Tomb Sweeping (Qing Ming) Festival. Throughout Taiwan and traditionally in all of China, it was believed that on that night the ghosts of the ancestors milled about, preparing to go back into their newly cleaned chambers. Late that evening, Chiang's physician, Xiong Yuan, was in the garden of the Shilin residence admiring the endless scattering of stars in the clear night sky. Shortly after he returned indoors and retired for the night, the doctor on duty called him in a state of alarm. The President's heart had stopped. Xiong threw on a robe and rushed downstairs to Chiang's bedroom. He injected a stimulant into the President's heart and it resumed beating.

Soong Mayling arrived and was at the bedside when her husband's heart stopped again. The doctor administered another injection. Soon afterward, Ching-kuo rushed into the room just as his father suffered another attack. Xiong was preparing a third injection when Mayling touched his hand and sighed. "Just stop," she said. It was a few minutes before midnight, and just then a dramatic rainstorm with thunder and lightning swept over the island from Taipei to Gaoxiong. Even Harvard-educated officials in the city thought this was more than coincidence.

Two hours after the Generalissimo's death, the government released a political testament that he was said to have written a week earlier. "Just at this time when we are getting stronger, my comrades, and my countymen, you should not forget our sorrow and our hope because of my death. My spirit will always be with my comrades and my countrymen to fulfill the three people's principles*, to recover the mainland, and to restore our national culture." A thirty-day mourning period followed. The government required the closure of movie houses, nightclubs, bars, and other places of entertainment. No one was allowed to play golf, tennis, or baseball. Television and radio stations played only tributes and documentaries about the President, or scenes of public mourning with solemn music.

The two Chiang brothers, as required by custom, wrapped the body of their father in white cloth. Following Chiang's requests, his copies of the Bible, Streams in the Desert, and a collection of Tang poetry were placed in the casket. Someone realized the Generalissimo had forgotten to ask also to take along The Three People's Principles, and a copy was put at his side. For five days, the casket lay in state at the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall. Chiang had presided over more than a thousand weekly ceremonies honoring the party founder who had set him on the road to leadership of the Kuomintang and China. Two and a half million people reportedly filed past the casket, including the journalist Lei Zhen, who Chiang had imprisoned for some years.

On April 15, while the Generalissimo was still lying in state, America's South Vietnamese ally collapsed just as he had foreseen. Saigon fell that day and American diplomats and marines at the U.S. Embassy fled ingloriously from the roof in helicopters.

The final service for the Generalissimo was held at Memorial Hall on April 16, 1975, a gray, cloudy Wednesday. The Guanyin Mountains were lost in mist. The open casket was surrounded by lilies of the valley, and at the foot stood a large white cross of chrysanthemums. Madame Chiang, wearing dark glasses, bowed three times before the metal casket, as did her two stepsons and Alex Chiang, who represented the third generation. Then the coffin was closed, the Christian minister Zhou Lianhua gave a Christian eulogy, a military band struck up a funeral march and ten pallbearers carried the coffin out of the building to a waiting float with white and yellow flowers in the shape of a church or chapel. Military cannons thundered a twenty-one-gun salute.

Mayling, assisted on either side by Ching-kuo and Wei-kuo, walked behind the float for a few hundred yards as it moved down the road. The family then boarded limousines, and the cortege moved slowly through the warm, humid city and then onto the highway and through smaller towns. Hundreds of thousands of people lined he way, Boy and Girl Scouts, mailmen, nurses, reservists, people in sack cloth, Buddhist monks wearing saffron, a group of women in yellow Confusian gowns with mortar boards on their heads, and musicians playing ancient string instruments. Many were wailing softly in the Chinese fashion. High school and military bands played dirges and occasionally "Auld Lang Syne."

In the countryside, the procession passed by hundreds of small workshops and in between green fields sprouting the first rice crop of the year. The motorcade wound through mountain passes and some sixty miles from Taipei turned into a small encalve by a quiet lake nestled among bamboo-covered hills. This was Chiang's favorite retreat, a place that reminded him of his home in the mountains of Zhejiang, where he hoped someday his body would be reburied- on Hole in the Snow Mountain near his mother's grave, just above the little town of Xikou.

On the day of Chiang's funeral, Mao, who knew his time was limited, spent the day in bed listening over and over to the same stirring funeral music set to a twelfth-century poem. The poet was bidding farewell to a patriotic high mandarin whose career, like that of Chiang Kai-shek, had ended tragically and unfulfilled, and who had been exiled to a remote part of China.

*San min zhu yi: nationalism, democracy and the people's livelihood.

1 comment:

  1. Vice President Nelson Rockefeller arrived in Taipei on April 15. No other ally of Chiang Kai-shek sent a representative. Former President Nixon(whom Chiang privately despised) issued a statement from San Clemente, California, calling Chiang "one of the giants of the history of our times." But that was not the consensus. Most historians and journalists saw him most charitably as the man who with everything in his favor had "lost China". Russell Baker termed Chiang's defeats "spectacular" and "breathtaking." He "was to defeat as Vince Lombardi was to victory." Many echoed the sentiment of the departed Joe Stilwell: Chiang Kai-shek was an arrogant, ignorant, and inept leader driven simply by a thirst for power, and he contributed nothing to the war against Japan, to China, or to the Chinese people. The New York Times wrote that his death provoked the "memory of a monumental delusion in the political history of the twentieth century"- the Generalissimo's continual claim that from his little redoubt he was about to counterattack the mainland and defeat the colossal People's Liberation Army. Chiang would have taken pride in learning that so many people believed for so long that he was actually serious about defeating the Communist Goliath.