Chiang kai shek, p.1
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       Chiang Kai-Shek, p.1

           Emily Hahn
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Chiang Kai-Shek






  Chiang Kai-Shek

  An Unauthorized Biography

  Emily Hahn



  1. FLASHBACK 1887–94


  3. “STORMS OF TEMPER” 1912–23



  6. MARRIAGE 1927

  7. JAPAN MOVES IN 1927–32

  8. CONSOLIDATION 1932–36

  9. THE INCIDENT 1936–41






  15. FLIGHT 1947–9

  16. THE END?





  Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek did not co-operate on this book; on the contrary, he doesn’t want anything published about himself as long as he is kept off the mainland. He feels that in these circumstances he is not worth attention. The author doesn’t agree.

  1 FLASHBACK 1887–94

  That night in Takata, near the northwest coast of Japan, there was a dinner party in a restaurant. Uniformed men with shaved heads and stockinged feet sat cross-legged on the matting floor and toasted each other, and laughed a good deal and sang marching songs. They were young and cheerful. It wasn’t an elaborate or expensive party; just a routine dinner, a farewell gesture from the Japanese officers of the town garrison for three Chinese brothers in arms. These Chinese had been with them for several years, training in the Imperial Army by special arrangement with the War Office in Peking. Now they were going home. Their plans, like many other Chinese plans, had suddenly been changed by an accident, due to some clumsy unknown, miles away in Hankow. There, a bomb had gone off in a cellar and blown the lid off the latest revolution against the Ching Dynasty. It was October 1911.

  Somebody filled one of the tiny cups with water instead of rice wine, and with a sweeping gesture handed it to his neighbor, a Chinese. “Military people don’t drink sake,” he said. “Please drink water instead. According to the bushido spirit of Japan, drinking water means that the soldier won’t return alive.”

  All the Japanese nodded approvingly and in silence watched the little ceremony that followed. Two of the guests took a sip, but the last one to hold the cup, a solemn young man named Chiang Kai-shek, swallowed all the water that was left.

  “Gentlemen, thank you for the honor you have done me,” he said.

  “And as he drank his face was red with emotion,” said General Nakaoka, trying valiantly in 1928 to recall whatever he could of the long-forgotten incident. “Whoever dreamed that the student of those days would ever be chairman of the Chinese Government? None of us thought that Mr. Chiang was going to be a historic personality.”

  Still less, he might have said, did anybody in the regiment think that some day the Japanese, above all people, would have violent reactions to Chiang’s name. In 1911 he was one of the most obscure Chinese students that had ever been sent over to finish his military training in Asia’s up-to-date army. Most youths in his category were related to the noble families of China and had got their places through political pull, but Chiang Kai-shek was a nobody.

  The officers were sorry later on that they had neglected to notice him. By the time Nakaoka gave his newspaper interview the Japanese had developed a keen interest in that all but forgotten young man, and were even proud of him. In 1928 he was famous as the Chinese leader who had suddenly broken with Russia and taken the new Republic out of Communist clutches. Still, there it was; nobody among the Japanese in his old regiment remembered him except in a vague way, in that scrap of the general’s reminiscence. Only a sergeant, a man named Shimoda, could add more to the picture.

  “The only thing remarkable in him,” said Shimoda, “was the impressive and forbidding expression which would instantly come upon his face when he was ordered to clean the stables.”

  The twenty-four-year-old Chiang sailed to Shanghai in a state of elation that his code of manners made it necessary to conceal. It was against his philosophy of self-control to exhibit emotion, but he had waited a long time for this moment. This, he felt, was it at last; this time the revolution would succeed. He liked the Japanese well enough after all these years of arduous training; he admired their endurance, and he had long since got used to their scanty diet of cold rice garnished with a little fish and pickle. He knew he had been lucky to get the chance of training with the only modern army in the Far East. Most of the boys sent over from home on the government training scheme were naturally pro-Manchu. But Chiang was different. Already, in spirit, he was a seasoned revolutionary. Nor was it only in spirit that he knew his way around that dimly lit world of the fugitive in which his revered leader, Sun Yat-sen, had lived his adventurous life. Already he felt like a veteran. He didn’t look like one—he looked like a boy of sixteen—but it is the feeling that counts.

  Chiang knew Shanghai well; the foreign settlements, the great walled estates, the hotels, and the drab Chinese city full of pig-tailed workers. It looked normal when he landed, but something was going on behind the humdrum façade of streets and people. Not only China had been rocked by that amateurish little bomb. The world was following developments.

  The French Concession and the International Settlement offered the conspirators who were Chiang’s friends their only safety in all the country. Protected by the flags of Europe, Sun Yat-sen’s followers had for years been holding their meetings and taking up collections for armaments.

  As soon as his ship had docked, the young soldier hurried to the house of his good friend Chen Chi-mei. Whatever was happening, Chen would know the true story. There had been other alarms and they had always turned out to be false or abortive, but this time, Chiang knew, things were better prepared than they had ever been before. There would be popular support in widespread districts. This time, revolution against the Manchus couldn’t be quelled. That was why he had insisted upon coming back to his country instead of staying on in the hope of more training. One couldn’t go on forever just preparing. A keen young soldier must find his place in the sun; he need not forever accept a role in the background, giving way to spoiled scions from the higher social circles of Peking. There had been a lot of that already—too much. Chiang had suffered a long, long time from resentment and a feeling of neglect. He had a passionate and jealous nature.

  He was born in Chikow, a village near the town of Fenghua, in Chekiang. Chekiang is a small province on the Chinese seacoast, south of Shanghai. The land is fertile, and it is counted a wealthy province. Chikow is inland among the hills, where farms are tip-tilted, in a mountain range that runs north and south along China’s edge. We have seen its mountains, or their prototypes, in Chinese paintings; austere, jagged outlines against the sky, softened here and there by floating scraps of mist.

  He could not have been more widely separate from our country if he had been born in 1587 instead of 1887; his people knew almost nothing about America or any other land, though Americans knew a little—not much, but a little—about China. There were stories of the East told in America: there were pictures painted by Chinese, and missionaries’ stories, and there were live Chinese, too, quite a few of them living in California cities or wandering inland to set up shops and laundries. Americans, if they were interested, learned a good deal about
China, and her people—the black-haired women who wore trousers, and the men’s long pigtails. But in Chekiang, America was only a vague name.

  From his birth the baby was never out of hearing distance of rushing water. A brook flowed along the foot of the bluff where his house stood. Like the neighbors, his family farmed bits of ground in the nearby valley, but Kai-shek’s father Chiang Su-an was also a shopkeeper. (As a child, Kai-shek had another name; as he grew older and went to school the name was changed, and later he took yet another. But the unfamiliar syllables are confusing enough without this added elaboration, and we had better ignore it.) Su-an was the local salt merchant. Salt was a government monopoly and Chiang held a license to trade in it; his income was steady if modest. Just how modest it was is difficult for a Westerner to estimate.

  Were the Chiangs poor? We might think so. But Chiang Kai-shek in his memoirs speaks of his grandfathers as having been wealthy men. The Chiang grandfather had been a salt merchant like Su-an, and the maternal grandfather, Wang, had moved into Chekiang from Anhwei and become a landowner. “After the fall of the Taiping kingdom,” says Chiang, “he felt heartbroken … and traveled to the west of Chekiang … In a few years the rice fields increased and the estate became very rich. For scores of li the property was all his.”

  Chiang’s official biographers have been victims of a conflict. They want to prove that their hero has illustrious family connections, if only because it would be discourteous not to say that he has. Yet there was a new fashion, even before the Communist conquest, to emphasize the virtues of the simple life—Lincoln is very well thought of in China. The nearest thing to Lincoln that can be found in their history is the Confucian sage Mencius, and they have worked hard to show parallels between his life and Chiang Kai-shek’s. Mencius had a wise, self-sacrificing mother who brought up her son admirably, in spite of abject poverty, and Chiang’s chroniclers point out the things he can claim in common with the sage—the widowed mother, the poverty … Perhaps they overdid it; he wasn’t as poor as all that.

  Chiang Kai-shek himself is taciturn about his background. If he hadn’t become a Christian and joined the Southern Methodist Church, the notion of being ashamed of his history might never have entered his head. He did become a Methodist, though, and he is ashamed; and it is possible, as a matter of fact, that anybody in China would have been affected to a certain extent in the twenties by our opinions on morality, no matter what religion he held. It may be irrational of Chiang to criticize his Buddhist family for not living according to Christian ideas of propriety, but in these matters few of us are governed by reason. The particular fact he does not wish to dwell on is that his mother, twenty-two years younger than her husband, was not Su-an’s first wife, the “big mistress” of the house. She was the “little mistress,” the second wife—a concubine, we would call it. This worries the Generalissimo.

  No blame attached to Miss Wang for assuming this relationship. There was nothing illicit about a concubine’s status. She had her place in the family, by law and custom, and her children enjoyed equal rights with those of the first wife. She was considered as good a woman as any in the community: the rank of concubine did not connote immorality. Before Chiang was converted he must have accepted the general Chinese opinion on such matters: indeed, no other attitude could possibly have occurred to him. It is different now.

  In an attempt to compensate for this fact, which he considers a blemish, the log-cabin fanciers talk a good deal about his mother’s virtues, and Chiang’s memoirs are enthusiastic on this subject. “Alas!” he wrote, “my mother endured thirty-six years of hardship. She swallowed much bitterness and never refused any kind of toil, all for her unfilial son, who, she hoped, would establish himself. But I was unworthy.… Not only have I been unable to achieve deeds of virtue or do work of importance so as to fulfill my mother’s ambition for me, but I have also failed utterly in the filial duty of a son to look after his mother’s health constantly and in making her happy even for a single day. On the contrary she had been allowed to drag on with some kind of a serious illness for over ten years.…” This was written in 1921, when her son was thirty-four years old and had done quite a lot of important work. It is the way polite Chinese talk: it is not to be taken literally.

  Other narrators are not so modest on his behalf or hers. One story current among his underlings is that Mrs. Chiang, in order to support her fatherless children—Chiang Su-an died when the boy was eight—went out to work as a housemaid. It is not true. She belonged to a large clan, and Chinese families look after their own. She found it hard to manage financially, but there were brothers-in-law and cousins and uncles who helped. She worked embroidery and sold it: she did this work among her own people.

  Su-an’s first wife had borne two children, and when she died their care was entrusted to Kai-shek’s mother. She herself had four children: Kai-shek was the eldest and he had a brother and two sisters. The boy and one of the girls died in infancy, so Kai-shek did grow up, like Mencius, the only son of his widowed mother. Mencius or no Mencius, however, we must not think of him as dwelling in a miserable hovel, in lonely poverty. The Chiangs could afford to indulge in a certain amount of ambition. It was taken for granted, for example, that the boy be educated. He was too bright and lively to be wasted.

  The spirit of the West was slowly percolating through the country. Politically, everything seemed stagnant, but politics are never static. The Manchu Dynasty was in the saddle again after years of Taiping rule in the South, but Manchu energy had been ebbing for generations, and would have died out naturally if outside influences hadn’t kept it going.

  The powers of the West supported the Manchus because they profited by the arrangement, and so a rotten government was aided to hang on for years beyond its normal span. If the Chinese had not feared the West they would have thrown off the Manchus. As it was they smoldered and watched in impotent hatred while foreign powers grabbed one concession after another from them.

  Unable to take out their feelings in direct action, they waited and reminded each other that the Manchus, like the Westerners, were foreigners. In later years when the main cause of irritation was removed, Chiang Kai-shek was to take a more moderate and characteristically Chinese viewpoint, declaring that Manchus and Chinese are of the same race. Even then, Chinese had become accustomed to the same Manchu laws that seemed tyrannical three hundred years before, when the Ching Dynasty first promulgated them. There was the queue, for example. When the Court issued the original order that all Chinese men must wear their hair in this fashion, there had been weeping and wailing, yet in the 1880s queues were the convention, and were even cherished. But other grievances were not so trivial: the Manchus were detested and blamed for every misfortune. Taxation was oppressive, corruption was extreme even for people accustomed to venality, and the government was blamed when crops were disappointing, for heaven rewards a country or punishes it according to the virtue or wickedness of its emperor.

  The ordinary man had always been content to accept the comfortable fact that he was Chinese and therefore the salt of the earth. Now he was beginning to question this axiom.

  Every military convulsion seemed to bring another European country into the picture, ostensibly to watch her nationals’ interests or to protect China from herself, and the result was always the same: more and yet more foreigners arrived and made claims. From their point of view these incursions were justified. It was the nineteenth-century faith in Europe that trade should be spread throughout the rest of the world, even when it meant forcing Western-made articles upon Orientals who didn’t realize what was good for them. But the Chinese didn’t agree. They were still smarting from the indignity of the Opium War and its outcome—the establishment of treaty ports, and British management of their Customs. It was cold comfort to be told by bossy British officials, in schoolmistressy accents, that the Chinese Customs Department was the only one in their government free of corruption. Pigheaded people that they were, they actually preferre
d homemade Chinese corruption to foreign purity.

  After an incident in which a British consul was killed in the interior, the British had insisted that the reluctant Manchu Court permit foreigners to travel anywhere in the Empire under protection of the authorities, in 1875. Barely a year after this humiliation, Russia legalized her occupation of the Ili Valley to the north. In 1882 there was more foreign trouble, this time in Korea. China claimed Korea as a tributary, but the relationship was a loose one. No objections came from Peking when Korea signed a commercial treaty with Japan. But then the King of Korea quarreled with his new friends and Japan moved in troops. Then the Manchus sat up and took notice, and nearly became involved in all-out war with the Japanese. They managed to steer clear of it; an agreement was signed in 1885; the armies of both countries were evacuated from Korea, but the peninsula was to remain a sore point.

  Eighteen eighty-seven, the year of Kai-shek’s birth, was marked by another flurry over the same country, this time between Great Britain and Russia, both of whom attempted to occupy Port Arthur. The two nations finally withdrew their troops and promised each other to leave Korea alone. China, the nominal sovereign state, was completely ignored in the exchange.

  With all this, the most effective infiltration of the West was neither military nor commercial, but religious. There are qualities in the Chinese character that work both for and against missionaries. Most Chinese are not mystic. They are attracted by philosophy rather than the religious spirit, and are not prone to sudden exaltation or emotional conversions. On the other hand, they are not averse to new religions; they are interested and tolerant. The Catholics who came into China in the sixteenth century had found themselves befriended and hearkened to but did not succeed in convincing many of their hearers that the old ways of filial piety and Confucianism or Buddhism were not best. And even the early toleration of Christianity disappeared after Emperor K’ang-hsi expelled the missionaries. It took courage and wit for a Chinese to cling to Catholicism after that, though there were some who did.


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