Book Review: The Generalissimo: Chiang Kai-shek and the Struggle for Modern China


by Jay Taylor

Cambridge, Ma.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2009. Pp. xiv, 722. Illus., maps, notes, biblio., index . $35.00. ISBN: 0674033388

A prominent figure in Chinese affairs for over a half-century, Chiang (1887-1975) has not fared well among scholars, usually seen as an inept, corrupt opportunist who mismanaged his country, bungled the war with Japan, and lost the civil war with the Communists. 

Taylor, sometime Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence and Research, and East Asian specialist with a number of books to his credit, notably The Generalissimo's Son: Chiang Ching-kuo and the Revolutions in China and TaiwanandThe Rise and Fall of Totalitarianism in the Twentieth Century, opens this work by admitting that he too once shared these views.  But, he goes on, while writing his biography of Chiang Ching-kuo (1910-1988), who succeeded his father as president of the Republic of China and helped turn Taiwan into one of the “Asian Tigers,” he came to see that Chiang’s reputation had been much maligned by his many enemies. The result is a biography that actually is in keeping with current trends in the People’s Republic where Chiang has begun to be referred to with some favor as the leader of the national resistance to Japan.  The Generalissimo not only delves deeply into Chiang’s life and work, but in the process gives the reader a crash course in the complexities of Chinese history and politics in peace and war from the mid-nineteenth century through the late twentieth. 

Although its heft may seem a bit discouraging, this is an important read for those interested in modern China or World War II.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

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