Chiang Kai-shek’s Politics of Shame (review for Global Asia)

The following book review was published in the December, 2022 issue of Global Asia:

“To the statesmanship, vigor, and personality of this one man more than any other single factor must be the credit for having realized this ideal … of a free and democratic China,” wrote H.H. Chang in a 1944 biography of Chiang Kai-shek.

This was a remarkable statement. Chiang had never shown an inclination to democracy. Equally strange was the claim that he had “politically united” China. In the east, Wang Jing-wei’s Japanese puppet regime nominally ruled over swathes of the country right up to Manchukuo, also under Japanese control, while Mao Zedong’s Red Army held huge portions of territory. In fact, the “ideal” that Chang cited in his biography was much more modest: the Nationalist regime’s “success” in brokering the Sino-British Treaty for the Relinquishment of Extra-Territorial Rights in China of 1943. Yet, as with most of Chiang’s achievements, this was a limited victory. The British rejected the “clean sweep,” demanded by the Chinese delegation, retaining Hong Kong and extensive privileges in former concessions, and most of China (and the world) was in any case oblivious.

The depiction of Chiang as “Asia’s Man of Destiny,” to use the sub-title of Chang’s biography, was a product of the time — the outcome of the wars in China was unclear, and Chiang was viewed by some Western officials as the country’s only hope. It was also a product of the author’s position as a Kuomintang diplomat.

To read the full review, click here. 


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