Chiang Kai-shek or Jiang Jieshi (Wade-Giles, Chiang Chieh-Shih; peh-oe-ji, Chiúⁿ Kài-se̍k; alternative spellings: 蔣中正T, 蒋中正S, Jiǎng ZhōngzhèngP, Chiang Chung-chengW, ChiúⁿTiong-chìngPOJ; Xikou, October 31, 1887-Taipéi, April 5, 1975) was a Chinese military man and statesman. He succeeded Sun Yat-sen as leader of the Chinese Nationalist Kuomintang Party and was the top leader, in various capacities, of the Republic of China founded in Nanjing in 1927. After the defeat of the Nationalists against the Communists in 1949, he took refuge with his government on the island of Taiwan.
Chiang Kai-shek was dictator of Taiwan from 1949 until his death in 1975, when he was succeeded by his son Chiang Ching-kuo. During his time in Taiwan he never resigned himself to the fact that exile was final. He maintained the hope that communism would eventually fall and that the Republic of China, under his leadership, would reconquer mainland China.
After the Japanese invasion of China, the government led by Chiang Kai-shek retreated to the interior of the country, establishing the provisional capital in Chongqing, since Nanjing had fallen into the hands of the Japanese, who installed a puppet government presided over by Wang Jingwei.
During the Japanese invasion, the KMT broke off the fight against the Chinese Communist Party, forming a united front against the invaders. At the end of World War II, the Japanese withdrew from China, which also regained the island of Taiwan. At that time, the confrontation with the Communists, led by Mao Zedong, resumed.
On January 1, 1947, a new Constitution for the Republic of China was adopted. Throughout that year, members of the different chambers of the national Parliament were elected, and in April 1948, Chiang Kai-shek assumed the office of President of the Republic. The KMT government seemed to be consolidating its control over the territory, despite all the difficulties, but already in 1946 the struggle with the communists intensified. Against all odds, the communist forces of the so-called People”s Liberation Army, from their power bases in the countryside, finally managed to win this civil war. Throughout 1949, communist victories followed one after another. Chiang Kai-shek began to send personnel to the south to prepare the offensive against the communists from there. The KMT government was forced to abandon Nanjing. On February 5, the capital was moved to Canton. On May 26, Chiang moved to Taiwan.
Faced with the communist advance (on October 1 Mao Zedong had proclaimed the founding of the People”s Republic of China), the Republican Government moved the provisional capital from Canton to Chongqing on October 15 and finally to Chengdu on November 29. Chiang had returned to the mainland from Taiwan on November 14 and was in Chonqqing and Chengdu trying to resist the communist victory. Finally, on December 8, Chiang wrote off mainland China and ordered his troops and top government officials to leave Chengdu. On December 10, 1949, Chiang Kai-shek and his son Chiang Ching-kuo flew to Taiwan, from where they hoped to reorganize to defeat the Communists. Chiang Kai-shek never set foot in mainland China again.
During his time in Canton at the head of the Whampoa Military Academy, he used the name whose pinyin transcription is Jiǎng Jièshí (in traditional Chinese: 蔣介石, in simplified Chinese: 蒋介石, Wade-Giles: Chiang Chieh-shih). The usual Western form “Chiang Kai-shek” corresponds to the transcription made at the time of this name according to its pronunciation in the Cantonese dialect spoken in Canton. Chiang Kai-shek and Sun Yat-sen are the only Chinese historical personalities whose names are usually transcribed in the West in Cantonese form, and not in Mandarin.
In the Spanish-speaking world, this name has appeared in the written media very frequently in the erroneous form Chiang Kai-chek, probably due to the influence of the old French adaptation Tchiang Kaï-chek.
Chiang Kai-shek was born on October 31, 1887 in the village of Xikou in Fenghua County, Zhejiang Province. The family was the head of the small three-street village on the banks of the Shanxi River; Chiang”s father ran a store selling, among other products, salt, which was a state monopoly. His mother was his father”s third wife, an ambitious widow who had married him after spending a period of retirement in a Buddhist monastery following the death of her first husband. His mother was his father”s third wife, an ambitious widow who had married him after spending a retired period in a Buddhist monastery following the death of her first husband. Chiang was born within a year of his parents” marriage.
He was a sickly child, arrogant and in need of the attention of the other boys, among whom he tried to stand out at all costs, even putting his health at risk. A poor student according to his childhood tutors who taught him by heart the Chinese classics, he also had a certain tendency to solitude -which he maintained throughout his life- and to wander through natural landscapes (abundant in his native town) and monasteries. When he was seven years old, the family”s fortunes changed: his father died and his mother lost much of the family property to her brothers-in-law, who had been disputing the inheritance of Chiang”s grandfather for two years. The family had to leave the old family home and move to a much more modest house in the village. The mother had to take up her old trade as a seamstress to support the family, which struggled financially. The children”s education was spartan. The mother, after the death of another of her sons, focused her great ambitions on Chiang, with whom she established a close relationship, a mixture of protection, maternal ambition and harsh discipline.
In 1901, he was married to an illiterate village girl, Mao Fu-mei. Chiang”s mother, with her sternness, soon upset the couple”s initial affection. Soon after, Chiang, then fourteen years old, left for school in Phoenix Mountain. Two years later he went to a school in Ningbo port, and the following year to a school in Fenghua.
Determined to embark on a military career, in the spring of 1905 he left for Japan, the regional power that had defeated the Empire in 1895 and Russia in 1905. By then he had already declared his opposition to the Qing dynasty and cut off his ponytail, a symbol of submission to the Manchus. Without the necessary recommendation of the Peking War Board, a requirement for entry into the Japanese military academies, Chiang spent several months in Japan learning Japanese before returning to Xikou, soon after which he left again, this time for Shanghai. Shortly thereafter he left again, this time for Shanghai. He was followed by his mother, convinced by a fortune teller of the bright future of her grandson, who therefore dragged Mao Fu-mei with her. Although Chiang did not wish to have children, he had one with his wife, intimidated by his mother, who threatened him with suicide if he did not do so.
In 1906, he entered the military academy in Baoding, which was staffed by Japanese instructors. A year later, in 1907, he moved to Japan, where, after entering the Imperial Japanese Army Academy, he was assigned to an artillery unit of the Imperial Japanese Army, where he served for one year until 1911, when he returned to China on the occasion of the Wuchang uprising, the insurrection that triggered the end of imperial China. During his stay in Japan, where he became accustomed to the harsh Japanese military discipline, he had joined the anti-Manchu revolutionary circles, led by Sun Yat-sen, in 1910.
Vain opposition to Yuan Shikai
In November he organized a revolutionary group of about 100 people that seized the garrison of the main city of his home province, Hangzhou. This was one of several revolts that followed the Xinhai Revolution of October. Chiang then moved to Shanghai, where he was appointed head of a revolutionary brigade paid by local merchants, which soon fell apart because of the poor quality of the recruits. Chiang, who adopted a depraved lifestyle, established links with the city”s secret societies. Appointed regimental commander by Chen Qimei, with whom he maintained close relations, he forged friendships with various party figures who helped him in his rise in the party. After assassinating a political rival in 1912, he went to Japan accompanying Chen, who had resigned from the Shanghai Government; there he began to publish a military magazine in which he advocated a government of enlightened despotism, a mixture of the “ideals of Washington with the methods of Napoleon”. Later he returned to Shanghai, again with Chen, to oppose the growing power of Yuan Shikai.
During the failed Second Revolution undertaken to remove Yuan from power, Chiang unsuccessfully stormed the Shanghai arsenal. The coup failed, he took refuge in the international concession before going into exile in Japan, In 1914, back in Shanghai, he participated in another unsuccessful uprising against Yuan, thwarted by the governor. He fled again to Japan where he joined Sun Yat-sen and joined the latter”s tiny new Chinese Revolutionary Party. Sent by Sun to raise funds for the organization in Southeast Asia, he abandoned the mission when his ship called at Shanghai. At his insistence, the revolutionaries assassinated the most prominent symbol of Yuan”s rule in the city, the military governor, on November 10, 1915. With the governor eliminated, Chiang and his co-religionist Chen Qimei bribed the crew of the flagship of the fleet anchored in the city to rise up against Yuan. The mutiny, which broke out on December 5 and was supported by like-minded groups on land, failed. A later attempt to win over the garrison of a fortress northwest of the city also ended in failure. After going underground, he marched to Shandong on Sun Yat-sen”s orders to participate in the ill-fated plan to seize control of the province. After two weeks, he abandoned the operation, which ended in defeat for the revolutionaries.
After the death of Yuan Shikai in June 1916, the era of the military warlords began in which they fought for power in the country. One of the Guangxi military groupings that had occupied the neighboring province of Guangdong allowed Sun Yat-sen to settle in Canton. Sun appointed Chiang head of the revolutionary units of the regional army that supported him, which was commanded by Chen Jiongming, with whom Chiang maintained strained relations. Although the deputies from Peking, expelled from the capital, went to Canton, elected Sun president and commissioned him to prepare an expedition to the north to expel the military leaders, the Cantonese generals who protected him showed no interest in the enterprise and Sun then lacked his own military forces to carry it out on his own. Frustrated, Sun left Canton and went to Shanghai in the summer of 1918, where he was accompanied by Chiang.
Back in the big city, he resumed his previous life of debauchery, which he combined with his irascible, arrogant and stubborn temperament. Chiang, despite his Confucian conservatism, showed little respect for his superiors and elders, with few exceptions, including Sun. During this time, he established ties with the Green Gang, a secret society that controlled much of the city”s organized crime.
During his stay in Shanghai he married his second wife, four years older than Chiang”s son, Chiang Ching-kuo. By then Chiang had adopted another child, Chiang Wei-kuo, according to Chiang natural son of his co-religionist Dai Jitao. Chiang, already sterile because of his venereal diseases -widespread among the population of the city-, also left his new wife sterile, to whom he had not communicated that he was sick. In early 1922, the couple left for Canton, to join Sun Yat-sen. Chiang delayed returning to the south as long as possible, as he did not want to work with Chen Jiongming. A few months later, in the spring, he returned to Zhejiang, to be with his dying mother, who died on June 14.
In October 1921, he returned to Canton, which Chen Jiongming had recovered from the hands of the Guangxi clique. Soon disagreements arose between Sun Yat-sen, who wanted to continue military operations in Hunan and Hubei to begin the territorial reunification of the country, and Chen, who wanted to concentrate activity in Canton. In June the tension turned into military confrontation; by then Chiang was not in Canton, but in his native village, in the traditional celebrations of the anniversary of the death of his mother, but he returned immediately to the south. On the 29th of the month, he joined Sun in the gunboat in which he had taken refuge from Chen”s onslaught.
He could not prevent Sun Yat-sen”s defeat at the hands of the Cantonese military leader Chen Jiongming, which ended with his exile in Shanghai in August 1922. Although Chiang was unable to defeat Chen, the help he gave Sun in this predicament served to make him his close collaborator. On October 20, he was appointed chief of staff of one of the Cantonese generals who had remained loyal to Sun and who dominated Fuzhou. In January 1923, these forces, in concert with those of Guangxi and Yunnan, expelled Chen from Canton, allowing Sun to return there in February. Chiang followed him at the end of April and there he was appointed Sun”s chief of staff.
In August, Sun sent Chiang as party representative to Moscow to seek Soviet aid. He arrived in the Soviet capital on September 2, at the head of a small delegation. After the Comintern refused to support Sun”s project of an offensive against the military warlords of North China, which the Comintern considered premature, Chiang returned relatively unhappy to China at the end of November, having obtained, however, the promise of military aid for the party. Although the report to Sun was very critical of the Soviets, whom he accused of being imperialists and of trying to subject the country to their political model, Sun decided to put into practice the alliance with Moscow, helped by his new Soviet advisor, Mikhail Grusenberg Borodin. For several years and until the rupture with Moscow in 1927, the relationship with the USSR was the main one among those maintained with the powers.
On April 21, 1924, he was appointed director of the Whampoa Military Academy and chief of staff of the Canton Army. According to Sun, the officers graduating from the academy were to form the nucleus of the party army that would carry out the long-awaited revolution. Between August and October, Chiang led, with Borodin”s help, the confrontation with the Canton merchants, who were arming themselves to confront the Government. In the middle of the latter month, the tension led to armed clashes that resulted in several hundred deaths. Chiang succeeded in crushing the rebel forces and Sun gave him command of all military units. The clash, however, wiped out much of the important Cantonese commercial district.
Between February and April 1925, he participated at the head of two regiments of the academy and along with some units of the Canton army in the First Eastern Expedition, a campaign against the forces of Chen Jiongming that managed to temporarily expel him from the eastern part of the province. In June the Kuomintang forces had to abandon the pursuit of Chen and return to Canton, which had been occupied by the theoretically allied forces of the armies of Yunnan and Guangxi. In the fight against the mercenary units, fought between June 6 and 12, 1925, Chiang was appointed head of the Canton garrison. His troops carried out some of the main actions that led to their defeat, which increased Chiang”s prestige. Again, the planning of his Soviet military advisor, Blücher, played a prominent role in the fighting. From the summer of that year, Chiang was the main military officer of the Cantonese government, both as president of the Whampoa Academy and commander of the city garrison. Since July he also belonged to the Military Council. In March of that year Sun Yat-sen had died, which unleashed rivalry among the members of the Kuomintang, both to succeed him at the head of the party and because of the ideological differences among them. The three main leaders to take Sun”s place were Wang Jingwei, Hu Hanmin and Liao Zhongkai, all of them long-time collaborators of the late Sun. Until then Chiang was a secondary character in the struggle for power in the party. In July a government headed by Wang, an ally of Liao, was formed, which meant a setback for Hu and his supporters.
With Hu Hanmin, who was sent to Moscow after the assassination of a member of a secret society organized by his brother, Chiang got rid of another important rival. With the acquiescence of Wang Jingwei, he neutralized General Xu, commander of the Canton Army and Minister of War, who was relieved in September. In practice, Canton was then dominated by a triumvirate formed by Wang, Borodin and Chiang himself. The removal of Xu had ended the threat of a coup from the right wing of the party and increased the troops under Chiang”s command to thirty thousand soldiers, but had reduced the quality of the armed forces. Chiang was left as military chief of the party. The National Revolutionary Army (NRA) was reorganized into five army corps, of which Chiang commanded the first. The NRA was trained in three campaigns between October 1925 and January 1926, which strengthened the Kuomintang”s control of Canton province. Chiang”s prestige was boosted by the final defeat of Chen Jiongming in November 1925.
In early 1926, the Nationalists conquered Hainan, an island with important mineral deposits and abundant harvests. This was followed by the annual party congress, dominated by the left, but in which Chiang came out well, representing the unity between the left and the right of the party. He was elected member of the Central Executive Committee, dominated by the left current of the party and the communists.
On March 20 and by surprise, he implemented martial law and arrested some communists and Soviet advisors, accused of participating in a conspiracy. According to Chiang, his action had been a simple reaction to a communist conspiracy to kidnap him, while they and the Kuomintang left believed that Chiang had demonstrated his strength at a moment that was favorable to him, in the middle of a great tension between the leftist and rightist currents of the party. After getting the party”s CEC on March 23 to back his demand that the left-wing representatives be relieved of their posts, he withdrew the troops, claimed that it had all been due to confusion and maintained that the coup d”état had been aimed exclusively at the communists, who in his opinion had been subjected to the Soviets. He also managed to get part of the Soviet advisors, the most hostile to his position, to return to the U.S.S.R. He then obtained the resignation of Wang Jingwei, who left for France and, theatrically, offered his own resignation which, as expected, was not accepted. When Borodin returned to Canton, he had to assume the reduced importance of the Soviet mission demanded by Chiang, who, however, continued to receive armaments and money from the USSR. The Soviets compromised with Chiang”s conditions in order to maintain the alliance between Nationalists and Communists. At the same time, Chiang handed over key posts in the army to his supporters. The party was also dominated by his followers; Chiang himself reserved the leadership of the Organization Bureau, the body responsible for appointing officials. Although he relieved some prominent rightists, the changes he made mainly hurt the left. Only sixteen months after Sun Yat-sen”s death, Chiang had become the lord of Canton, the champion of a conservative and nationalist revolution. Sun”s succession had surprisingly been resolved in Chiang”s favor.
A nationalist willing to reunify the country and put an end to the discriminatory treaties signed in the past with the Western powers and Japan, and dedicated in theory to Sun”s ideology, in practice he had adopted the nationalist aspect, but not those of social revolution and the establishment of democracy. His ideal of corporatist society had strong influences of Confucian patriarchal authoritarianism and in him obedience to the leader prevailed. His social model was the Chinese patriarchal model, in which the people had to obey the father or leader – himself – with filial devotion. The people should not participate in political decision-making, but simply obey their leaders with discipline. He prioritized order and political stability, discarding ideological diversity and democracy. Hostile to any popular mass movement, the political ideology was conservative and traditionalist, neo-Confucian. As for the challenge of eliminating foreign power in China, Chiang maintained that the first adversary would be the United Kingdom, but the hardest to beat would be Japan. In the interior, his preference for attracting the enemy rather than eliminating it meant that some military chieftains retained their power, even after the supposed unification of the country and elimination of the military chieftains.
Extremely hardworking, he lacked, however, the ability to delegate tasks. This meant that he sometimes had to make decisions about which he had no knowledge or was forced to devote his time to excessively detailed matters. A poor administrator, he did not take criticism well. His circle of trust was very small. Despite his harsh criticism of corruption and his moralistic campaigns, he allowed the Nanjing regime over which he presided to degenerate. Cautious and conservative, he set up a regime that was hardly reformist.
On July 1, 1926, Chiang announced the beginning of the Northern Expedition, the largest military operation of the interwar period. To carry out the campaign, which was to end the power of the military chieftains who dominated the country and implement a government based on Sun Yat-sen”s Three Principles of the People, Chiang obtained command of all civilian and military organizations except the Kuomintang. A month later, he left Canton to lead the offensive northward.
In reality, and in spite of the official propaganda against the military warlords, the campaign began with an alliance of Kuomintang forces with two groups of them: the Guangxi clique and the units of Tang Shengzi, the general who controlled Hunan and had rebelled against Wu Peifu. Chiang”s task was not to direct the fighting nor to plan the general strategy -the former were mainly in charge of the Allied military commanders and the latter, the Soviet military advisors, especially Vasili Blücher-, but to organize diplomacy, financial control and subversion operations of the enemy (including political manipulation and bribery of military chiefs) to facilitate the enterprise. By the end of July, he had succeeded in getting six generals to change sides and his forces had grown considerably as a result, albeit at the cost of reduced troop quality. At Blücher”s insistence, the main target of the campaign was Wuhan, then consisting of three separate cities. Before it was completely conquered, Chiang decided to launch a surprise attack on the southeastern province of Jiangxi, this time without consulting Soviet advisors. The attack was initially successful and the Nationalists took the province, but Sun Chuanfang counterattacked, disrupting the enemy units and confusing Chiang, who had to hand over command to another general who carried out the retreat. To compensate for the setback, the Kuomintang finally managed to conquer Wuhan after heavy fighting in mid-October.
In January 1927, riots against foreigners took place, which ended with the return to the Nationalists of the British concession in Hankou, the first to be carried out and which increased the prestige of the Kuomintang. However, soon the disagreements between the left of the party, which established a Provisional General Board in Wuhan – rival government to Chiang”s between November 1926 and July 1927 – and Chiang, who formed an alternative body – the Provisional Central Political Board – in the headquarters of his headquarters, Nanchang, were accentuated. Chiang, who wished to control government activity, had suggested that the Nationalist government move here from Canton. Tang Shengzi became the main rival for military command, backed by the left of the party despite his dark past as a military chieftain.
Threatened by the new coalition of Sun Chuanfang and Zhang Zongchang, whose units were advancing towards the Yangtze to defend Shanghai, Chiang decided to take the initiative and march towards his home province, Zhejiang, but the operation was a failure. Blücher, who had remained in Wuhan, had to rush back with Chiang to organize the campaign, which was a success, partly thanks to the bribery of the provincial governor, who betrayed Sun and went over to the Nationalists. Chiang then undertook the conquest of Shanghai, again using bribery of rival military leaders to smooth the advance. Probably corrupted by the Nationalists, the governor of Anhui declared himself neutral, hindering the enemy”s movements, and several officers went over to the Kuomintang. The city”s trade unions called a large general strike, which Sun Chuanfang savagely crushed and did not count on the help of Chiang, unsuspecting and disinclined to collaborate with the left at a time of strained relations with Wuhan. In mid-March, Chiang finally marched into the city. Lack of cooperation with the left in the city caused Blücher to finally abandon Chiang after three years of military cooperation. While Chiang implemented a plan of attack typical of the Soviet advisor, his supporters intensified repression of the left in the territories they controlled, increasing tension with the Wuhan left and the Soviets.
On March 18, 1927, the Nationalists broke through the defenses of Shanghai, with the help of the enemy commander in charge of the city, who facilitated the operation. At the same time, the Communists rose up in the city, with the intention of seizing it before the arrival of the Kuomintang units, which occupied it on the 22nd. Both in the city and in the Yangtze Valley, anti-Western riots broke out, which were especially severe in Nanjing, which the Nationalists conquered on the 23rd. To confront the Communists and their leftist rivals in the Kuomintang, Chiang forged an alliance with Shanghai”s organized crime bosses. In exchange for immunity, the Green Gang bosses formed armed units to take on the Communists who controlled part of the city; the heads of the international concession and the French concession cooperated in the operation, offering protection and weaponry. In mid-April, these forces crushed the Communists in a brutal crackdown, an action supported by several business groups. The death toll is estimated at between five and thirty-four thousand. The repression spread to other parts of central and southern China. With the Communists eliminated, Chiang turned to harassing the capitalists in the metropolis, who had been delighted to support his early measures. The armed forces and allied criminal gangs engaged in extortion to obtain funds for Chiang, including kidnapping and harassment.
In Wuhan, Chiang”s leftist rivals reacted by expelling him from the Kuomintang; he also finally lost the support of Moscow. However, the weakness of Wuhan, short of funds, beset by inflation, the loss of support of the middle classes and the constant threat of the powers and their warships, was manifest. For his part, Chiang formed a rival government in Nanjing on April 18, which included the rightist Hu Hanmin; lacking great popular support, it had, however, the sympathies of the middle classes, the main economic support of the party. The primary support of the new government was, however, the increasingly powerful army.
The new onslaught of the northern warlords in April, who came to threaten both Nanjing and Wuhan, forced the two sectors of the Kuomintang to collaborate reluctantly. Faced with the weakness of their position, they decided to reinforce it by allying with the defeated Feng Yuxiang, whose troops were along the Yellow River. In May the three allies, Feng, the Wuhan leftists and the Nanjing rightists, launched an offensive; Chiang defeated Zhang Zongchang and advanced towards Qingdao, where protests against the Japanese broke out; the Japanese concentrated six thousand men in the area, with whom Chiang decided not to confront. While the Wuhan units advanced arduously through Henan with little cooperation from Feng, Chiang”s supporters conquered Changsha and tried to take Wuhan, which was saved by the determined defense organized by Borodin.
Paradoxically, the Wuhan coup, despite the pact with Feng Yuxiang who had abandoned the left of the party, weakened rather than strengthened Chiang”s position in the late summer of 1927: with the cooperation of the Kuomintang left with the communists ended and the Soviet advisors expelled, the party tended towards reunification, for which Chiang seemed an obstacle. Lacking support in the Nanjing Military Junta, in mid-August he withdrew to his native village; his supporters also abandoned their posts and the Green Gang ceased to financially support the Nanjing Government. The Guangxi clique formed a new cabinet, which excluded Wang Jingwei, defeated the Wuhan forces and repulsed new offensives by Sun Chuanfang, but which had no political allies and serious financing problems. For his part, Chiang had strengthened his position by abandoning his second wife -with whom he denied ever having married- and marrying one of the Soong sisters, Meiling, a marriage of convenience that guaranteed him the support of the clan and with it that of the bankers and industrialists of Shanghai. The initiative came from Meiling”s sister, Ailing, and from Chiang himself, interested in obtaining this important help for his political career.
In November he returned from a trip to Japan, already preparing to resume military command and the campaign against the North. The failed Communist uprising in Canton on December 11, ordered by Stalin and brutally crushed by the Nanjing government, favored Chiang: it discredited the left. Increasingly, he seemed the person needed to resume the unification of the country. The failed uprising led to the final break between the Nationalists and the Soviet Union. This also brought an important change in the party”s foreign policy: from giving precedence to the alliance with the Soviets, the Kuomintang went on to strive for Japanese neutrality in the Chinese war.
In mid-March and in league with Feng Yuxiang and Yan Xishan, Chiang resumed the military campaign against Zhang Zuolin and his allies. In mid-April, a quarter of a million soldiers were on their way to Jinan, capital of Shandong. With Beijing conquered and the campaign to unify the country completed, Chiang resigned from his military posts, a resignation that was not accepted. He visited the city briefly in July, mainly to improve the diplomatic relations of the Nanjing Government with the powers and to pay a visit to the tomb of Sun Yat-sen. Also favored by the popular preferences in Manchuria, he also achieved that this region was submitted in theory to the authority of the Nanjing Government on July 22, although the agreement between the two parties included the cession to Zhang Xueliang of the control of Jehol and the maintenance of this as autonomous authority in the northeast.
At the head of the Government
On January 1, 1928, the Nanjing Government requested Chiang”s return and offered to hand over power to him. Upon Chiang”s triumphant return to the capital, a new, clearly right-wing government was formed on January 4, over which he presided. He immediately resumed military operations to defeat the “old marshal” of Manchuria, Zhang Zuolin, and to complete the national reunification. For the latter campaign, Chiang allied himself with Feng Yuxiang and Yan Xishan, the military warlord of Shanxi, and hired German military advisors. Germany was, along with the USSR, the only power excluded from treaties with China that the Nationalists wished to eliminate. Finally equal to their enemies in number of soldiers, the Nationalists launched the new offensive on April 7. A million men contributed by the four allies – the Kuomintang, Feng, Yan and the Guangxi clique – marched against the northern military, first Zhang Zongchang in Shandong, where Chiang, who did not wish to confront the Japanese, was nevertheless involved in the Jinan incident, a fierce battle between his troops and the Japanese that caused several thousand deaths, mostly Chinese. At the beginning of June, almost all of Zhang”s units evacuated Peking, which paved the way for the conquest of the capital by the Allies. The immediate assassination of Zhang by Japanese officers put an end to the fighting.
Throughout the year, his power was increasing: to the prestige of having led the military operations that led to the reunification of the country were added the appointment as chairman of the Central Political Council of the party in March, the growing control of this thanks to the activity of his allies the Chen brothers – Chen Lifu and Chen Guofu – and the assumption of the presidency of the national government established in Nanjing on October 10. This new government used the administrative division into five yuan, according to the model advocated by the late Sun Yat-sen.
The broad reforms promoted by Chiang were also nationalistic, not democratic. They sought to strengthen the country as a power, but reserved political control for the party, not the people. At the party congress of March 1929, dominated by Chiang”s supporters, a motion was passed by which the party would “tutelage the people” until 1935, which in practice ruled out the implementation of a democratic system. At the same time, the government continued the harsh repression of the communists, who, however, retained some bases. The government system was reformed, creating five government offices, in which Chiang obtained the main position, that of president of the State Council. The most outstanding allies of the Northern Expedition were also given different positions in the new state organization.
Central Plains War
The winning coalition of the Northern Expedition was unstable: Chiang”s allies wished to preserve their power and were suspicious of his centralizing plans. Attempts to reduce the enormous army, composed of 1.6 million soldiers, failed because of the reluctance of the parties to disarm. The disagreements between allies erupted into armed conflict in the spring of 1929, with the rebellion of the Guangxi clique, which took Wuhan. Again, Chiang combined military operations with the bribery of enemies to deal with the problem and the revolt was crushed.
Then, almost all those who had allied themselves with Chiang during the Northern Expedition – Feng Yuxiang, Yan Xishan, the Guangxi clique and Wang Jingwei – formed a rival government to that of Nanjing in Peking – newly renamed Peiping. A very heterogeneous alliance that included right and left groups, its nexus was the rejection of all of them to Chiang. Chiang faced a tight situation, as his enemies had about three hundred thousand soldiers, twice as many as he had. However, by means of large bribes he managed to get about one hundred thousand Feng soldiers to join his ranks and received the support of the Guangdong military, which hindered the advance of the Guangxi soldiers towards Hunan. Even so, the war was very bloody: some estimate that it caused between two hundred and fifty and three hundred thousand dead, one hundred thousand of them from the units loyal to Chiang. The cost was also enormous: the military expenditure of the Nanjing government increased by half. After taking Shandong, his forces took Zhengzhou and Kaifeng, but the fate of the conflict did not depend so much on Chiang”s victories as on Zhang Xueliang”s attitude. Determined to maintain his autonomous power in Manchuria, Zhang finally opted to support Chiang, convinced that he would allow him to keep it. This ensured Chiang”s triumph.
After the victory, Chiang converted to Methodist Christianity from his third wife”s family (he was baptized on October 23, 1930). He then got rid of his right-wing party rival, Hu Hanmin, who was forced to resign from all his posts and retire. Hu had opposed convening a national assembly to draft a new constitution, a concession to the defeated in the 1930 war that had the approval of Chiang, who arrested Hu shortly after his resignation as president of the Executive Yuan at the end of February 1931. Despite the opposition of some leading party figures, Hu”s political elimination was no problem for Chiang, who organized a congress that approved the new Constitution he wanted. This provided for the creation of a post of president who was to appoint the heads of the five government offices (yuan, equivalent to several ministries). Chiang, a dominant figure after the latest military victories over his rivals, obtained the post, as well as that of president of the Government.
Struggle with the communists and tension with Japan
Although Chiang occasionally resumed cooperation with his former political and military adversaries such as Feng Yuxiang, Yan Xishan or Wang Jingwei, his struggle against the Communists was permanent after the initial break in the mid-1920s. The confrontation between the Nationalists and Communists was ruthless on both sides, with each side persecuting and killing the other”s supporters in the territories they controlled. Each side persecuted and killed supporters of the other in the territories it controlled. The fight against the Communists, part of the effort to unify the country, caused him to avoid confronting Japan. In 1930 and 1931, Chiang undertook three campaigns to eliminate the Communists from one of his core areas, Jiangxi province. The first, which began in October 1930, was a failure in which the Nationalist divisions were decimated by the Communists, who used guerrilla methods to ambush the enemy. In the spring of the following year, a new offensive took place, with more than double the number of troops -one hundred thousand soldiers-, which ended with a serious Nationalist defeat and the multiplication of the territory controlled by the Communists. In July and by surprise, Chiang led in person, advised by his German military advisors, a third attack, with even more troops than the previous one. The slowness of the Nationalist advance, hindered by the heat, peasant resistance and dysentery, allowed the enemy to retreat.
The military setbacks in the fight against the Communists were compounded in the summer of 1931 by extremely severe floods in the Yangtze and Yellow River basins that affected some 180 million people.
When Chiang was about to resume the campaign against the communists in Jiangxi in mid-September, he had to abandon it because of the crisis triggered by the Japanese invasion of Manchuria. Chiang”s reluctance to confront Japan after the Mukden incident, despite the vehement anti-Japanese demonstrations in various cities of the country -including in the capital, where a crowd stormed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in protest against the government”s passivity-, damaged his nationalist reputation. Chiang limited himself to calling for internal unity in the country and in the party, and met with his rivals Wang Jingwei, Hu Hanmin and Sun Fo. The four agreed to work for the reconstruction of the country and for the reconciliation of the different currents of the Kuomintang, for which a conference was organized. To secure his power, Chiang made another theatrical gesture, resigning his posts on December 15, 1931, supported by Zhang Xueliang, who did the same. His resignation, together with the release of Hun Hanmin, had been one of the conditions imposed by the rebel government in Canton – formed among others by Wang and Li Zongren – to dissolve and submit again to Nanjing in view of the delicate national situation arising from the incident. The student demonstrations in Shanghai, demanding greater belligerence with Japan against the priorities of Chiang – who preferred to appease the Japanese empire to concentrate on the fight against the Chinese communists – were the immediate trigger for the resignation.
The reunification conference was a failure which did not end the divisions between the currents; none of the three main leaders – Chiang, Wang and Hu – attended. A new Council of Ministers was formed under the chairmanship of Sun Fo, but it immediately ran into difficulties, as T. V. Soong left the cabinet, Chiang”s supporters stopped making the usual contributions and the provinces defied the new government more openly than ever. In desperation, Sun asked for help from the three party leaders. In desperation, Sun sought the help of the three party leaders. After reaching an agreement with Wang that isolated Hu, Chiang indicated to Sun that he was willing to resume his military responsibilities while his ally became chairman of the Executive. Under these conditions, Chiang and Wang returned to the capital; the government was largely dominated by Chiang”s supporters, who occupied key positions in the Civil Service. Chiang became chairman of the new Military Affairs Commission from March 6, with power over the Army and in charge of directing all military operations. This commission also exercised total authority in military and civilian matters in the provinces where operations against the communists were being carried out. For his part, Wang assumed the presidency of the Executive Yuan, which he held from January 1932 to December 1935, and the portfolio of Foreign Affairs, a post from which he maintained the alliance with Chiang and was in charge of relations with Japan. The two politicians divided the tasks: the military ones remained in Chiang”s hands, the purely political ones in Wang”s. Chiang, however, enjoyed influence in key sectors: espionage information -relevant at times for relations with Japan- was in his hands, the two Finance Ministers of this period were his brothers-in-law and the affairs of the Kuomintang were managed by his supporters.
Also as a consequence of the crisis triggered by the Manchurian incident and the struggle for Kuomintang domination, in February 1932 the Society for the Serious Action of the Three Principles, erroneously known as the Blue Shirts Society, was founded by Chiang”s former students in Whampoa, in order to have a related and totally loyal organization in the party, and more politically effective than the latter. The organization, semi-secret, had great influence in the Armed Forces, supported without a doubt Chiang”s government action, his anti-communist and anti-Japanese campaigns and the different reform programs. It answered directly to Chiang and even had its own espionage service. To oppose the communist ideology, Chiang founded the New Life movement, a neo-Confucian movement tinged with Methodism, which aimed at a moral reform of the citizenry. At the same time, a broad plan of general economic modernization was launched, which soon failed due to lack of funding. From the Mukden crisis until the outbreak of the war with Japan, national policy was centered on the government”s struggle with the communists – the main task for Chiang, supported by Wang Jingwei – and the postponement of the confrontation with Japan, despite the growing tension with the latter. Relations with Japan were based on Wang”s theory of combining military resistance – with the scarce forces available for it – with political negotiation, despite public antipathy towards any agreement with the neighboring empire.
At the end of January 1932, the first battle of Shanghai broke out, fought mainly by the 19th Route Army. Despite the great local mobilization against the Japanese, Chiang preferred to avoid the conflict and, when it broke out, to limit it, as he feared it would force him to distract troops from the campaigns against the communists. After several weeks of fighting and when it became clear that it was impossible to resolve the struggle through negotiation, Chiang decided to intervene, albeit discreetly, so as not to aggravate the crisis until he had finished with the communists, with an agreement whose clauses provided for the withdrawal of Japanese troops from the city and the prohibition for the Nanking Government to send its own troops to the city.
After the battle of Shanghai, Chiang resumed the offensives against the Communists, the cost of which caused T. V. Soong to resign briefly in protest at the large government military expenditures. Chiang sent troops into four provinces where, although they suffered several defeats, they succeeded in pushing the enemy into Sichuan from their bases in Oyuwan, north of the Yangtze. He then launched the fourth campaign against Jiangxi, with some 240,000 troops, which failed to wipe out the 65,000 Communists. The government”s attempts to curry favor with the peasants failed.
On January 1, 1933, the next crisis with Japan occurred with the Shanhaiguan incident. After reporting that bombs had been found in their barracks, Japanese troops attacked and conquered the city. At the same time, they tried to seize the province of Jehol, ruled by a corrupt collaborator of the late Zhang Zuolin, unable to cope with the Japanese units despite the advantages of the terrain, mountainous and easily defended. After seizing the province, the Japanese advanced to the Great Wall, while Chiang, dissatisfied with the results of the fourth campaign against the communists and beset by the new crisis, had to put an end to military operations against the CCP. After suffering some setbacks, the Japanese continued to advance and reached the outskirts of Peking, which they threatened to take by force if the Chinese government did not agree to withdraw its forces from the area, a demand which the Chinese government accepted in May by signing the Tanggu truce. Jehol became part of Manchukuo and the Chinese government units withdrew from an area of three hundred thousand square kilometers; the Japanese thereafter dominated Tianjin and almost all of Hebei north of Peking. Although Chiang fully supported Wang in his conciliatory attitude towards Japan, it was the latter who concentrated the criticism of those who considered the government”s position pusillanimous.
At the end of 1933, Chiang crushed a rebellion of the 19th Route Army, sent to Fujian to fight the communists after the battle of Shanghai, but which had risen against the government in collusion with them. The rebels demanded that the government concentrate on fighting Japan and implement a democratic system, but they did not get enough support and were crushed by Chiang in January 1934.
As the fighting of the long campaign against the communists raged, Chiang had to yield to the Japanese, who demanded the dismissal of the governor of Chahar and the officials in northern China whom they considered hostile. The commander of the region, General He Yingqin, signed a secret pact with the Japanese general in command of the units stationed in Tianjin, the He-Umezu Agreement, whereby the government forces withdrew from the area around Beijing and Tianjin and from half of Chahar. The pact, which allowed the formation of a collaborationist government in a territory of more than seventy-five thousand square kilometers, had Chiang”s approval. Part of the one hundred and eighty thousand soldiers who withdrew from the north were concentrated in Xi”an, to participate in a new attack against the communists.
Canton-Guangxi Uprising and Xi”an Incident
In December 1935, he succeeded Wang Jingwei -wounded in an attack- as president of the Executive Yuan, who had been the target of the main criticism for his passive attitude towards Japan. His domination of the party had been evident the previous month at the congress held in the capital. The attitude towards Japan did not change with Chiang”s assumption of the presidency: the combination of military resistance and negotiations was maintained, as long as these excluded the cession of Manchuria.
In the south, the displeasure of regional military warlords at what they saw as Chiang”s intrusion into their territories, the deployment of government troops in the area and the blocking of the traditional opium shipping route to the north of the country led to the formation of a military alliance against Chiang, the Canton-Guangxi Anti-Japanese National Salvation Army, which invaded Hunan on June 1, 1936. The uprising was a failure in which the rebels suffered significant desertions. Chiang gained control of Canton, but had to allow the Guangxi clique leaders to retain their province. Meanwhile, Chiang”s continued attempts to reach an agreement with Japan failed, because of the incompatibility of the positions of the two sides. In China, Chiang maintained an ambiguous attitude towards the Communists: he continued to try to annihilate them militarily, while secretly negotiating with them.
In December, Chiang was briefly kidnapped while visiting the commanders of the forces stationed in Xi”an to attack the communists, known as the Xi”an incident. The rebels, who demanded measures to confront Japan and recover Manchuria, in fact succeeded in making it clear that there was no political alternative at that time to the figure of Chiang as a symbol of the desired national unity. The event, however, thwarted the imminent offensive against the communists and marked the beginning of negotiations with them that concluded with the formation of the second united front to confront Japan. Paradoxically, since the initiative came from his kidnappers, Chiang became the symbol of the war against the Japanese.
Loss of coastal zones and more developed areas
The conflict broke out in the summer of 1937, with the Marco Polo Bridge incident. The Japanese seized Peking and Tianjin. In July Chiang organized a great national conference attended by four hundred leading Chinese political figures, including Communists. The pact between the Communists and the Nationalists was signed in September. The country was divided into five military regions, and the Communist forces were recognized as part of the national army. Despite Chiang”s bellicose statements, the conflict with Japan broke out when the military development plans he had laid out had not been completed.
Wishing not to focus the fighting in the north, where the Japanese enjoyed a clear superiority, Chiang forced them to fight in Shanghai, where a very hard battle was fought for three months. The motives, more than military, were political: to unite the nation in the defense of its largest city, to show the conflict to the powers -very present in the metropolis- and perhaps to precipitate their intervention in favor of China. After a fierce fight, the Japanese seized the city on November 12.
Faced with the passivity of the powers and the withdrawal of German aid, Chiang again forged closer ties with the Soviets -interested in Japan”s involvement in the Chinese conflict-: a non-aggression treaty was signed and the Soviets began to send weapons and pilots to China. With Shanghai lost and Nanjing threatened, the Chinese government moved to Wuhan. Trautmann”s mediation, carried out by the German ambassador to put an end to the conflict, failed. Chiang decided to plant battle again in a city and ordered the resistance of Nanjing to the enemy advance, although on December 8 he abandoned the city, whose defense he entrusted to Tang Shengzi. Chiang”s plan, he declared in Wuhan, was to buy time to improve defenses at the price of ceding territory to the enemy. Determined to concentrate on military operations, he stepped down as president of the Executive Yuan, which was taken over by his brother-in-law H. H. Kung, although he retained effective power. By then, he had lost an estimated half a million soldiers in the fighting along the Yangtze; civilian casualties were much higher.
Chinese passivity after the victory at Taierzhuang allowed the Japanese to continue their advance toward Wuhan, which Chiang finally halted by destroying the dams that channeled the Yellow River. The resulting floods, which caused thousands of deaths and affected some six million people, temporarily halted the enemy advance. When the Japanese resumed their advance, Chinese authorities began evacuating Wuhan in August, while the military prepared to defend it. Increasingly, Meiling became in charge of government public relations – especially with foreign countries – while Chiang focused on military affairs. On December 13, the Japanese finally conquered Nanjing, which Chiang had left only a few days earlier. Japanese brutality in the city shocked world public opinion.
In the summer of 1938, a new phase of Japanese expansion in China began: consolidation in the north, advances in the center, and the encirclement of Canton in the south. In October the Japanese reached Wuhan. In the autumn of 1938, Chinese military setbacks followed in the south of the country: the Japanese took Fuzhou and Shantou, landed next to Hong Kong and conquered Canton with little effort. The loss of this port limited the amount of armament that Chiang received from the southeast coast. In November an important military conference was held in which it was decided to change the strategy: from a determined defense of each important position, a mobile defense and the use of guerrilla methods to wear down the enemy forces. To alleviate the enormous losses suffered by the Army, compulsory military service was decreed and new training courses were introduced for recruits.
The Chongqing years
After the military conference, Chiang moved to the remote and provincial city of Chongqing, where he spent the next six years. The situation of the government was delicate: the provinces he still controlled were in general poor and backward, despite the transfer of part of the industry from the eastern regions to the interior. Textile and railway production were scarce, communication lines were very deficient and food production was meager. To alleviate the food shortage, programs of obligatory sale of grain to the Government were implemented, which resulted in oppression of the peasantry and great corruption, which Chiang did not punish sufficiently and which produced peasant revolts.
Despite having dictatorial powers from the beginning of the war and holding an excessive number of posts which he was unable to perform effectively, Chiang”s position was weak. By the end of 1938, the Army had been practically disbanded and the remaining units were badly depleted. A large number of officers lacked the necessary training, both basic and military, and many of the senior officers had a history of rebellion against their government. The military chieftains regained their territorial power thanks to the weakness of the central government. Attempts to reconstitute the armed forces came up against shortages of arms and equipment, desertion and the poor living conditions of the soldiers, who were often forcibly recruited. Despite the fact that 1.5 million men were to be recruited each year, the army continued to have four million soldiers, the same number it had in 1938, before the introduction of the levies. Chiang”s insistence on controlling troop movements in detail, often without knowing the situation of the units, hindered operations. His critics accused him of surrounding himself with sycophants, people more loyal than capable who did not question his decisions. The move of the seat of government from Wuhan to Chongqing also ended the period of tolerance of dissent and increased repression of opponents. The Kuomintang lost two-thirds of its members – many of them affiliated because of the advantages of party membership – and the lack of internal debate weakened it. Meanwhile, Chiang”s entourage was divided into several rival cliques.
The economic situation was also serious: between 1937 and 1939, government spending grew by a third, especially due to military operations, while income fell by two thirds. Even with the credits obtained from the United States and the United Kingdom, Chiang was short of funds. To balance the books, the Chinese government opted to print money. If in 1937 the yuan issue had been one billion, four hundred and fifty thousand, at the beginning of the following decade it reached fifteen billion. The result was a collapse in the value of the currency and enormous inflation. In 1941, prices began to double every year, partly due to poor harvests and shortages of manufactured goods. The high cost of living was accompanied by a great increase in corruption, both out of greed and necessity, since salaries were often insufficient to cover needs.
By mid-1939, Chiang”s hopes of reversing the military situation and obtaining the cooperation of the powers seemed feasible: the Chinese had repelled the Japanese onslaught against Changsha, the Soviets seemed about to go to war against Japan after the battle of Jaljin Gol and the Americans had decided not to renew their commercial treaty with Japan and not to accept its conquests in Asia. The improvement was short-lived: the Soviets, after the signing of the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact, reached a truce with the Japanese and greatly reduced military aid to Chiang, while the Japanese increased their troops in China and in 1940 made a landing in Guangxi and conquered Nanning. To counter the Japanese victories, Chiang ordered a major winter offensive, even though the army was still recovering from earlier defeats. Despite the adverse conditions, the Chinese armies managed to advance briefly in early 1940 toward Kaifeng and Wuhan, but fell short of their objectives and in April the attacks were abandoned. It was the last major Chinese offensive; thereafter, Chiang was confident that the United States would eventually have to face Japan and would defeat it. Meanwhile, he deployed his remaining forces to try to control his political rivals, both military chieftains and communists. During the summer of 1940, however, the Chinese situation worsened, both because of the French defeat which facilitated the arrival of Japanese forces in Indochina and because of the British decision to temporarily close the Burma Road, at Japan”s demand.
In early 1941, clashes broke out between forces loyal to Chiang and the Communists, marking the beginning of the end of cooperation between the two sides. Chiang stopped supplying the Chinese Red Army, blockaded Yan”an and continued attacks on some Communist units. The repression of dissidents also increased.
At the end of the year, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Americans finally went to war with Japan. Relations between American General Joseph Stilwell, appointed Chinese Chief of Staff to strengthen cooperation between the new allies, and Chiang, however, were dismal, partly because of their opposing characters. Among other differences, Chiang was unwilling to accept the reforms the Americans wanted to impose, which he saw as meddling in Chinese affairs. For him, the American plans were a political threat; from Washington he wanted means to support himself, not political advice. Moreover, the Americans treated him as a secondary ally: Allied strategic decisions were made without the participation of Chinese representatives. In the summer of 1942, with the North African front in danger, the Americans decided to send part of their planes stationed in India to Egypt, without consulting Chiang or Stillwell; this prompted Chiang to threaten to abandon the war and sign peace with Japan if he did not increase the military aid he received. The Americans accepted some of his conditions, but did not take Chiang”s threat seriously, more concerned with the situation on other fronts.
At the subsequent Tehran Conference, which Chiang did not attend, the other Allies decided to delay operations in Burma to give priority to landings in the Mediterranean. Despite this, Chiang decided to act on his own and allowed Stillwell to attack in Burma; with air dominance, the American general began the offensive to regain contact with China on 21 December. In China, however, the Japanese launched in the spring of 1944 the largest offensive of the war in China, Operation Ichi-Go. The aim of the campaign was to link Manchukuo with Canton and Indochina. The unstoppable Japanese advance southward seemed to lead to the partition of Chinese territory in two, and the Nationalist government lost tens of thousands of men in the fighting. In May the Japanese finally conquered Changsha; in August, Hengyang; and, after penetrating Guangxi, in October and November they took Guilin – where there was a large Allied air base – and Nanning. The Japanese offensive coincided with the end of the conflict between Chiang and Stillwell and with a crisis between the Chinese leader and his wife. Chiang demanded and finally obtained the relief of Stillwell in October. The end of the Japanese offensive meant an improvement in the military situation, although it left several areas of the south of the country devastated.
Despite American pessimism about the military and political situation and the growing tension between Nationalists and Communists, Chiang remained the undisputed leader in his territory and in May he was re-elected at the sixth congress of the Kuomintang. Around the same time, he obtained a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council for China, a sign that China was one of the great world powers.
In June 1945, Chiang signed an agreement with Stalin in which, in exchange for some concessions in Manchuria, the latter recognized the Nationalists as the legitimate Chinese government and limited the time during which the Soviets would deploy troops in this region, the most industrialized in the country. The pact, which displeased the Chinese communists, was aimed at preventing the Soviets from surrendering the area to their Chinese co-religionists. Two months later, the Japanese surrender after the US nuclear bombing surprised Chiang, who expected the war to last at least another year.
When the war between China and Japan ended with the Japanese surrender at Nanjing on September 9, the confrontation between Chinese Nationalists and Communists resumed, Chiang sent his best units to Manchuria. The United States collaborated with the deployment of Chiang”s forces: they cooperated only with them and ordered the Japanese to surrender to them, and not to the Communists, which increased the hostility of the latter towards the Americans. In the autumn of 1945, meetings were held between Mao and Chiang, in which the two sides did not reach any relevant agreement. They only agreed to convene a national assembly with representation from the main political groups to discuss the country”s affairs. The Reuters correspondent described the situation as follows.
Neither side trusts the other, nor is it willing to be the first to yield. Each is trying to prevent its rival from forming a provincial bloc under its control. Both want to seize political, civil, military and territorial power. At the same time, both claim to desire democracy, unity, freedom and the nationalization of armies.
At the end of November, U.S. President Truman appointed General Marshall as special envoy and ambassador to mediate between the two sides and avoid clashes. In January 1946, the general succeeded in proclaiming a truce. Mistrust between the two sides, however, frustrated the U.S. mediation, which also coincided with increasing aid in armaments and logistics to the Nationalists.
Since Stalin did not wish to confront the United States at that time, Chiang”s protests over some incidents with Soviet troops in Manchuria caused him to order the Soviet commanders to cooperate with Chiang, which, together with the help of the Americans, made it easier for him to take control of the region. Chiang”s apparent power was based, however, on the cooperation he had so far obtained from the Americans and Soviets, for he did not have enough troops to control Manchuria if the Communists decided to prevent him from doing so by force. Although the Army was theoretically very numerous, in reality the quality units were barely half a dozen, with about eleven thousand men each. Determined not to yield politically to the communists nor to accept the American advice to cooperate with them, he ended up opting to resolve the rivalry by force, at a time of great military weakness after the long war with Japan.
Not only had Chiang resumed his old desire to militarily destroy his communist enemies, but the return of his supporters to the territories liberated from Japanese occupation also often meant a return to the pre-war situation. Some of them seized the property of those accused of collaboration with the Japanese, and the State expropriated buildings and factories. If in urban Manchuria corruption spread, in the rural areas the population suffered the return of the old order. With the government troops, corruption, landlords and the oppression of the peasants returned, and the land reforms implemented during the war by the communists in some counties were annulled. This situation encouraged the emergence of guerrilla bands that harassed the government forces and their supporters in the countryside and subsequently facilitated the operations of the communist units. At the national level, the ruling oligarchy did not succeed in improving the economic situation of the country, nor in putting an end to the high inflation. The creation of a new currency in August 1948, the gold yuan, issued in an attempt to put an end to inflation and improve the economic situation, did not achieve its objective.
The polarization of the Cold War derailed Chiang”s intention to obtain the support of both the Americans and the Soviets in order to definitively defeat the enemy. In March 1946, while accepting the mediation of the American General Marshall in the hope of obtaining more help from the United States, he demanded the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Manchuria. Although this took place, by then the Soviets had delivered a large quantity of Japanese armaments to the Chinese Communists, who then launched an offensive in the area. On the other hand, Marshall”s efforts were beginning to prove futile in the face of the refusal of the Nationalists and Communists to reach an agreement and form a coalition. Determined to achieve military victory and not to share power, Chiang managed to recover the Manchu cities that had been conquered by the enemy in the spring of 1946. However, Marshall threatened to withdraw American aid and put an end to his mediation if the offensive was not stopped and Chiang agreed, which allowed the communists to reinforce their positions in Manchuria and other regions of the country. Temporarily, in any case, the luck of the war smiled on Chiang: the first eighteen months of the war were generally favorable to his forces, thanks to the number of troops employed as well as to the American aid or the ability of the Nationalist commanders. In August 1947, Chiang made a symbolic visit to Yan”an, taken by his forces and from which the Communists had withdrawn. Even so, his soldiers were increasingly concentrated in the cities and linked mainly by railway lines, which were in increasingly poor condition due to sabotage by the enemy, who was growing stronger in the rural areas. The communists began to counterattack at the beginning of 1947, led by Lin Biao. In January Marshall had abandoned the mediation, which had failed, and the country. Although during the summer the communists suffered some defeats, during the autumn they had already managed to encircle the government forces in the cities. In the rest of China, the Nationalists suffered several defeats. The main battles, however, continued to be fought in Manchuria, where the two sides had their best units. In the summer of 1948, the Communists launched a new offensive: with 700,000 men, almost twice as many as the Nationalists, they also had peasant support. The changes of Nationalist commanders did not improve the situation. The cities, surrounded, were supplied by air, although insufficiently. On November 1, 1948, Mukden, the main city of southern Manchuria, fell into the hands of the Communist units.
In November 1947, the Kuomintang convened a national assembly, which both the Communists and the Chinese Democratic League refused to attend. The assembly approved a new constitution, which was promulgated on January 1, 1948 and was based on the ideology of Sun Yat-sen. In elections held in the government-controlled territories in November of that year, the Kuomintang emerged as the winner, and Chiang was elected president of the republic by the deputies in April 1948. In the face of the adverse military situation, Chiang tried to strengthen his political position, convening a National Assembly in Nanjing which elected him president with extraordinary powers, although only his Kuomintang co-religionists participated in the sessions, from which both the Communists and the Democratic League were excluded. The delegates” greatest gesture of defiance was to elect Li Zongren vice-president instead of Sun Fo, Chiang”s candidate. In any case, the assembly, citing the civil war situation, granted Chiang special powers that allowed him to circumvent the limits of the new Constitution.
At the end of 1948, the government armies lost the battles of the Huai River and suffered hundreds of thousands of casualties. At the same time, the economic crisis worsened. The monetary reform had failed and government control of the territory was increasingly precarious. In the New Year Chiang made a peace offer to the communists, but with conditions that were unacceptable to them. Shortly after, in mid-January, the strategic city of Xuzhou fell, and the enemy armies prepared to cross the Yangtze and seize Nanjing and Shanghai, while in the north they took Tianjin. The enemy armies prepared to cross the Yangtze and seize Nanjing and Shanghai, while in the north they took Tianjin. Chiang began to prepare Taiwan, which Japan had surrendered after its defeat in the World War, as a base for the Nationalists. The displeasure of the local population at the arrival of the Nationalists from the mainland, which caused friction, culminated in a revolt that was brutally crushed; it is estimated that between five and twenty thousand people died in it.
Chiang continued to refuse any pressure to make a pact with the enemy, despite continuing military defeats. Attempts to obtain further American aid failed, and on January 21, 1949, Chiang announced his resignation, another case of apparent withdrawal from politics, which he continued to control. From his retreat at Xikou, he continued to give orders to generals and meddle in political affairs. He also frustrated President Li Zongren”s plans to establish a defensive line along the Yangtze by ordering the general defending Shanghai, Tang Enbo, to stay in the city and bypass any orders to leave it. He wanted to continue to obtain funds and troops from the city to move them to Taiwan. Li tried in vain to get Chiang to officially resume power or go into exile, but to no avail; he continued to prepare his providential return while keeping Chiang embroiled in governmental problems.
Once the operation of transferring the gold and silver reserves, the state bureaucracy and sufficient military forces to Taiwan was completed, Chiang openly resumed his political activity, flying to Canton, where the Government was then located, in July 1949. He created a new body, whose presidency he arrogated to himself, to dominate the activity of the Kuomintang, appointed the faithful Tang Enbo as governor of Fujian and arranged the following military plans, without consulting the Government. This did not stop the communist advance, which reached Gansu, Xinjiang and, after the proclamation of the People”s Republic of China on October 1, Canton itself. The Nationalist Government moved to Chongqing, which also fell on December 1. On December 8 he moved the capital to Taiwan, where Chiang flew on the 10th.
Throughout 1949, numerous high-ranking officials and sympathizers of the Republican regime settled in Taiwan. About 1.5 million mainland Chinese took refuge in Taiwan.
For the twenty-six years from 1949 until his death, Chiang Kai-shek ruled Taiwan as dictator. On March 1, 1950, he proclaimed himself president of China. Successive Kuomintang congresses (in 1952, 1957 and 1963) continued to elect him as party chairman. American indifference to Chiang suddenly disappeared with the outbreak of the Korean War and Truman sent the 7th Fleet in June to protect Taiwan.
In the midst of the Cold War, it enjoyed U.S. protection, economic and military aid and retained China”s seat on the United Nations Security Council until 1971; that year the organization finally recognized the government of the People”s Republic of China as legitimate. Around 1960, taking advantage of the chaos unleashed in the continent by the Maoist Great Leap Forward, he tried unsuccessfully to invade it with American aid and weapons -also nuclear bombs-. Despite the détente between the People”s Republic and the United States that took place in the 1970s and damaged Chiang”s aspirations, he remained convinced until his death that he was the only legitimate ruler of China.
The economic policy was a success, and Taiwan achieved very high rates of economic growth. Politically, however, Chiang, who always saw Taiwan as a way station towards the reconquest of China, imposed martial law and a system that did not tolerate any political dissent. Between 1949 and 1987, when martial law was lifted, under the reign of Chiang and his son, thousands of people considered hostile to the government were tortured and killed.
He died of a heart attack on April 5, 1975, after suffering from pneumonia, and was succeeded by his son Chiang Ching-kuo, who initiated a limited political opening.
Chiang Kai-shek”s body is still awaiting a final burial, which he wished to be held in his hometown in China”s Zhejiang province. The impossibility of a state funeral in the territory of the People”s Republic has kept Chiang”s body in a temporary grave since his death in 1975. In 2004, faced with the evidence that a mainland burial would not be possible, the widow of Chiang”s son, Chiang Ching-kuo, requested that both father and son be buried definitively in Taiwan. The ceremony, originally scheduled for 2005, has been postponed indefinitely. In 2017 more than 200 statues of Chiang Kai-shek, were removed from schools and official buildings on the island.