From a devil to a human

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 July, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 11 July, 2010, 12:00am

Chiang Kai-shek has been captured by a rebel general and negotiations to release him have failed. He writes a final statement to the Chinese people.

'After my death, the spirit of China will not die and the Chinese race will continue its revival day by day. I believe in this, so I can die in peace.'

For the first time since 1949, people on the mainland are able to read this last testament - and two others to his wife and two sons - which he wrote on December 20, 1936, after being captured by Zhang Xueliang in Xian .

They are part of Chiang's diaries, published by the Tuanjie (Unity) Publishing Company in Beijing earlier this year, giving people a look at their nation's history in the words of one of those who helped mould it.

'The image of Chiang on the mainland is turning from a devil into a man,' Zeng Jingzhong, a researcher at the Institute of Modern History at the China Academy of Social Science, said.

'He is turning from an 'enemy of the people' into a more rounded figure on the historical stage.'

The publication of the diary has fuelled interest in Chiang as people rush to learn about one of the most important figures in Chinese history in the 20th century. In Taiwan, his former home, his mausoleum and the underground bunker from where he planned to return to the mainland in triumph are among the most popular sites for mainland visitors.

The publication was made possible by two main factors. One is the change in Beijing's ideology. It used to present Chiang as leader of the reactionary forces and a 'tool of the imperialists'. Now it portrays him as a patriot who fought bravely against the Japanese and believed in a unified China.

The other is the fact that, in 2005, his family deposited the diary, and that of his son, Chiang Ching-kuo, at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, for 50 years, pending creation of a presidential library or repository within China.

Chiang wrote his diary almost every day from 1917 until August 1972, using a calligraphy pen. He regarded it as an exercise in virtue and personal discipline. Depositing it in Stanford made it readily available to scholars from the mainland, who previously had difficulty gaining access to the original.

It throws light on many events of the 20th century that were hidden.

One is Chiang's relationship with and policy toward Japan. In 1908, at the age of 21, he went to study at a military school there and served for 10 months in an artillery unit in Hokkaido.

In 1927, he received Japanese support for a purge of communists and trade unionists in Shanghai, in which thousands were killed.

In September that year, he visited Japan and met then prime minister Giichi Tanaka. He demanded that the two countries co-operate sincerely together; Japan should support his efforts to unify the country and not interfere with his military expedition to the north; in its China policy, Japan should abandon military force and co-operate in the economic field.

Tanaka did not accept the demands and told Chiang to consolidate his power in the south and concentrate on fighting the communists. From then on, Chiang knew who his enemy was.

The military power he most admired was Germany, for its discipline and quality of its weaponry. From December 1927, he invited a large number of German military advisers to China and began to import German arms, including 1,000 machine guns. In 1936, he imported 48 howitzers, as well as instructors on how to use them, setting up China's first modernised heavy artillery. In exchange, China exported antimony and tungsten to Germany.

In 1935, Adolf Hitler sent an emissary who brought Chiang a gift of three vehicles and a military sword. Chiang sent his second son, Chiang Wei-kuo, to study in the Wehrmacht. An officer, he took part in the invasion of Austria and the occupation of the Sudetenland (part of Czechoslovakia), before returning home in 1940.

His knowledge of the Japanese military convinced Chiang that China could not defeat them. 'Our guns cannot compare with theirs,' he wrote in his diary. 'Our artillery, our training, our machines and our factories cannot compare with theirs. How are we to fight the Japanese? If we fight them, we will be a dead nation in three days.'

So his strategy was to rely on foreign powers, especially the United States and Britain, to defeat Japan. 'China has become a colony of all the countries in the world. Japan wants to become the single colonising power and will have to fight with countries all over the world,' he wrote.

His plan was first to defeat the communists and then face Japan. In 1936, his army surrounded the communists in Yenan in Shaanxi province, and cut off their supply of food and arms. In another six months, they would be forced to surrender.

But this strategy was scuppered by his arrest by Zhang in the Xian Incident, which forced him into a military alliance with the communists against Japan. It was during that period under arrest that he thought he would be executed and wrote his last testament.

The Xian Incident saved the communists, enabling them to take power 13 years later. That is why Chiang arrested Zhang as soon as he could and kept him under house arrest for more than 50 years. He blamed him for saving the communists.

This military alliance had exactly the result he feared. During the next eight years of ferocious war, his Nationalist army lost 3.2 million men - the figure published after the war by both Taipei and Beijing. By comparison, the communists lost 500,000, according to Beijing's figures.

This loss of his best soldiers and best officers was a major reason why he lost the civil war. It was also the reason why, when Mao Zedong met Japanese prime minister Kakuei Tanaka in 1972 to normalise relations, he told him that, without the invasion by Japan, the communists would never have come to power and so Beijing did not want war reparations. Tanaka was dumbfounded.

In April 1949, when he knew he would have to leave the mainland, Chiang asked the chief of the Kuomintang office in Japan to prepare a house for him there, in case of emergency. He found a 20-room mansion in Shimane, formerly the property of a member of the royal family.

The diaries also reveal the critical role played by his wife, Soong May-ling, in persuading the US and public opinion to provide large-scale assistance to China in the second world war.

In November 1942, Chiang wrote to US president Franklin Roosevelt asking him to receive Soong, to which he agreed. After her arrival in late November, Soong reported to her husband that the US had little understanding of the war in China; so she organised a speech to Congress, on February 18, and then speeches in New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

She asked him to provide the content of the speeches. He wrote back: 'After the war, the centre of the world will move from the Atlantic to the Pacific. As the two largest countries in the Pacific, China and the US should work together over the long term. Peace in the Pacific depends on our two countries. Our first responsibility after the war is to liberate the oppressed people in the Asia-Pacific and develop its untapped resources.'

He said that the US should give up its special privileges in China and sign a treaty of equality. 'If president Abraham Lincoln were alive today, he would, like president Roosevelt, work to free the oppressed people.'

Soong's tour was a great success, resulting in the shipment of dozens of aircraft and other military hardware. But she wrote to her husband that, after the war, the US, Britain and the Soviet Union would look only after their own interests and ignore those of China.

Chiang was highly critical of Winston Churchill, who wanted to give priority to the war in Europe over that in Asia and to exclude China from being one of the victorious powers. This battle he was able to win, because Roosevelt supported his position.

The war aims Chiang expressed at the Cairo conference in 1943 were the expulsion of Japan from China and beyond the Yalu River, the return of all territories ceded to Japan after the 1894-95 war and the complete independence of Korea.

The diaries reveal neither a hero nor a monster but a complex character playing on a historical stage over which he had limited control. Their publication will greatly help understand him.