(b. Oct. 31, 1887, Chekiang Province, China—d. April 5, 1975, Taipei, Taiwan)
Chiang Kai-shek was a soldier and statesman who was head of the Nationalist government in China from 1928 to 1949 and subsequently head of the Chinese Nationalist government in exile on Taiwan.
Chiang was born into a moderately prosperous mer-chant and farmer family in the coastal province of Chekiang. He prepared for a military career first at the Paoting Military Academy in North China and subse-quently in Japan. From 1909 to 1911, he served in the Japanese army, whose Spartan ideals he admired and adopted. More influential were the youthful compatriots he met in Tokyo, who wanted to overthrow the Qing (Manchu) dynasty—a group that had controlled China since the 17th century—and establish a republic. In 1911 Chiang returned to China and took part in the revolt that accomplished that goal.
In 1913, with the new republic in the hands of a would-be dictator, Yuan Shikai, Chiang joined in an unsuccessful revolt. This cost him his army post. After the death of Yuan in 1916, various leaders and warlords struggled for power in the country. Sun Yat-sen, as leader of the Kuomintang (Nationalist Party), tried to unify the country. In 1923 he sent Chiang to Moscow to study Soviet military and political institutions. On his return Chiang became the director of a military academy at Canton (Guangzhou), the southern stronghold of the revolutionaries.
After Sun’s death in 1925, Chiang, supported by his well-trained cadets, rose to power in the Kuomintang. In 1926 he took command of the revolutionary army. The general then began advancing to the north of China, with Beijing, capital of the weak republic, as his goal. In a 1,200-mile (1,900-kilometer) march, he gained control of south and central China. During this period Chiang took two steps that were to have major consequences for the country and his own life. Alarmed by the growth of Communism, he dismissed his Soviet advisers and expelled the Communists from his party. He also married the American-educated Soong Mei-ling. Known as Madame Chiang, she became her husband’s close adviser.
In 1928 Chiang’s army entered Beijing and, as chief of the Kuomintang, he became the head of the Republic of China. Nanjing (Nanking), to the south, was made the new capital. China, however, was still far from unified. For years Chiang battled insurgent regional commanders and armed Communist forces. When Japan invaded Manchuria in 1931, Chiang decided not to resist the coming Japanese invasion until after he had crushed the Communists—a decision that aroused many protests, especially since a complete vic-tory over the Communists continued to elude him.Chiang accelerated his program for unifying and strengthening China. To give the nation more moral cohesion, Chiang revived the state cult of Confucius and in 1934 launched a campaign, the so-called New Life Movement—a program designed to improve the lot of the peasants through education, home industries, and self-help. Its goal was to halt the spread of Communism by teaching traditional Chinese values.
In December 1936 Chiang was seized by one of his generals who believed that Chinese forces should concen-trate on fighting the Japanese instead of the Communists. Chiang was held captive for some two weeks, and the Xi’an (Sian) Incident, as it became known, ended after he agreed to form an alliance with the Communists against the Japanese invaders. In 1937 the mounting conflict between the two countries erupted into war. His forces kept most of China free of Japanese control and managed to move industries and schools to the interior. After the Allied forces declared war against Japan during World War II, Chiang became Allied commander in China. He became China’s president in 1943. China received economic aid from the United States, but Chiang did not push economic or political reforms. Much of his Nationalist government was corrupt, and inflation brought increasing hardship to the masses. Civil war recommenced in 1946.
By 1949 Chiang had lost continental China to the Communists, and the People’s Republic of China was established. Chiang moved to Taiwan with the remnants of his Nationalist forces, established a relatively benign dicta-torship over the island with other Nationalist leaders, and attempted to harass the Communists across the Formosa Strait. The chastened Chiang reformed the ranks of the once-corrupt Nationalist Party, and with the help of generous American aid he succeeded in the next two decades in setting Taiwan on the road to modern economic development. In 1955 the United States signed an agree-ment with Chiang’s Nationalist government on Taiwan, guaranteeing its defense. Beginning in 1972, however, the value of this agreement and the future of Chiang’s govern-ment were seriously called into question by the growing cordiality between the United States and the People’s Republic of China. Chiang did not live to see the United States finally break diplomatic relations with Taiwan in 1979 in order to establish full relations with the People’s Republic of China.