About this book

One of the most momentous stories of the last century is China’s rise from a self-satisfied, anti-modern, decaying society into a global power that promises to one day rival the United States. Chiang Kai-shek, an autocratic, larger-than-life figure, dominates this story. A modernist as well as a neo-Confucianist, Chiang was a man of war who led the most ancient and populous country in the world through a quarter century of bloody revolutions, civil conflict, and wars of resistance against Japanese aggression.

In 1949, defeated by Mao Zedong—his archrival for leadership of China—he fled to Taiwan where he instituted a brutal white terror and ruled for another twenty-five years. Playing a key role in the cold war with China, Chiang suppressed opposition on the island, controlled inflation and corruption, carried out land reform, and steadily raised personal income, health, and educational levels on the island. Consciously or not, he set the stage for Taiwan’s evolution of a Chinese model of democratic modernization.

Drawing heavily on Chinese sources including Chiang’s diaries, The Generalissimo provides the most lively, sweeping, and objective biography yet of a man whose length of uninterrupted, active engagement at the highest levels in the march of history is excelled by few, if any, in modern history. Jay Taylor shows a man who could be ruthless and temperamental and who failed to deal with corruption in his regime but who was also determined and conscientious in matters of state and personally honest.  The Generalissimo adds new aspects to the well known negatives but also provides a major reappraisal of Chiang and his role in the historic events of the time, including: the Sino-Japanese and Chinese Civil Wars,the Chiang-Stilwell hostility, the Marshall Mission, the near-nuclear Quemoy crises, the Korean and Vietnam Wars, and Nixon’s opening to China. In sum, the book provides new insight into the dynamics of the past that lie behind China’s struggle for modernity and its relationship with Taiwan in the 21st Century.