Reviews of

A deeply researched, meticulously balanced biography that rescues Mao Zedong’s rival—and China’s other major revolutionary—from the ash heap of triumphant communist history, while adding new complexity to Chiang’s long balancing act with his domestic and American supporters and foes.

 – 2010 Lionel Gelber Prize Jury

Even in the rapidly widening field of modern Chinese history, it is unusual and gratifying to read a book that upsets not only the reader's previous views but even those of the author himself...Now a different Chiang stands before us....The book is a huge advance on our knowledge of what happened in China from the early twentieth century to the present day, when an updated version of Chiang's Kuomintang is again in power in Taipei...There will be no oblivion [for Chiang]. Jay Taylor has seen to that...A substantial and comprehensive contribution to our knowledge of China.

– Jonathan Mirsky
Literary Review 2009

Chiang Kai-shek has long been viewed as a failure for having lost mainland China to Mao's People's Liberation Army in a stunningly short span of time. This richly detailed biography argues that Chiang's neo-Confucian vision for a modern China may yet win...Drawing on a revelatory cache of newly available diaries and records, Taylor reveals the complexities of the soldier and statesman, showing him to be shockingly brutal at times, oddly passive at others, naïvely earnest, quick to tears, and always surrounded by intrigue.

– The New Yorker
November 28, 2009

The story of Chiang Kai-shek is so big, so interwoven with the story of modern China, and so complex, that it has defied a good biographical treatment. Now, Jay Taylor has provided us with a strong, vivid, and eminently readable biography of this major twentieth-century leader that captures his 'life and times' better than any previous work in English.

– William C. Kirby
Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies
Harvard University
February 2, 2009

Chiang Kai-shek rivaled Mao as a dominant figure in the history of modern China. Taylor has taken a fresh look at his long, eventful life based on new sources, and suggests a controversial but persuasive new reading of Chiang's motives and actions. This vividly realized account will be the authoritative work for a long time to come.

– Andrew J. Nathan
author of China's Transition
July 20, 2009

This enthralling book by Jay Taylor of Harvard University shows that [the] conventional views of both Chiang and the Chinese civil war are caricatures. It is the first biography to make full use of the Chiang family archive. This includes Chiang's own diary, in which he wrote at least a page of classical Chinese daily from 1918 to 1972. The picture that emerges is of a far more subtle and prescient thinker than the man America's General Joseph Stilwell used to refer to as "peanut," and Britain's chief of staff, Field-Marshal Lord Alanbrooke, dismissed in Cairo as "a cross between a pine marten and a ferret."

– The Economist
October 22, 2009

American historians tend to portray Chiang Kai-Shek (1887-1975) as an inept dictator who mismanaged China until Mao Zedong expelled him in 1945 and he finished his life ruling Taiwan under the protection of the U.S. military. But this...lucid biography by Taylor, a research associate at Harvard's Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, describes an impressive figure who left China a greater legacy than he has been given credit for...Taylor does not conceal Chiang's brutality and diplomatic failures, but he is an admirer who makes a good case that Chiang governed an almost ungovernable country with reasonable skill and understood his enemies better than American advisers did.

– Publishers Weekly
Starred Review
August 6, 2009

Jay Taylor's new biography, The Generalissimo: Chiang Kai-shek and the Struggle for Modern China, challenges the catechism on which generations of Americans have been weaned. Marshaling archival materials made newly available to researchers, including about four decades' worth of Chiang's daily diaries and documents from the Soviet era, it torpedoes many of that catechism's cherished tenets. This is an important, controversial book... Chiang emerges as a flesh-and-blood man rather than the buffoonish cardboard-cutout figure he has generally been portrayed as.

– Laura Tyson Li
Washington Post Book World
July 23, 2009

Master of his material, [Taylor] provides excellent in-depth accounts of episodes such as Chiang's kidnapping by Zhang Xueliang, the Manchurian exiled warlord, at Christmas 1936, the negotiations over the years between Nationalists and Communists and the old man's later years in Taiwan...This is the most thorough inquest on the Generalissimo so far.

– Jonathan Fenby
Times Higher Education
November 29, 2009

This splendid biography far surpasses previous scholarship on Chiang Kai-shek, providing new insights into the savage international and civil wars in China that raged for almost thirty years as well as Chiang's quarter century on Taiwan where he laid the predicate for democratic governance on the besieged island.

– David Lampton
Hyman Professor and Director of China Studies
Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies
April 26, 2009

Following his masterful account The Generalissimo's Son, Taylor has fully tapped Chiang Kai-shek's personal diaries and a comprehensive range of sources to provide the most authoritative assessment of this towering figure in the Chinese revolution and global politics of the 20th century.

– Robert Sutter
Visiting Professor of Asian Studies
School of Foreign Service
Georgetown University
June 1, 2009

Taylor shows in great detail that Chiang and his often-maligned troops fought more effectively against Japan's heavily armed and well trained war machine than is generally realized. He also depicts in a mostly positive light Chiang's performance during a quarter of a century in exile at the head of the Nationalist government on Taiwan, where he set the stage for the island's shift from dictatorship to democracy...Generalissimo is well-written, and takes on an epic quality as Taylor guides us through many turning points in modern Chinese history. He draws on new materials, but his greatest strength is the fairness of his approach.

– Dan Southerland
Christian Science Monitor
January 29, 2010

This “…careful culling and quoting of Chiang's diaries is a device Taylor uses effectively to show Chiang's personal qualities. Taylor rejects the commonly held notion that these diaries deserve to be ignored, as being devoid of historical interest; instead, by juxtaposing quotations from Chiang's diaries with vivid and detailed descriptions of the major political and military events unfolding in the wider world, he gives a kind of intimacy to what otherwise might be merely inchoate reflections. Thus, to some extent, Taylor has been able to construct a series of more emotional linkages between Chiang and the world within which he worked.

– Jonathan D. Spence
New York Review of Books
February 1, 2010

Taylor does much to overturn the popular reading of [Chiang] and to illustrate Chiang's contributions to the Allied war effort. While his scholarship presents a more nuanced view of Chiang, it also uncovers a darker narrative for the Allies, who repeatedly failed to honor their commitments to Chiang...Judging by his stated goal of challenging assumptions and rounding out cardboard characterizations of Chiang, Taylor succeeds admirably. He uncovers a man devoted to reversing a century of humiliation in China.

– Robert Green
Far Eastern Economic Review
Hong Kong
May 2009

The traditional view of "General Cash-My-Check" as a corrupt and incompetent bit-part player in the story of modern Chinese history is overturned here. Taylor suggests that far from being an incompetent dictator he was actually a shrewd and even noble man, making the best out of a bad hand.

– George Pendle
Financial Times
November 2009

You won't want to miss this select group of titles that combines unique perspectives on rich topics with topnotch writing. Discover The Generalissimo….and other hidden gems.

Spring 2010

A new and apparently exhaustive biography...This could well be one of the more important non-fiction books of the year.

– Tyler Cowen
March 12, 2010

Taylor succeeds in recovering a complicated man who was responsible for military and economic success as well as stunning failures...The Generalissimo is now the best English--language biography available. Taylor has considerable narrative skills, and is the first Western biographer to have drawn on Chiang Kai-shek's handwritten diaries.

– Jeremy Brown
Times Literary Supplement [London]
January 29, 2010

Reading [Taylor's] excellent, scholarly work, the fruit of five years' research, one does not warm to Chiang but comes to appreciate the emotional complexity of his character, and to admire his fortitude in the face of colossal odds.

– Simon Scott Plummer
The Tablet
August 22, 2010

…What makes Taylor's work so special are the numerous in-depth and eminently readable accounts of Chiang's life. For the first time, the grandiose layers of appearance and reality that the Generalissimo built up around him are stripped back to reveal the man behind the myth. Taylor's epic book is a landmark tome in Chinese studies because it shows that the Generalissimo, far from being a sham Caesar who lost the mainland to Mao Zedong and communism in a surprisingly short period of time, gave the nation its best government in the 20th century. This revisionist take, which is told with a flair befitting the subject, shows Chiang to be an honorable and talented man who was subject to ungovernable fits of temper that often led to impetuous decisions...[This] excellent biography...should be mandatory reading for those seeking to garner a better understanding of the mainland and its political and social direction in the 21st century.

– Jean Brisebois
Taiwan Today
March 12, 2010

What makes Taylor's biography unique is his use of documents from the Kuomintang Party's archive and Chiang's recently released diaries, which span the entirety of Chiang's adult life and offer intimate insight into his inner world, particularly his relationships with his sons and his struggle to reconcile Confucianism and Christianity...In describing each period, Taylor is always careful to situate Chiang in the context of domestic and international politics, thus making this book an accessible introduction to modern Chinese politics.

– L. Teh


A Financial Times [London] history book of the year (2009)


"This Season's (Almost) Best-Kept Secrets"
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Product Description by Harvard University Press

One of the most momentous stories of the last century is China 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, when he was defeated by Mao Zedong, his archrival for leadership of China, he fled to Taiwan, where he ruled for another twenty-five years. Playing a key role in the cold war with China, Chiang suppressed opposition with his white terror, controlled inflation and corruption, carried out land reform, and 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 was exceedingly ruthless and temperamental but who was also courageous and conscientious in matters of state. Revealing fascinating aspects of Chiang’s life, Taylor provides penetrating insight into the dynamics of the past that lie behind the struggle for modernity of mainland China and its relationship with Taiwan.

736 pages
Belknap Press of Harvard University Press
1 edition
April 15, 2009


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