Chiang Kai-shek – Dictator, Idealist, Criminal?


Chiang Kai-shek’s portrait hung on the rostrum of Tiananmen Square. After the Communists overthrew Chiang’s government in 1949, they replaced his portrait with that of Mao Zedong (photo by unknown author via Wikimedia Commons, public domain work) 

Chiang Kai-shek, the leader of the Republic of China (ROC) and of the Guomindang from 1927 to 1975, is a controversial figure whose legacy is still debated both in China and in Taiwan. In this post we shall let Chiang himself speak and quote several passages from his speeches and works which highlight the complexity of his character, his contradictory relationship with Sun Yat-sen‘s ‘Three Principles of the People‘, and his constant oscillating between the role of a humanistic world leader, of a ruthless general, of an anti-Communist hero, and of a brutal, narrow-minded oppressor.


Patriotism is not enough

A message to the eleventh annual New York Herald Tribune Forum on Current Problems delivered on November 17, 1942.
The political testament of the Father of our Republic, Dr. Sun Yat-sen, began with the reminder to his followers, “The Revolution is not yet achieved.” Even after the National Revolution succeeded in overthrowing the war lords and unified China in 1927, we have continued to characterize our Government as a Revolutionary Government. Critics asked, now that you have established a Government of all China, why do you persist in calling yourselves a Revolutionary Government? What do you mean by Revolution?
The answer is that what we mean by Revolution is the attainment of all three of Dr. Sun’s basic principles of national revolution: national independence, progressive realization of democracy, and a rising level of living conditions for the masses. When victory comes at the end of this war, we shall have fully achieved national independence but will have far to go to attain our other two objectives. Hence our claim that ours is still a Revolutionary Government which means no more or less than it is a government dedicated to attaining these other two objectives.
Insisting on national independence for all peoples, Dr. Sun’s vision transcends the problem of China, and seeks equality for all peoples, East and West alike. China not only fights for her own independence, but also for the liberation of every oppressed nation. For us the Atlantic Charter and President Roosevelt’s proclamation of the Four Freedoms for all peoples are cornerstones of our fighting faith.
For many centuries Chinese society has been free of class distinctions such as are found even in advanced democracies. At the core of our political thought is our traditional maxim, “The people form the foundation of the country”. We Chinese are instinctively democratic, and Dr. Sun’s objective of universal suffrage evokes from all Chinese a ready and unhesitating response. But the processes and forms by which the will of the people is made manifest, and the complex machinery of modern democratic government cannot, I know to my cost, be created overnight, especially under the constant menace and attack of Japanese militarism.

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