Chiang Kai-shek

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Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek

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"Chiang" redirects here. For the family name, see Jiang (surname). This is a Chinese name; the family name is Chiang.
Chiang Kai-shek
蔣中正 / 蔣介石

Chairman of the Nationalist Government of China

    In office
October 10, 1928 – December 15, 1931
Premier Tan Yankai
Soong Tse-ven
Preceded by Gu Weijun (Acting)
Succeeded by Lin Sen

In office
August 1, 1943 – May 20, 1948
Acting until October 10, 1943
Premier Soong Tse-ven
Preceded by Lin Sen
Succeeded by Himself (as President of the Republic of China)
Chairman of the National Military Council

In office
1932 – May 31, 1946
Preceded by Position established
Succeeded by Position abolished
President of the Republic of China

In office
May 20, 1948 – January 21, 1949
Premier Chang Chun
WWong Wen-hao
Sun Fo
Vice President Li Zongren
Preceded by Himself (as Chairman of the National Government of China)
Succeeded by Li Zongren (Acting)

In office
March 1, 1950 – April 5, 1975
Premier Yen Hsi-shan
Chen Cheng
Yu Hung-Chun
Chen Cheng
Yen Chia-kan
Chiang Ching-kuo
Vice President Li Zongren
Chen Cheng
Yen Chia-kan
Preceded by Li Zongren (Acting)
Succeeded by Yen Chia-kan
Premier of the Republic of China

In office
December 4, 1930 – December 15, 1931
Preceded by Soong Tse-ven
Succeeded by Chen Mingshu

In office
December 7, 1935 – January 1, 1938
President Lin Sen
Preceded by Wang Jingwei
Succeeded by Hsiang-hsi Kung

In office
November 20, 1939 – May 31, 1945
President Lin Sen
Preceded by Hsiang-hsi Kung
Succeeded by Soong Tse-ven

In office
March 1, 1947 – April 18, 1947
Preceded by Soong Tse-ven
Succeeded by Chang Chun
1st, 3rd Director-General of the Kuomintang

In office
March 29, 1938 – April 5, 1975
Preceded by Hu Hanmin
Succeeded by Chiang Ching-kuo (as Chairman of the Kuomintang/a>)

Personal details
BBorn October 31, 1887(1887-10-31)
Fenghua, Zhejiang, Qing Empire
Died April 5, 1975(1975-04-05) (aged 87)
Taipei, Taiwan, Republic of China
Nationality Chinese
Political party Kuomintang (KMT)
Spouse(s) Mao Fumei
Yao Yecheng (concubine)
Chen Jieru
Soong May-ling
Children Chiang Ching-kuo
Chiang Wei-kuo (adopted)
Alma mater Baoding Military Academy, Imperial Japanese Army Academy Preparatory School
Occupation Soldier (General officer)
Religion Christian (Methodist)[1](previously Buddhist)
Military service
Nickname(s) "Red General"[2] or "Generalissimo"
Allegiance Republic of China
Years of service 1923–1975
Rank General Special Class
Battles/wars Xinhai Revolution, Northern Expedition, Sino-Tibetan War, Kumul Rebellion, Soviet Invasion of Xinjiang, Chinese Civil War, Second Sino-Japanese War, Kuomintang Islamic Insurgency in China (1950–1958)
Awards Order of National Glory, Order of Blue Sky and White Sun, 1st class Order of the Sacred Tripod, Legion of Merit
This article contains Chinese text. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Chinese characters.
Chiang Kai-shek
Traditional Chinese 蔣介石 / 蔣中正
Simplified Chinese 蒋介石 / 蒋中正
- Hanyu Pinyin Jiǎng Jièshí /
Jiǎng Zhōngzhèng
- Wade–Giles Chiang Chieh-Shih /
Chiang Chung-cheng
- Hokkien POJ Chiúⁿ Kài-se̍k /

Chiang Kai-shek (October 31, 1887 – April 5, 1975) was a political and military leader of 20th century China. He is known as Jiǎng Jièshí (蔣介石) or Jiǎng Zhōngzhèng (蔣中正) in Mandarin.
Chiang was an influential member of the Nationalist Party, the Kuomintang (KMT), and was a close ally of Sun Yat-sen. He became the Commandant of the Kuomintang's Whampoa Military Academy, and took Sun's place as leader of the KMT when Sun died in 1925. In 1926, Chiang led the Northern Expedition to unify the country, becoming China's nominal leader.[3] He served as Chairman of the National Military Council of the Nationalist government of the Republic of China (ROC) from 1928 to 1948. Chiang led China in the Second Sino-Japanese War, during which the Nationalist government's power severely weakened, but his prominence grew. Unlike Sun Yat-sen, Chiang Kai-shek was socially conservative, promoting traditional Chinese culture in the New Life Movement and rejecting western democracy and the nationalist democratic socialism that Sun Yat-sen and some other members of the KMT embraced in favor of a nationalist authoritarian government.
Chiang's predecessor, Sun Yat-sen, was well-liked and respected by the Communists, but after Sun's death Chiang was not able to maintain good relations with the Communists. A major split between the Nationalists and Communists occurred in 1927; and, under Chiang's leadership, the Nationalists fought a nation-wide civil war against the Communist Party of China (CPC). After Japan invaded China in 1937, Chiang agreed to a temporary truce with the CPC. Despite some early cooperative military successes against Japan, by the time that the Japanese surrendered in 1945 neither the CPC nor the KMT trusted each other or were actively cooperating. After American-sponsored attempts to negotiate a coalition government/a> failed in 1946, the Chinese Civil War resumed. The CPC defeated the Nationalists in 1949, forcing Chiang's government to retreat to Taiwan, where Chiang imposed martial law and persecuted people critical of his rule in a period known as the "White Terror". After evacuating to Taiwan, Chiang's government continued to declare its intention to retake mainland China. Chiang ruled the island securely as the self-appointed President of the Republic of China and Director-General of the Kuomintang until his death in 1975.

Early life


Chiang was born in Xikou, a town approximately 30 kilometers southwest of downtown Ningbo, in Fenghua, Ningbo, Zhejiang. However, his ancestral home, a concept important in Chinese society, was the town of Heqiao (和橋鎮) in Yixing, Wuxi, Jiangsu (approximately 38 km (24 mi) southwest of downtown Wuxi, and 10 km (6.2 mi) from the shores of Lake Tai). Chiang's father, Jiang Zhaocong (蔣肇聰), and mother, Wang Caiyu (王采玉), were members of an upper-middle to upper class family of salt merchants. Chiang's father died when he was only eight years of age, and he wrote of his mother as the "embodiment of Confucian virtues."

Chiang Kai-shek in 1907 at the Baoding Military Academy
In Japan

Chiang grew up in a time period in which military defeats and civil wars among warlords had left China destabilized and in debt, and he decided to pursue a military career. He began his military education at the Baoding Military Academy, in 1906. He then left for the Tokyo Shinbu Gakko (東京振武學校), an Imperial Japanese Army Academy Preparatory School for Chinese students, in 1907. There he was influenced by his compatriots to support the revolutionary movement to overthrow the Qing Dynasty and to set up a Chinese republic. He befriended fellow Zhejiang native Chen Qimei, and, in 1908, Chen brought Chiang into the Tongmenghui, a precursor of the Kuomintang (KMT) organization. Chiang served in the Imperial Japanese Army from 1909 to 1911.

Return to China

Returning to China in 1911 after learning of the outbreak of the Wuchang Uprising, Chiang intended to fight as an artillery officer. He served in the revolutionary forces, leading a regiment in Shanghai under his friend and mentor, Chen Qimei, as one of Chen's chief lieutenants. According to various sources, Chiang's first personal act of violence occurred around this time, when he either instigated or performed the assassination of a dissident member of the Revolutionary Alliance who opposed both Sun Yat-sen and Chen Qimei.[4] The Xinhai Revolution ultimately succeeded with the overthrow of the Qing Dynasty, and Chiang became a founding member of the KMT.

After the takeover of the Republican government by Yuan Shikai and the failed Second Revolution in 1913, Chiang, like his KMT comrades, divided time between exile in Japan and the havens of the Shanghai International Settlement. In Shanghai, Chiang cultivated ties with the city's underworld gangs, dominated by the notorious Green Gang and its leader Du Yuesheng. On February 15, 1912, several KMT members, including Chiang, murdered Tao Chengzhang, the leader of the Restoration Society, in a Shanghai French Concession hospital.[citation needed]

On May 18, 1916 agents of Yuan Shikai assassinated Chen Qimei. Chiang then succeeded Chen as leader of the Chinese Revolutionary Party in Shanghai. Sun Yat-sen's career was at its lowest point then, with most of his old Revolutionary Alliance comrades refusing to join him in the exiled Chinese Revolutionary Party.

Establishment of the Kuomintang in Guangzhou
In 1917, Sun Yat-sen moved his base of operations to Guangzhou, and Chiang joined him in 1918. At this time Sun remained largely sidelined; and, without arms or money, was soon expelled from Guangzhou and exiled again to Shanghai. He was restored to Guangzhou with mercenary help in 1920. After returning to Guangzhou, a rift developed between Sun, who sought to militarily unify China under the KMT, and Guangdong Governor Chen Jiongming, who wanted to implement a federalist system with Guangdong as a model province. On June 16, 1923 Chen attempted to assassinate Sun and had his residence shelled. During a prolonged skirmish between the troops of these opposing forces, Sun and his wife Soong Ching-ling narrowly evaded heavy machine gun fire and were rescued by gunboats under Chiang's direction. The incident earned Chiang the trust of Sun Yat-sen.

Sun regained control of Guangzhou in early 1924, again with the help of mercenaries from Yunnan, and accepted aid from the Comintern. Undertaking a reform of the KMT, he established a revolutionary government aimed at unifying China under the KMT. That same year, Sun sent Chiang to spend three months in Moscow studying the Soviet political and military system. During his trip in Russia, Chiang met Leon Trotsky and other Soviet leaders, but quickly came to the conclusion that the Russian model of government was not suitable for China. Chiang later sent his eldest son, Ching-kuo, to study in Russia. After his father's split from the First United Front in 1927, Ching-kuo was forced to stay there, as a hostage, until 1937. Chiang wrote in his diary, "It is not worth it to sacrifice the interest of the country for the sake of my son."[5][6] Chiang even refused to negotiate a prisoner swap for his son in exchange for the Chinese Communist Party leader.[7] His attitude remained consistent, and he continued to maintain, by 1937, that "I would rather have no offspring than sacrifice our nation's interests." Chiang had absolutely no intention of stopping the war against the Communists.[8]

Chiang Kai-shek returned to Guangzhou, and in 1924 was appointed Commandant of the Whampoa Military Academy by Sun. Chiang resigned from the office for one month in disagreement with Sun's extremely close cooperation with the Comintern, but returned at Sun's demand. The early years at Whampoa allowed Chiang to cultivate a cadre of young officers loyal to both the KMT and himself.

Throughout his rise to power, Chiang also benefited from membership within the nationalist Tiandihui fraternity, to which Sun Yat-sen also belonged, and which remained a source of support during his leadership of China and, later, Taiwan.

Succession of Sun Yat-sen

Competition with Wang Jingwei

Sun Yat-sen died on March 12, 1925,[9] creating a power vacuum in the Kuomintang. A contest ensued between Chiang, who stood at the right wing of the KMT, and Sun Yat-sen's close comrade-in-arms Wang Jingwei, who leaned towards the left. Although Wang succeeded Sun as Chairman of the National Government, Chiang's relatively low position in the party's internal hierarchy was bolstered by his military backing and adept political maneuvering following the Zhongshan Warship Incident. On June 5, 1926, Chiang became Commander-in-Chief of the National Revolutionary Army (NRA),[10] and on July 27 he launched a military campaign known as the Northern Expedition in order to defeat the warlords controlling northern China and to unify the country under the KMT.

The NRA branched into three divisions: to the west was Wang Jingwei, who led a column to take Wuhan; Bai Chongxi's column went east to take Shanghai; Chiang himself led in the middle route, planning to take Nanjing before pressing ahead to capture Beijing. However, in January 1927, Wang Jingwei and his KMT leftist allies took the city of Wuhan amid much popular mobilization and fanfare. Allied with a number of Chinese Communists and advised by Soviet agent Mikhail Borodin, Wang declared the National Government as having moved to Wuhan. Having taken Nanking in March (and briefly visited Shanghai, now under the control of his close ally Bai Chongxi), Chiang halted his campaign and prepared a violent break with Wang's leftist elements, which he believed threatened his control of the KMT.

Now with an established national government in Nanjing, and supported by conservative allies including Hu Hanmin, Chiang's expulsion of the Communists and their Soviet advisers led to the beginning of the Chinese Civil War. Wang Jingwei's National Government was weak militarily, and was soon ended by Chiang with the support of a local warlord, (Li Zongren of Guangxi). Eventually, Wang and his leftist party surrendered to Chiang and joined him in Nanjing. In the Central Plains War, Beijing was taken in June, 1928, from an alliance of the warlords Feng Yuxiang and Yan Xishan. In December, the Manchurian warlord Zhang Xueliang pledged allegiance to Chiang's government, completing Chiang's nominal unification of China and ending the Warlord Era.

In 1927, when he was setting up the Nationalist government in Nanjing, he was preoccupied with "the elevation of our leader Dr. Sun Yat-sen to the rank of 'Father of our Chinese Republic'. Dr. Sun worked for 40 years to lead our people in the Nationalist cause, and we cannot allow any other personality to usurp this honored position". He asked Chen Guofu to purchase a photograph that had been taken in Japan in around 1895 or 1898. It showed members of the Revive China Society, with Yeung Kui-wan (楊衢雲 or 杨衢云, pinyin Yáng Qúyún), as President, in the place of honour, and Sun, as secretary, on the back row, along with members of the Japanese Chapter of the Revive China Society. When told that it was not for sale, Chiang offered a million dollars to recover the photo and its negative. "The party must have this picture and the negative at any price. They must be destroyed as soon as possible. It would be embarrassing to have our Father of the Chinese Republic shown in a subordinate position".[11] Chiang never obtained either the photo or its negative.

Chiang made great efforts to gain recognition as the official successor of Sun Yat-sen. In a pairing of great political significance, Chiang was Sun's brother-in-law: he had married Soong May-ling, the younger sister of Soong Ching-ling, Sun's widow, on December 1, 1927. Originally rebuffed by her in the early-1920s, Chiang managed to ingratiate himself to some degree with Soong May-ling's mother by first divorcing his wife and concubines, and promising to eventually convert to Christianity. On Jan. 7, 1929, the Nationalist Information Bureau stated that Chiang was not a Christian[12] After this, he was baptized in the Methodist church in 1929, a year after his marriage to Soong. Upon reaching Beijing, Chiang paid homage to Sun Yat-sen and had his body moved to the new capital of Nanjing to be enshrined in a grand mausoleum.

Relationship with the Comintern

In the West and in the Soviet Union, Chiang Kai-shek was known as the "Red General".[2] Movie theaters in the Soviet Union showed newsreels and clips of Chiang. At Moscow, Sun Yat-sen University Portraits of Chiang were hung on the walls; and, in the Soviet May Day Parades that year, Chiang's portrait was to be carried along with the portraits of Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin, and other socialist leaders.[13] The United States consulate and other Westerners in Shanghai were concerned about the approach of "Red General" Chiang, as his army was seizing control of large areas of the country in the Northern Expedition.[14][15] The Western powers backed the Zhili Clique, and were concerned about either the Soviet-backed Kuomintang or the Japanese-backed Fengtian Clique seizing control of China. The Japanese were also concerned that Chiang might defeat the Fengtian Clique.

On April 12, Chiang carried out a purge of thousands of suspected Communists and dissidents in Shanghai, and began large-scale massacres across the country collectively known as the "White Terror". Throughout April 1927, more than 12,000 people were killed in Shanghai. The killings drove most Communists from urban cities and into the rural countryside, where the KMT was less powerful.[16] Chiang allowed for the "escape" of Soviet agent and advisor Mikhail Borodin and Soviet military officer Vasily Blücher (Galens) to safety after the purge.[17] A picture was taken of Chiang with Borodin and Galens.[18]

Tutelage of China

Chiang Kai-shek (right) with future Japanese Prime Minister Tsuyoshi Inukai (center), Pan-Asianist leader Tōyama Mitsuru (left) in Japan (1929)
Carrying out Sun Yat-sen's will
Having gained control of China, Chiang's party remained surrounded by "surrendered" warlords who remained relatively autonomous within their own regions. On October 10, 1928, Chiang was named director of the State Council, the equivalent to President of the country, in addition to his other titles.[19] As with his predecessor Sun Yat-sen, the Western media dubbed him "Generalissimo".[10]

According to Sun Yat-sen's plans, the Kuomintang (KMT) was to rebuild China in three steps: military rule, political tutelage, and constitutional rule. The ultimate goal of the KMT revolution was democracy, which was not considered to be feasible in China's fragmented state. Since the KMT had completed the first step of revolution through seizure of power in 1928, Chiang's rule thus began a period of what his party considered to be "political tutelage" in Sun Yat-sen's name. During this so-called Republican Era, many features of a modern, functional Chinese state emerged and developed.

The decade of 1928 to 1937 saw some aspects of foreign imperialism, concessions and privileges in China, moderated through diplomacy. The government acted to modernize the legal and penal systems, attempted to stabilize prices, amortize debts, reform the banking and currency systems, build railroads and highways, improve public health facilities, legislate against traffic in narcotics, and augment industrial and agricultural production. Not all of these projects were successfully completed. Efforts were made towards improving education standards; and, in an effort to unify Chinese society, the New Life Movement was launched to encourage Confucian moral values and personal discipline. Mandarin Chinese, then known as Guoyu, was promoted as an standard tongue, and the establishment of communications facilities (including radio) were used to encourage a sense of Chinese nationalism in a way that was not possible when the nation lacked an effective central government.
Challenges and limitations

Any successes that the Nationalists did make, however, were met with constant political and military upheavals. While much of the urban areas were now under the control of the KMT, much of the countryside remained under the influence of weakened yet undefeated warlords and Communists. Chiang often resolved issues of warlord obstinacy through military action, but such action was costly in terms of men and materiel. The 1930 Central Plains War alone nearly bankrupted the Nationalist government and caused almost 250,000 casualties on both sides. In 1931 Hu Hanmin, Chiang's old supporter, publicly voiced a popular concern that Chiang's position as both premier and president flew in the face of the democratic ideals of the Nationalist government. Chiang had Hu put under house arrest, but he was released after national condemnation, after which he left Nanjing and supported a rival government in Guangzhou. The split resulted in a military conflict between Hu's Guangzhou government and Chiang's Nationalist government. Chiang only won the campaign against Hu after a shift in allegiance by the warlord Zhang Xueliang, who had previously supported Hu Hanmin.

Throughout his rule, complete eradication of the Communists remained Chiang's dream. After assembling his forces in Jiangxi, Chiang led his armies against the newly established Chinese Soviet Republic. With help from foreign military advisers, Chiang's Fifth Campaign finally surrounded the Chinese Red Army in 1934. The Communists, tipped-off that a Nationalist offensive was imminent, retreated in the Long March, during which Mao Zedong rose from a mere military official to the most influential leader of the Communist Party of China.

Ideology: nationalism and anti-capitalism

Chiang, as a nationalist and a Confucianist, was against the iconoclasm of the May Fourth Movement. Motivated by his sense of nationalism, he viewed some Western ideas as foreign, and he believed that the great introduction of Western ideas and literature that the May Fourth Movement promoted was not beneficial to China. He and Dr. Sun criticized the May Fourth intellectuals as corrupting the morals of China's youth.[20]

Contrary to Communist propaganda that Chiang was pro-capitalism, Chiang Kai-shek antagonized the capitalists of Shanghai, often attacking them and confisticating their capital and assets for the use of the government. Chiang confiscated the wealth of capitalists even while he denounced and fought against communists.[21] Chiang crushed pro-communist worker and peasant organizations and rich Shanghai capitalists at the same time. Chiang continued Dr. Sun Yat-sen's anti capitalist ideology, directing Kuomintang media to openly attack capitalists and capitalism, demanding government controlled industry instead.[22]

Chiang blocked Chinese capitalists from gaining any political power or voice within his regime. Once Chiang Kai-shek was done with his "reign of terror" on pro-communist laborers, he proceeded to turn on the capitalists. Gangster connections allowed Chiang to attack them in the International Settlement, successfully forcing capitalists to back him up with their assets for his military expeditions.[23]

Chiang has often been interpreted as being pro-capitalist, but this conclusion is the result of various misinterpretations. Marxist writers have believed that governments must represent one or more social classes, and (falsely) concluded that, because Chiang oppressed some social classes more than urban capitalists (particularly the industrial proletariat), the urban capitalists were a logical social base for the Nanjing government. Shanghai capitalists did briefly support him out of fear of communism in 1927, but this support eroded in 1928, when Chiang turned his tactics of intimidation on them. The relationship between Chiang Kai-shek and Chinese capitalists remained poor throughout the period of his administration.[23]

Wartime leader of China

Chiang Kai-shek (right) meets with the Muslim Generals Ma Bufang (second from left), and Ma Buqing (first from left) in Xining at August 1942.
Chinese Civil War
After the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931, Chiang resigned as Chairman of the National Government. He returned shortly afterwards, adopting the slogan "first internal pacification, then external resistance". However, this policy of avoiding a frontal war against the Japanese was widely unpopular. In 1932, while Chiang was seeking first to defeat the Communists, Japan launched an advance on Shanghai and bombarded Nanjing. This disrupted Chiang's offensives against the Communists for a time, although it was the northern factions of Hu Hanmin's Guangzhou (Canton) government (notably the 19th Route Army) that primarily led the offensive against the Japanese during this skirmish. Brought into the Nationalist army immediately after the battle, the 19th Route Army's career under Chiang would be cut short after it was disbanded for demonstrating socialist tendencies.

Chiang on the cover of a 1933 edition of TIME magazine
In December 1936, Chiang flew to Xi'an to coordinate a major assault on the Red Army and the Communist Republic that had retreated into Yan'an. However, Chiang's allied commander Zhang Xueliang, whose forces were used in his attack and whose homeland of Manchuria had been recently invaded by the Japanese, did not support the attack on the Communists. On December 12, Zhang and several other Nationalist generals kidnapped Chiang for two weeks in what is known as the Xi'an Incident. They forced Chiang into making a "Second United Front" with the Communists against Japan. After releasing Chiang and returning to Nanjing with him, Zhang was placed under house arrest and the generals who had assisted him were executed. Chiang's commitment to the Second United Front was nominal at best, and it was all but broken up in 1941.

Chiang and his wife, Soong May-ling, with Joseph Stilwell in Burma (1942)

Second Sino-Japanese War

The Second Sino-Japanese War broke out in July 1937, and in August of that year Chiang sent 600,000 of his best-trained and equipped soldiers to defend Shanghai. With over 200,000 Chinese casualties, Chiang lost the political cream of his Whampoa-trained officers. Though Chiang lost militarily, the battle dispelled Japanese claims that it could conquer China in three months and demonstrated to the Western powers that the Chinese would continue the fight. By December, the capital city of Nanjing had fallen to the Japanese, and Chiang moved the government inland, first to Wuhan and later to Chongqing.

Having lost most of China's economic and industrial centers, Chiang withdrew into the hinterlands, stretching the Japanese supply lines and bogging down Japanese soldiers in the vast Chinese interior. As part of a policy of protracted resistance, Chiang authorized the use of scorched earth tactics, resulted in many civilian deaths. During the Nationalist's retreat from Nanjing, the dams around the city were deliberately destroyed by the Nationalist army in order to delay the Japanese advance, killing 500,000 people in the subsequent 1938 Yellow River flood.

When the Japanese army approached Wuhan in the fall of 1938, Chiang's forces abandoned the city without a fight and withdrew farther inland, to Chongqing. While en route to Chongqing, the Nationalist army intentionally started the "fire of Changsha", which lasted for three days, destroyed two thirds of the city, killed twenty thousand civilians, and left hundreds of thousands of people homeless. This fire was deliberately caused by the retreating Nationalist army in order to prevent the city from falling to the Japanese. Due to an organizational error (it was claimed), the fire was begun without any warning to the residents of the city. The Nationalists eventually blamed three local commanders for the fire and executed them. Newspapers across China blamed the fire on (non-KMT) arsonists, but the blaze contributed to a nation-wide loss of support for the KMT.[24]
In 1939 Muslim leaders Isa Yusuf Alptekin and Ma Fuliang were sent by Chiang to several Middle eastern countries, including Egypt, Turkey, and Syria, to gain support for the Chinese War against Japan, and to express his support for Muslims.[25]

The Japanese, controlling the puppet-state of Manchukuo and much of China's eastern seaboard, appointed Wang Jingwei as a Quisling-ruler of the occupied Chinese territories around Nanjing. Wang named himself President of the Executive Yuan and Chairman of the National Government (not the same 'National Government' as Chiang's), and led a surprisingly large[quantify] minority of anti-Chiang/anti-Communist Chinese against his old comrades. He died in 1944, within a year of the end of World War II.
In 1942 Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek personally went on tour in Northwestern China in Xinjiang, Gansu, Ningxia, Shaanxi, and Qinghai, where he met both Muslim Generals Ma Buqing and Ma Bufang.[26] He also met the Muslim Generals Ma Hongbin and Ma Hongkui separately.
A border crisis erupted with Tibet in 1942. Under orders from Chiang Kai-shek, Ma Bufang repaired Yushu airport to prevent Tibetan separatists from seeking independence.[citation needed] Chiang also ordered Ma Bufang to put his Muslim soldiers on alert for an invasion of Tibet in 1942.[27][28] Ma Bufang complied, and moved several thousand troops to the border with Tibet.[29] Chiang also threatened the Tibetans with aerial bombardment if they worked with the Japanese. Ma Bufang attacked the Tibetan Buddhist Tsang monastery in 1941.[30] He also constantly attacked the Labrang monastery.[31]

Chiang Kai-shek, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Winston Churchill met at the Cairo Conference in 1943 during World War II.
With the attack on Pearl Harbor and the opening of the Pacific War, China became one of the Allied Powers. During and after World War II, Chiang and his American-educated wife Soong May-ling, known in the United States as "Madame Chiang", held the support of the United States' China Lobby, which saw in them the hope of a Christian and democratic China. Chiang was even named the Supreme Commander of Allied forces in the China war zone. He was created a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath by King George VI of the United Kingdom in 1942.[32]

General Joseph Stilwell, an American military adviser to Chiang during World War II, strongly criticized Chiang and his generals for what he saw as their incompetence and corruption.[33] In 1944, the USAF commenced Operation Matterhorn in order to bomb Japan's steel industry from bases to be constructed in mainland China. This was meant to fulfill President Roosevelt's promise to Chiang Kai-shek to begin bombing operations against Japan by November 1944. However, Chiang Kai-shek's subordinates refused to take airbase construction seriously until enough capital had been delivered to permit embezzlement on a massive scale. Stilwell estimated that at least half of the $100 million spent on construction of airbases was embezzled by Nationalist party officials.[34]

Relationship with the United States

Chiang did not like the Americans, and was suspicious of their motives.[35] When he suspected that the American OSS (forerunner of the CIA) was showing an interest in seizing control of Chiang's regime, Chiang ordered the plotters arrested and executed.[36] Chiang felt no friendliness towards the United States, and viewed it as pursuing imperialist motives in China. Chiang did not want to be suboordinate to either the United States or the Soviet Union, but jockeyed for room between the two and wanted to get the most out of the Soviet Union and the Americans without taking sides.[37] He predicted that war would come between the two, and that they would both seek China's alliance, which he would use to China's advantage. Abusive incidents occurred following a drunk American General making comments about Chiang's regime, and a low point in Sino-American relations followed the rape of a Chinese university student by American marines shortly after World War II.[37] American officials, notably Stilwell, found Chiang to be incompetent and corrupt.

Chiang also differed from the Americans in ideological issues. He organized the Kuomintang as a Leninist style party, oppressed dissension, and banned democracy.[38] By the end of World War II, Chiang had come to believe that democracy was impossible for China to achieve.[39]

Chiang's communications with the Soviets and Americans during the war were not consistent. He first told the Americans that they would be welcome in talks between the Soviet Union and China, then secretly told the Soviets that the Americans were unimportant and that their opinions would not be considered. Chiang also used American support and military power in China against the ambitions of the Soviet Union to dominate the talks, stopping the Soviets from taking full advantage of the situation in China with the threat of American military action against the Soviets.[40]

Refusal of French Indochina

Franklin D. Roosevelt, through General Stilwell, privately made it clear that they preferred that the French not reacquire French Indochina (modern day Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos) after the war was over. Roosevelt offered Chiang Kai-shek control of all of Indochina. It was said that Chiang Kai-shek replied: "Under no circumstances!".[41]

After the war, 200,000 Chinese troops under General Lu Han were sent by Chiang Kai-shek to northern Indochina (north of the 16th parallel) to accept the surrender of Japanese occupying forces there, and remained in Indochina until 1946, when the French returned.[42] The Chinese used the VNQDD, the Vietnamese branch of the Chinese Kuomintang, to increase their influence in Indochina and to put pressure on their opponents.[43]

 Chiang Kai-shek threatened the French with war in response to manoeuvering by the French and Ho Chi Minh's forces against each other, forcing them to come to a peace agreement. In February 1946 he also forced the French to surrender all of their concessions in China and to renounce their extraterritorial privileges in exchange for the Chinese withdrawing from northern Indochina and allowing French troops to reoccupy the region. Following France's agreement to these demands, the withdrawal of Chinese troops began in March 1946.[44][45][46][47]

Losing Mainland China

May 20 Republican Year 37/1948, Chiang Kai-shek's inauguration speech as the first President of the Republic of China in the new constitution of 1948

Treatment and use of Japanese soldiers

In 1945, when Japan surrendered, Chiang's Chongqing government was ill-equipped and ill-prepared to reassert its authority in formerly Japanese-occupied China, and asked the Japanese to postpone their surrender until Kuomintang (KMT) authority could arrive to take over. This was an unpopular move among a population that, for many, had spent more than a decade under often brutal foreign occupation. American troops and weapons soon bolstered KMT forces, allowing them to reclaim cities. The countryside, however, remained largely under Communist control.
For over a year after the Japanese surrender, rumors circulated throughout China that the Japanese had entered into a secret agreement with Chiang, in which the Japanese would assist the Nationalists in fighting the Communists in exchange for the protection of Japanese persons and property there. Many top nationalist generals, including Chiang, had studied and trained in Japan before the Nationalists had returned to the mainland in the 1920s, and maintained close personal friendships with top Japanese officers. The Japanese general in charge of all forces in China, General Okamura, had personally trained officers who later became generals in Chiang's staff. Reportedly, General Okamura, before surrendering command of all Japanese military forces in Nanjing, offered Chiang control of all 1.5 million Japanese military and civilian support staff then present in China. Reportedly, Chiang seriously considered accepting this offer, but declined only in the knowledge that the United States would certainly be outraged by the gesture. Even so, armed Japanese troops remained in China well into 1947, with some noncommissioned officers finding their way into the Nationalist officer corps.[48] That the Japanese in China came to regard Chiang as a magnanimous figure to whom many Japanese owed their lives and livelihoods was a fact attested by both Nationalist and Communist sources.[49]

Conditions during the Chinese Civil War

Following the war, the United States encouraged peace talks between Chiang and Communist leader Mao Zedong in Chongqing. Due to concerns about widespread and well-documented corruption in Chiang's government throughout his rule (though not always with his knowledge), the U.S. government limited aid to Chiang for much of the period of 1946 to 1948, in the midst of fighting against the People's Liberation Army led by Mao Zedong. Alleged infiltration of the U.S. government by Chinese Communist agents may have also played a role in the suspension of American aid.[50]
Mao Zedong and Chiang Kai-shek with United States ambassador Patrick J. Hurley, 1945

Chiang's right hand man, the secret police Chief Dai Li, was both anti-American and anti-Communist.[51] Dai ordered Kuomintang agents to spy on American officers.[52] Earlier, Dai had been involved with the Blue Shirts Society, a fascist-inspired paramilitary group within the Kuomintang, which wanted to expel Western and Japanese imperialists, crush the Communists, and eliminate feudalism.[53] Dai Li died in a plane crash, which was suspected to be an assassination orchestrated by either the American OSS or the communists.[54]

Though Chiang had achieved status abroad as a world leader, his government deteriorated as the result of corruption and inflation. In his diary on June 1948, Chiang wrote that the KMT had failed, not because of external enemies but because of rot from within.[55] The war had severely weakened the Nationalists, while the Communists were strengthened by their popular land-reform policies,[56] and by a rural population that supported and trusted them. The Nationalists initially had superiority in arms and men, but their lack of popularity, infiltration by Communist agents, low morale, and disorganization soon allowed the Communists to gain the upper hand in the civil war.

Conflict with Li Zongren

A new Constitution was promulgated in 1947, and Chiang was formally elected by the National Assembly as the first term President of the Republic of China on May 20, 1948. This marked the beginning of what was termed the "democratic constitutional government" period by the KMT political orthodoxy, but the Communists refused to recognize the new Constitution, and its government, as legitimate. Chiang resigned as President on January 21, 1949, as KMT forces suffered bitter losses and defections to the Communists. After Chiang's resignation the vice-president of the ROC, Li Zongren, became China's president.

Shortly after Chiang's resignation the Communists halted their advances and attempted to negotiate the virtual surrender of the ROC. Li attempted to negotiate milder terms that would have ended the civil war, but without success. When it became clear that Li was unlikely to accept Mao's terms, the Communists issued an ultimatum in April 1949, warning that they would resume their attacks if Li did not agree within five days. Li refused.[57]

Li's attempts to carry out his policies faced varying degrees of opposition from Chiang's supporters, and were generally unsuccessful. Chiang especially antagonized Li by taking possession of (and moving to Taiwan) US$200 million of gold and US dollars belonging to the central government that Li desperately needed to cover the government's soaring expenses. When the Communists captured the Nationalist capital of Nanjing in April 1949, Li refused to accompany the central government as it fled to Guangdong, instead expressing his dissatisfaction with Chiang by retiring to Guangxi.[58]

Chiang Kai-shek and Li Zongren.

The former warlord Yan Xishan, who had fled to Nanking only one month before, quickly insinuated himself within the Li-Chiang rivalry, attempting to have Li and Chiang reconcile their differences in the effort to resist the Communists. At Chiang's request Yan visited Li in order to convince Li not to withdraw from public life. Yan broke down in tears while talking of the loss of his home province of Shanxi to the Communists, and warned Li that the Nationalist cause was doomed unless Li went to Guangzhou. Li agreed to return under the condition that Chiang surrender most of the gold and US dollars in his possession that belonged to the central government, and that Chiang stop overriding Li's authority. After Yan communicated these demands and Chiang agreed to comply with them, Li departed for Guangdong.[58]

In Guangdong, Li attempted to create a new government composed of both Chiang supporters and those opposed to Chiang. Li's first choice of premier was Chu Cheng, a veteran member of the Kuomintang who had been virtually driven into exile due to his strong opposition to Chiang. After the Legislative Yuan rejected Chu, Li was obliged to choose Yan Xishan instead. By this time Yan was well known for his adaptability, and Chiang welcomed his appointment.[58]

Conflict between Chiang and Li persisted. Although he had agreed to do so as a prerequisite of Li's return, Chiang refused to surrender more than a fraction of the wealth that he had sent to Taiwan. Without being backed by gold or foreign currency, the money issued by Li and Yan quickly declined in value until it became virtually worthless.[59]

Although he did not hold a formal executive position in the government, Chiang continued to issue orders to the army, and many officers continued to obey Chiang rather than Li. The inability of Li to coordinate KMT military forces led him to put into effect a plan of defense that he had contemplated in 1948. Instead of attempting to defend all of southern China, Li ordered what remained of the Nationalist armies to withdraw to Guangxi and Guangdong, hoping that he could concentrate all available defenses on this smaller, and more easily defensible, area. The object of Li's strategy was to maintain a foothold on the Chinese mainland in the hope that the United States would eventually be compelled to enter the war in China on the Nationalist side.[59]

Final Communist advance

Chiang opposed Li's plan of defense because it would have placed most of the troops still loyal to Chiang under the control of Li and Chiang's other opponents in the central government. To overcome Chiang's intransigence Li began ousting Chiang's supporters within the central government. Yan Xishan continued in his attempts to work with both sides, creating the impression among Li's supporters that he was a "stooge" of Chiang, while those who supported Chiang began to bitterly resent Yan for his willingness to work with Li. Because of the rivalry between Chiang and Li, Chiang refused to allow Nationalist troops loyal to him to aid in the defense of Guangxi and Guangdong, with the result that Communist forces occupied Guangdong in October 1949.[60]

After Guangdong fell to the Communists, Chiang relocated the government to Chongqing, while Li effectively surrendered his powers and flew to New York for treatment of his chronic duodenum illness at the Hospital of Columbia University. Li visited the President of the United States, Harry S. Truman, and denounced Chiang as a "dictator" and an "usurper." Li vowed that he would "return to crush" Chiang once he returned to China. Li remained in exile, and did not return to Taiwan.[61]

In the early morning of December 10, 1949, Communist troops laid siege to Chengdu, the last KMT controlled city in mainland China, where Chiang Kai-shek and his son Chiang Ching-kuo directed the defense at the Chengdu Central Military Academy. Chiang Kai-shek, father and son, sang the Republic of China National Anthem while leaving the Academy all the way to the airfield.[citation needed] The aircraft May-ling evacuated them to Taiwan on the same day. Chiang Kai-shek would never return to the mainland.

Chiang did not formally re-assume the presidency until March 1, 1950. On January 1952, Chiang commanded the Control Yuan, now in Taiwan, to impeach Li in the "Case of Li Zongren's Failure to carry out Duties due to Illegal Conduct" (李宗仁違法失職案). Chiang officially relieved Li of the position as vice-president in the National Assembly on March 1954.

Presidency in Taiwan

Main article: Republic of China Chiang presiding over the 1966 Double Ten celebrations.

Preparations to retake the mainland

Chiang moved the government to Taipei, Taiwan, where he formally resumed duties as President of the Republic of China on March 1, 1950.[62] Chiang was reelected by the National Assembly to be the President of the Republic of China (ROC) on May 20, 1954, and again in 1960, 1966, and 1972. He continued to claim sovereignty over all of China, including the territories held by his government and the People's Republic, as well as territory the latter ceded to foreign governments, such as Tuva and Outer Mongolia. In the context of the Cold War, most of the Western world recognized this position and the ROC represented China in the United Nations and other international organizations until the 1970s.

Calligraphy Chiang Kai-shek etched on a rock in Quemoy reads, "Forget not that you're in Jǔ" – an allusion to the Warring States Period when the State of Qi, cornered into the City of Ju by the State of Yan, successfully counterattacked and retook its territory. This is intended as an analogy to the situation between the Republic of China and the People's Republic of China
During his presidency in Taiwan, Chiang continued to prepare to take back mainland China. He developed the ROC army to prepare for an invasion of the mainland, and to defend Taiwan in case of an attack by the Communist forces. He also financed armed groups in mainland China, such as Muslim soldiers of the ROC Army left in Yunnan under Li Mi, to continue to fight. It was only in the 1980s that these troops were airlifted to Taiwan.[63] He promoted the Uyghur Yulbars Khan to Governor during the Kuomintang Islamic Insurgency in China (1950–1958) for resisting the Communists, even though the government had already evacuated to Taiwan.[64] He planned an invasion of the mainland in 1962.[65] In the 1950s Chiang's airplanes dropped supplies to Kuomintang Muslim insurgents in Amdo.[66]

Political conditions in early ROC-era Taiwan

Despite the democratic constitution, the government under Chiang was a one-party state, consisting almost completely of mainlanders; the "Temporary Provisions Effective During the Period of Communist Rebellion" greatly enhanced executive powers, and the goal of retaking mainland China allowed the KMT to maintain a monopoly on power and the prohibition of opposition parties. The government's official line for these martial law provisions stemmed from the claim that emergency provisions were necessary, since the Communists and Kuomintang (KMT) were still technically in a state of war. Seeking to promote Chinese nationalism, Chiang's government actively ignored and suppressed local cultural expression, even forbidding the use of local languages in mass media broadcasts or during class sessions.

The first decades after the Nationalists gained control of Taiwan are associated with the organized effort to resist Communism known as "the "White Terror", around which 140,000 Taiwanese were imprisoned or executed for their real or perceived opposition to the Kuomintang. Most of those prosecuted were labeled by the Kuomintang as "bandit spies" (匪諜), meaning spies for Chinese Communists, and punished as such.

The government offered limited civil and economic freedoms, property rights (personal[citation needed] and intellectual) and other liberties. Free debate within the confines of the legislature was permitted. He also jailed dissidents who were labeled by the KMT as supporters of communism or Taiwan independence. Later, Chiang's son, Chiang Ching-kuo, and Chiang Ching-kuo's successor, Lee Teng-hui, would, in the 1980s and 1990s, increase native Taiwanese representation in the government and loosen the many authoritarian controls of the early era of ROC control in Taiwan.
Under the pretext that new elections could not be held in Communist-occupied constituencies, the National Assembly, Legislative Yuan, and Control Yuan members held their posts indefinitely. It was also under the Temporary Provisions that Chiang was able to bypass term limits to remain as president. He was reelected by the National Assembly as president four times – doing so in 1954, 1960, 1966, and 1972.

Believing that corruption and a lack of morals were key reasons that the KMT lost mainland China to the Communists, Chiang attempted to purge corruption by dismissing members of the KMT accused of graft. Some major figures in the previous mainland China government, such as H. H. Kung and T. V. Soong, exiled themselves to the United States. Though politically authoritarian and, to some extent, dominated by government-owned industries, Chiang's new Taiwanese state also encouraged economic development, especially in the export sector. A popular sweeping Land Reform Act, as well as American foreign aid during the 1950s, laid the foundation for Taiwan's economic success, becoming one of the Four Asian Tigers.

Relationships with foreign governments


The National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall is a famous monument, landmark, and tourist attraction in Taipei, Taiwan.

In 1971, shortly after he had switched his country's diplomatic recognition from the Republic of China to the People's Republic of China, the Australian Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam, visited Japan. After meeting with the Japanese Prime Minister, Eisaku Sato, Whitlam observed that the reason Japan at that time was hesitant to withdraw recognition from the Nationalist government was "the presence of a treaty between the Japanese government and that of Chiang Kai-shek". Sato explained that the continued recognition of Japan towards the Nationalist government was due largely to the personal relationship that various members of the Japanese government felt towards Chiang. This relationship was rooted largely in the generous and lenient treatment of Japanese POWs by the Nationalist government in the years immediately following the Japanese surrender in 1945, and was felt especially strongly as a bond of personal obligation by the most senior members then in power.[67]

Although Japan eventually recognized the People's Republic in 1972, shortly after Kakuei Tanaka succeeded Sato as Prime Minister of Japan, the memory of this relationship was strong enough to be reported by The New York Times (April 15, 1978) as a significant factor inhibiting trade between Japan and the mainland. There is speculation that a clash between Communist forces and a Japanese warship in 1978 was caused by Chinese anger after Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda attended Chiang's funeral. Historically, Japanese attempts to normalize their relationship with China were met with Taiwanese accusations of ingratitude.[67]

Americans and the CIA

Chiang with U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower in June 1960.

Chiang was suspicious that covert operatives of the United States plotted a coup against him. In 1950, Chiang Ching-kuo became director of the secret police, which he remained until 1965. Chiang was suspicious of politicians who were overly friendly to the United States, and considered them his enemies. In 1953, seven days after surviving an assassination attempt, Wu Kuo-chen lost his position as governor of Taiwan Province to Chiang Ching-kuo. After fleeing to America the same year he became a vocal critic of Chiang's family and government.[68]

Chiang Ching-kuo, educated in the Soviet Union, initiated Soviet-style military organization in the Republic of China Military. He reorganized and Sovietized the political officer corps, and propagated Kuomintang ideology throughout the military. Sun Li-jen, who was educated at the American Virginia Military Institute, was opposed to this.[69]

Chiang Ching-kuo orchestrated the controversial court-martial and arrest of General Sun Li-jen in August 1955, for plotting a coup d'état with the American CIA against his father Chiang Kai-shek and the Kuomintang. The CIA allegedly wanted to help Sun take control of Taiwan and declare its independence.[68][70]


Chiang's body was not buried in the traditional Chinese manner but entombed in his former residence in Cihu in respect for his wish to be buried in his native Fenghua. See also: Will of Chiang Kai-shek
In 1975, 26 years after Chiang came to Taiwan, he died in Taipei at the age of 87. He had suffered a major heart attack and pneumonia in the months before and died from renal failure aggravated with advanced cardiac malfunction at 23:50 on April 5.

A month of mourning was declared. Chinese music composer Hwang Yau-tai wrote the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Song. In mainland China, however, Chiang's death was met with little apparent mourning and Communist state-run newspapers gave the brief headline "Chiang Kai-shek Has Died." Chiang's body was put in a copper coffin and temporarily interred at his favorite residence in Cihu, Dasi, Taoyuan. When his son Chiang Ching-kuo died in 1988, he was entombed in a separate mausoleum in nearby Touliao (頭寮). The hope was to have both buried at their birthplace in Fenghua if and when it was possible. In 2004, Chiang Fang-liang, the widow of Chiang Ching-kuo, asked that both father and son be buried at Wuzhi Mountain Military Cemetery in Xizhi, Taipei County (now New Taipei City). Chiang's ultimate funeral ceremony became a political battle between the wishes of the state and the wishes of his family.

Chiang was succeeded as President by Vice President Yen Chia-kan and as Kuomintang party leader by his son Chiang Ching-kuo, who retired Chiang Kai-shek's title of Director-General and instead assumed the position of Chairman. Yen's presidency was interim; Chiang Ching-kuo, who was the Premier, became President after Yen's term ended three years later.

June 25, 1950


It is clear, therefore, that Stalin’s support of the North Korean plan to reunify the country through a rapid military assault on the South was not given in order to test American resolve. Just the opposite was true; it was only given after Stalin was persuaded that the action would not risk conflict with the United States. The question then remains, why did Stalin take this risk, which was such a sharp departure from his earlier cautious policy in Northeast Asia?

biography biography

We see, first of all, that Soviet officials were well aware that conflict was likely to break out at any moment between the DPRK and the Republic of Korea. The Foreign Ministry received a steady stream of reports of South Korean officials’ frequent declarations of their readiness and determination to reunify their country through military force.[82]


Moscow also received reports of troop movements and fighting along the 38th parallel.[83]

Stalin’s support of Kim’s plan to initiate this war could thus be seen as a preemptive strike, an attempt to make use of a temporary advantage in “the correlation of forces” to resolve an inevitable conflict in a favorable way.

June 1950 was a propitious time for an attack on South Korea because earlier that year the military capability of the DPRK had been significantly enhanced by the return to North Korea of 14,000 Korean communists who had fought with the Chinese Communist Party in the Chinese civil war.[84]

The example of the CCP’s victory in its struggle against another unpopular, reactionary regime supported by the United States also strengthened morale among North Korean communists, encouraging them to believe that they would be similarly victorious.[85]

However, the factors stated above were not strong enough to overcome Stalin’s fear of directly confronting the United States.


We know from the example of the Greek civil war, among others, that at this time Stalin was quite willing to allow a foreign communist party to lose its bid for power if he concluded that Soviet interests would be harmed by direct involvement in the conflict.[86]


Stalin’s decision to support the risky venture in Korea must therefore have been motivated by significant strategic concerns. The documents that will provide conclusive evidence of Stalin’s motives have not yet been declassified, but from information gained from recently published memoirs, it appears that Stalin’s insecurity about his relations with Mao Zedong and about Soviet relations with the PRC led him to approve Kim Il Sung’s reunification plan.


As is well known, since the mid 1920s Stalin’s policies toward the Chinese Communist Party had done more to hinder CCP victory than to aid it. In June 1949 Stalin admitted as much to the CCP delegation in Moscow.[87] That Mao achieved victory on his own, combined with the size and importance of China, gave him a much stronger position vis-à-vis Moscow than that of any European communist leader.

Speaking to Liu’s delegation in Moscow in 1949, Stalin spoke of

“the fact that the Soviet people and the peoples of Europe should learn from your experience. . . . Owing to the arrogance of the leaders of the revolutionary movement in Western Europe, the social democratic movement in the West began to fall behind in its development following the death of Marx and Engels. The center of the revolution moved from West to East, and now it is moving to China and East Asia. . . . It is possible that in comprehending general problems of Marxist theory, we, the Soviet people, are somewhat stronger than you. However, with regard to the application of Marxist principles in practice, we can learn from the great amounts of experience you possess.”[88]

Stalin even went so far as to state that the CCP should not subordinate itself to the CPSU and should not join the Cominform, but instead should form an alliance of East Asian communist parties.[89]

According to the memoir of Mao’s interpreter, Stalin told Liu Shaoqi that

“he hoped to see the Chinese and the Soviets divide their spheres of responsibilities within the international communist movement. . . . As the Chinese had greater influence upon colonial and semi-colonial countries in the East, it would be easier for China to help promote Eastern revolution than for the Soviet Union.”[90]

These statements should not be taken at face value, of course, but they do indicate that in 1949-50 Stalin was involved in a delicate power game with Mao. As Stalin’s representative in China, I.V. Kovalev, put it,

“at the end of 1948, when the prospects of a military victory of the CPC [Communist Party of China] finally became clear, both leaders in all likelihood understood completely that they would have to meet in order to work out a mutual agreement regarding their relations. From this moment on there began a process of mutually active shifting and probing of each other’s positions on key questions.”[91]

Stalin’s humiliation of Mao upon the latter’s arrival in Moscow in December 1949, leaving him in isolation and refusing to see him for the first month of his visit,[92] also testifies to this power play. This was classic “strong man” posturing toward a potential rival; its purpose was to leave no doubt as to who was in charge.

Stalin’s relationship with Mao affected his decision regarding Korea because if Stalin were to refuse to support Kim Il Sung’s perfectly reasonable goal of reunifying his country, which was comparable to what Mao had just accomplished in China, then Stalin would again be open to the charge of hindering the cause of revolution in the East. His position as the leader of the communist camp would be weakened while the authority and prestige of Mao, to whom Kim would obviously turn and who had a blood debt to support the Korean communists, would rise.


More important than the above concern, however, was apparently Stalin’s fear that the PRC would not long ally itself with the Soviet Union. A Russian scholar who has seen the relevant documents has recounted to me that Stalin calculated that even though the United States might not defend the ROK, once it lost South Korea it would not then allow itself to suffer the additional loss of Taiwan. The United States would move in to protect Chiang Kai-shek, thereby preventing a rapprochement between the US and the PRC. Mao would thus be forced to continue to turn to the Soviet Union for economic and military aid. We can test this explanation of Stalin’s motives only after the 1950 documents have been declassified, but from what is now known, it appears quite plausible. Stalin knew the Soviet Union could never match American terms for aid; Soviet negotiations with the PRC over the agreements signed in February 1950 had been as much a matter of haggling over every penny as had been the negotiations with the DPRK,[93] and the pact ultimately concluded was on terms economically unfavorable to the PRC.[94] Stalin knew that Mao had both political and economic reasons for turning away from an alliance with the Soviet Union, and preventing the huge communist state in East Asia from becoming independent of Moscow would have been a sufficiently strong motive for the Soviet leader to risk approving military action in Korea.

In conclusion, although many questions about Soviet policy toward Korea from 1945-1950 remain unanswered, the evidence now available indicates that the North Korean invasion of South Korea in June 1950 was not the result of Soviet determination to expand the territory under its control, and it was certainly not the opening salvo in a broader Soviet attack on the American sphere of influence. From 1945 to early 1950, Moscow’s aim was not to gain control over the Korean peninsula. Instead, the Soviet Union sought to protect its strategic and economic interests through the traditional Tsarist approach of maintaining a balance of power in Korea. However, in the context of the postwar Soviet-American involvement on the peninsula, such a balance could only be maintained by prolonging the division of the country, retaining effective control over the northern half.


The North Korean attempt to reunify the country through a military campaign clearly represented a sharp departure from the basic Soviet policy toward Korea. The initiative for this departure came from P'yŏngyang, not Moscow. In the spring of 1950 Stalin approved Kim’s reunification plan and provided the necessary military support, but only after repeated appeals from Kim and only after having been persuaded that the United States would not intervene in the conflict. Conclusive evidence of Stalin’s reasons for finally supporting the North Korean reunification plan has not yet been released, but it appears that Stalin’s motive may well have been to tie the Chinese communists more firmly to the USSR, to prevent a rapprochement between the PRC and the United States. If this interpretation is correct, it means that it was Soviet weakness that drove Stalin to support the attack on South Korea, not the unrestrained expansionism imagined by the authors of NSC-68.

June 26,1950 900


MacArthur heartily approved of the administration's decision to intervene though it was an even greater surprise to him, he said, than the invasion but he had many reservations, and some of his assumptions would have alarmed the Blair House planners. He believed that they understood "little about the Pacific and practically nothing about Korea," that they were certain to blunder because errors were "inescapable when the diplomat attempts to exercise military judgment." The President's war cabinet was determined to confine the war, but the new CINCFE believed in the Thomist doctrine of just wars   believed that if the battlefield was the last resort of governments, then the struggle must be waged until one side had been vanquished. And while he scorned the military opinions of civilians, he didn't think that soldiers should shirk civil decisions; he had pointedly suggested to Dulles that he was  quite "prepared to deal with policy questions." This was more than presumption. He had made such decisions in Australia, the Philippines, and Japan. Few world leaders, let alone generals, were more experienced in governing nations. It is understandable that Washington should want only his military talents in this fresh crisis, but it was unreasonable to expect him, of all men, to leash himself.

The issue was further complicated by his stature among Americans. The GOP might not want him as a presidential nominee, • but he remained one of the most popular military leaders in the country's history. Delighted by his new appointment, Republicans regarded it as a sign that the administration might be veering away from its Europe first policies. The General, they thought, didn't share the liberal conviction that Asian unrest arose from poverty and the rejection of Western colonialism. They were wrong there, but right in assuming that he didn't believe that Peking might be detached from Moscow if the United States courted Mao by abandoning Formosa that he would not, in their words, "sell out" Chiang to "appease" the mainland Chinese. Above all, both U.S. political parties recognized SCAP as a powerful Pacific force whose views about the Far East carried great weight with his countrymen. This was to have grave consequences in the conduct of the Korean War.

Reluctant to offend him, and thereby risk accusations of playing politics while men were dying, virtually all of Truman's advisers, including the Joint Chiefs, including even the President himself, would prove timid and ambiguous in many key directives to him. That was inexcusable. By now they should have learned that if he were free to construe unclear orders, he would choose constructions which suited him, not them. Sebald, the foreign service officer closest to him, observes:

"With his sense of history, experience, seniority, reputation, and temperament, he did not easily compromise when his judgment or his decisions were questioned. . . . He was never reluctant to interpret his authority or to make decisions and act quickly arguing the matter later." [12]