Jonathan Mirsky

Reluctant Dictator

The Generalissimo: Chiang Kai-shek and the Struggle for Modern China


Harvard University Press 722pp £25.95 order from our bookshop

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. When I began learning about contemporary China in 1955, Chiang Kai-shek and the survivors of his regime from the civil war with Mao’s Communists had been on Taiwan only six years. We learned that Chiang, a stubborn, unimaginative man and a devout, ascetic Christian, was surrounded by corruption. We learned, too, that he had been comprehensively outfoxed by the hugely popular Mao, who was now propelling China to the reforms Chiang had failed to deliver, and it was probably only a matter of time before Taiwan fell to Mao’s armies. As Columbia University’s Andrew Nathan has said of Chiang, ‘For decades he was a dominating figure in the American imagination of the Far East, in such roles as China’s heroic wartime leader and, later, the feckless and corrupt loser in the Chinese civil war.’ 

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • What a charming, candid blogpost from one of our dear contributing editors. ,
    • RT : The first guess from one of my 1st graders was “death” and such an awed, somber, reflective hush fell over the clas… ,
    • Merry Christmas from Literary Review! Hope your stockings were laden with books, and the tree bending under the weight of further books....,
    • Last minute Christmas gift required? We're offering discounts on all our subscriptions (20% no less!) with the cod… ,
    • In this issue's 'Silenced Voices', Lucy Popescu writes of Thailand's restrictive lese-majesty laws and their latest… ,
    • "Gunn was a disciple of the American formalist Yvor Winters, but Winters’s poetry could never give off such a scent… ,
    • Christmas gift hunting? Why not give the gift of being even better read? We're offering discounts on all our subscr… ,