Jonathan Mirsky

Reluctant Dictator

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

By

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.’ 

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • 'To be clever without wanting to glory in it, put dimmer people down or make an act of covering it up (viz Boris Jo… ,
    • 'Her favourite design included a body in the shape of a horse, with a steam engine inside ... The passenger would t… ,
    • Sign up to our email newsletter below! Get free articles, highlights from the archive, and chances to win theatre… ,
    • RT : Founded in 1979, is a trusted independent source for reviews of new books across a variety of genres. A… ,
    • RT : Here we are - "Shelf Indulgence" by Ed Potten, a wonderful read, well worth your time: @Lit_Review,
    • 'Like going to a party hoping to get away as quickly as politeness allowed and at 4am finding myself still engrosse… ,
    • 'Neville never shed his sense of being the junior, and perhaps least-deserving Chamberlain.' From the archive, Mic… ,