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.’ 

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

    • From the Archive: Martyn Bedford on Ian McEwan's 'Atonement' ,
    • In 'Silenced Voices' reports the ongoing story of the human rights lawyer, Nasrin Sotoudeh, who has been… ,
    • The mystery of Jack the Ripper's identity has long been agonised over. But what do we know about his victims?… ,
    • A piece of Literary Review history from way back in 1983: John Haffenden talks to the great Iris Murdoch. ,
    • Britain’s only travelling lit fest, the Garden Museum Literary Festival is heading to Houghton Hall, Norfolk, for a… ,
    • 'The 19th-century German sage is not my idea of a pleasant travel companion' goes hiking with Friedr… ,
    • If you want ideas about what to read next, sign up to our free email newsletter, and get book reviews, archive mate… ,