chiang kai-shek and mao zedong -- 5/26/20

Today's selection -- from Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister by Jung Chang. In the late 1940s, Chiang Kai-shek's forces were engaged in a war with Mao Zedong's communist forces to establish who would rule China. Chiang had the decided advantage, but lost that advantage in a series of mistakes:

"[In the middle of the conflict], the Chiangs spent a week in Xichang, a place of strange beauty. Frequent earthquakes had torn apart the surrounding rocky moun­tains, which made the canyon walls look like giants' bared teeth. These savage-looking canyons cradled a lake, as still as an immense mirror. The Chiangs reclined on a boat under a crystal-clear high sky, basking in the dazzling sunshine and crisp fresh air, so different from humid and stifling Chongqing. In those seven days, Chiang let himself relax totally, not even shaving, which was unusual for him. After his return to Chongqing, on 10 October, he signed an agreement with Mao. Neither man intended to keep it, and both escalated the preparations for all-out war.

Chiang Kai-shek and Mao Zedong

"Mao started to issue battle orders as soon as he returned to Yenan on 11 October. His army was not only much smaller than Chiang's, it had not had the experience of fighting tough battles against the Japanese as Chiang's had. It had only won conflicts against weak regional Nationalist units. Now it was facing the cream of Chiang's battle-hardened, US-trained forces. Before long Mao found to his dismay that the performance of his army fell far short of his hopes, and that Stalin, who was giving him covert backing, seemed to be keeping his options open. After a series of blows, in late November 1945 Mao collapsed with a nervous breakdown and took to his bed with cold sweats and convulsions.

"While Mao was laid low, Chiang toured the country as the victori­ous war leader. When he entered cities like Beijing, Shanghai and his old capital Nanjing, 'it was as if Julius Caesar were entering Rome', eyewitnesses observed. He was greeted by crowds numbering tens of thousands, hailed as the man who had won the war against Japan. The atmosphere was heady, and the Generalissimo revelled in his glory, evidently agreeing with the crowds that it was he who had beaten the Japanese. Standing tall and waving majestically; he gave every impression that he was 'infallible like God', his personal pilot commented. Those in the know felt he was seriously deluded. But no one levelled with him.

"In triumphant mood, Chiang treated himself to a new presiden­tial aircraft: the state-of-the-art C-54. One of these had been char­tered to carry May-ling and Ei-ling to Rio in 1944, and it had wowed everyone who saw it. Chiang now ordered one for himself, even though his personal plane, the C-47 that was a gift from President Truman, had been in service barely a year. The new carrier, named China-America, was fitted out under the supervision of people who knew the Chiangs' taste. The cost, $1.8 million, was met by a reluctant finance ministry. Those who thought this extravagance inappropriate, given the crisis they were facing, kept their own counsel.

"As if taking their cue from their leader, Nationalist officials sent to take over ex-Japanese-occupied cities and towns indulged them­selves with little restraint. They had suffered deprivation for years; now they grabbed houses, cars and other valuables. Anyone unfor­tunate enough to own things they coveted could be designated a 'collaborator' and have their belongings confiscated. Regarding themselves as victors, these officials often treated the locals with open contempt and called them 'slaves who have no country of their own' -- simply because the locals had lived under foreign occupation. People in large parts of China who only days before had welcomed the Nationalists as 'liberators' now cursed them as 'robbers' and 'locusts'. Within a very short time, the enthusiasm and admiration for Chiang Kai-shek and his regime evaporated, replaced by powerful disgust. 'The calamity of victory' was how the influential Ta Kung Pao described the takeover. In terms of popularity, Chiang stood at the peak of glory only briefly before the plunge began.

"In the war itself, Chiang fared better. For more than a year, his army was winning on almost all fronts. The most critical theatre was Manchuria on the border with the Soviet Union -- if the Communists seized it, they would be able to receive vital Russian arms and military training. In June 1946, Chiang's troops were on the verge of driving out the Reds, when the Generalissimo made a fatal mistake. He suspended his pursuit and ordered a ceasefire that lasted four months -- under pressure from General George Marshall, who had come to China to try to stop the civil war. The ceasefire allowed Mao's army to establish a solid base larger than Germany on the borders with Russia and Russian satellites North Korea and Outer Mongolia. It was able to take full advantage of Stalin's priceless all-round backing, including, critically, repair of railways, which ensured speedy transport of heavy weapons and large numbers of troops. Chiang's disastrous decision changed the outcome of the war. By spring 1947, the tide had turned.

"Chiang made this and other fatal errors partly because he did not have a team to assist him in decision-making. Whereas Mao had two able assistants, the strategist Liu Shao-qi and the first-rate administrator and diplomat Zhou En-lai, Chiang's remained a stubbornly one-man show."



Jung Chang


Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister


Alfred A. Knopf


Copyright 2019 by Globalflair Ltd.


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