Laura Tyson Li in the Washington Post reviews Jay Taylor’s new book The Generalissimo: Chiang Kai-Shek and the Struggle for Modern China. The book, released by Harvard University Press, brings a new look into the life of Chiang Kai-shek, former President of the Republic of China and leader of the Kuomintang (KMT).
Chiang Kai-shek ranks as one of the most despised leaders of the 20th century. Famously derided as “Peanut” and “General Cash-My-Check,” the leader of China’s Nationalist government bedeviled the Allied war effort in World War II with his lackluster defense of his country. His corrupt and brutal regime squandered billions of dollars in American aid and drove the Chinese into the arms of the communists. He died in exile a deluded despot, relegated to a footnote in modern Chinese history. Or so the conventional story goes.
Now, however, Jay Taylor’s new biography, “The Generalissimo: Chiang Kai-shek and the Struggle for Modern China,” challenges the catechism on which generations of Americans have been weaned. Marshaling archival materials made newly available to researchers, including about four decades’ worth of Chiang’s daily diaries and documents from the Soviet era, it torpedoes many of that catechism’s cherished tenets. This is an important, controversial book.