She Who Must Be Obeyed

In the New York Times, Jonathan Mirsky reviews The Last Empress: Madame Chiang Kai-shek and the Birth of Modern China:

There is a bull market these days in Generalissimo (1887-1975) and his wife, (1897-2003), usually called Madame . When I was studying in Taiwan in the late 1950s, then-President Chiang was regarded by most of the Western students on the island — and many of the Chinese as well — as the remote, cruel man who lost China; his wife was the austere, once-glamorous Dragon Lady who had helped him lose it. Although Chiang alone, or both Chiangs, had appeared numerous times on the cover of Time magazine, those illustrious days seemed over. But now that Jay Taylor has written his comprehensive book “The Generalissimo: and the Struggle for Modern China,” we are able to see Chiang as a man of considerable cunning, brutality and patience who skillfully played a weak hand against the Japanese and Mao’s forces while extracting huge sums from the Americans. Similarly, in her latest biography, “The Last Empress,” Hannah Pakula presents Madame Chiang as far more complex, awful and brilliant than we had imagined.

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