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Chiang Kai-shek in a little perspective



I do not know whether to say Bill Ratliff is bicephalous or a Colossus bestriding China and Latin America. Let's say he put on his China hat to comment of Chiang Kai-shek: "Chiang Kai-shek was never a "constant democrat" defeated by the "commies," though some probably believed he was (hey, during the war, even Stalin was a good guy), while others make this claim ironically [including me.RH]. The recently aired comments of Sterling Seagrave on German aid are seriously misleading if taken as anything more than a correct but very small part of a much larger and more complicated picture. Seagrave has done some interesting work, but has seldom been accused of being objective in his view of the Chiang family. (Those who are interested in more objectivity and detail might start with John Fairbank, China: A New History and Immanuel C.Y. Hsu, The Rise of Modern China.) Chiang was in many ways a holdover from traditional Confucian thinking who nonetheless tried to make significant reforms during the 1930s under the overwhelming quadruple challenge of: a lack of real power, since major portions of the country were under the control of war lords, Chinese communists and Japanese imperialists; a lack of unity within his Nationalist (KMT) party; the Japanese invasion, particularly from the occupation of Manchuria in 1931 and of China proper in 1937, the single most important (but not only) reason the communists ultimately triumphed in China; and the Chinese communists, whose power waxed and waned during these years. In fact, conditions in China when Chiang was "in power" make the mess today in Afghanistan seem simple to resolve by comparison. Seagrave is one of many who have reported that Chiang turned especially to Germany among European countries for support, but his reliance on fascist help was virtually dictated by the fact that the League of Nations, other individual European countries and United States refused to respond in any constructive way to him. Throughout the 1930s the US provided virtually no help to Chiang. Indeed, until 1939, two years after Japan's invasion of China proper, the US continued to be a major market for Japanese products and a major supplier to Japan of iron, steal and other materials used by the Japanese against the Nationalists in their invasion of China. In the end, the German tilt was less a measure of his desire to link up with soul-mates fascists than a recognition of reality. I should note also that during the 1930s Chiang had a major military program with the Soviet Union. Since Chiang was trained in the Soviet Union, among other places, perhaps this makes him a Communist fascist. No, stereotypes of Chiang as a "constant democrat" or simply a "fan of the fascists" are long discredited."

Ronald Hilton - 12/18/01


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