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Useful Notes: Chiang Kai-Shek

Chiang Kai-Shek, also known as Jiang Jieshi, was born in 1887 to a middle-class merchant family. While studying in Japan, he became an avid Chinese revolutionary-nationalist.

When the former Qing general Yuan Shikai managed to seize control of Beijing, declaring an end to the Manchu dynasty, the Empire was formally dissolved and replaced by a Republic under the presidency of the revolutionary Sun Yat-sen/Sun Zhongshan. Yuan Shikai soon used his control of the Zhili- (Beijing-)region's military forces to seize power and declare himself Emperor in a highly unpopular and little-supported move. Upon his death in 1916, the country fragmented completely and came under the control of various Warlord factions. Sun Yat-sen went on to re-found the Guomindang as the 'Chinese Guomindang' Party in Guangzhou, in league with friendly warlord allies. After returning from his military-education in Japan, Chiang served as the first Commandant of the famous Whampoa Military Academy - which oversaw the training of the core of the Guomindang's military forces for Sun's programme of centralisation vis-a-vis armed force. The academy produced most of the famous Chinese generals of the age, and some other notables like Ho Chi Minh. Sun died after just a few years, and not long after his death Chiang claimed leadership of the Guomindang from the left-leaning Wang Jingwei and launched the long-awaited Northern Expedition (in league with the Socialist parties, like the Communist Party of China).

By the end of the Northern Expedition, Chiang was dubbed by some as the "Red General", due to his close ties with Soviet leaders and alleged communist sympathies. However, in 1927 Chiang decided to eradicate the socialists within the GMD government, and initiated the Shanghai Massacre which saw the purges of thousands of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) members, and soon escalated into a campaign of "White Terror" up the Yangzi to Wuhan, which the Socialist-GMD had just taken - and which was in serious danger of becoming an independent power-base for them, from which they could easily backstab Chiang and take Nanjing-Shanghai if he continued to campaign northward without destroying them as a major political force. Chiang went on to use anti-communist campaigns repeatedly as an excuse to move his troops into various areas and effectively take over from the local warlords, capturing the area for his own regime. His 'allies' didn't like this very much, and was the main reason why they would later team up and try to take him down. The CCP's standing armies in the Wuhan-Hunan area were crushed by the end of 1927, however, and the survivors went on to found several Soviets in the mid-Yangzi region which Chiang went on to crush after he had finished 'unifying' the country later the next year. This unification was in name only, however, as Chiang effectively had to choose between fighting everyone and making compromises. Given the weakness of the country's factions, especially compared to an increasingly jingoistic empire on their doorstep, he tried to take out most of his political enemies without fighting - i.e. through politicking, or assassination or effectively annexing their territories in the course of Communist Suppression campaigns and 'campaigns'.

In 1930, after two years of chafing under Chiang's attempts to expand his power-base at their expense, China's greatest Warlords formed a grand alliance to topple Chiang and destroy the Guomindang once and for all. The Guangxi Clique, Yan Xishan of Shanxi and Shaanxi, and Feng Yuxiang of Anhui teamed up and attacked the Guomindang on all sides - only Long Yun of Yunnan and Zhang Xueliang of Manchuria abstained from joining in the fun. Though the situation was grim at first, as the Guomindang's forces were outnumbered and the regime teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, the Guomindang eventually pulled through - though the Guangxi Clique had taken Guangdong from them, their geographical remoteness from the Yangzi and the core of Guomindang territory meant that Chiang had had time enough to annex Feng's territories before focusing on them and Yan. Then, when it looked like Chiang might win after all, Zhang declared his support for Chiang and made threatening moves against Yan in the north. Yan and the Guangxi clique soon signed a peace with Chiang, much of the North China Plain remaining in the hands of the Guomindang and formerly-Guomindang Guangdong province in those of the Guangxi Clique. With the end of the Central Plains' War, the Guomindang was confirmed as China's strongest faction and the Warlord Era was over.

A year later, at the height of a Guomindang 'Communist Suppression Campaign' which Chiang was using to gain control over the various petty warlords of the upper Yangzi basin, units of the Imperial Japanese Army struck out on their own and attacked the forces of 'the Young Marshall' Warlord General Zhang Xueliang (son of the late Zhang Zuolin, whom the Japanese had assassinated). They went on to soundly beat the Manchurian warlord's forces, driving him from his old powerbase and causing him to call on Jiang for aid. Chiang ignored him, though Zhang's appeals to Chinese nationalism seemed to strike a chord that Chiang realised it would be difficult to ignore in future. China and the Guomindang were too weak to take on Japan and win; but he couldn't say that, not directly. Instead he famously quipped, "The Japanese are a disease of the skin. The Communists are a disease of the heart". Several generations of textbooks produced by the Board of Education of the People's Republic of China, and the textbooks of many highschool children throughout the Anglosphere, have used this quote to decisively prove that Chiang was both unpatriotic and unhinged (because of his apparent fixation upon Communism when the Japanese clearly present a greater threat).

What is not often mentioned is the fact that the Guomindang did fight Japan the very next year, in the 1932 Battle of Shanghai. Chiang had his doubts about his forces' preparedness before then, but the battle revealed numerous weaknesses and deficiencies (of unit- and command-structure, of logistics, of training, of equipment) that would likely have proven utterly disastrous had the battle escalated into a full-blown war. The Guomindang was forced to abandon its programmes of land-reform and focus on preparing its military for war; desperate for support, Chiang turned to Weimar and then Nazi Germany to provide his forces with the arms and the training they needed; he had his staff set out a programme for the reorganisation and rearmament of the Guomindang's forces and a plan for the defence of the country, with the help of the renowned General Alexander von Falkenhausen. He even sent his adopted son to train with the Wehrmacht's officer corps. In the meantime, however, he set his troops about another series of Communist and 'Communist' suppression campaigns.

Four years into the ten-year plan to reform his forces, Chiang's troops were poised to launch a final suppression campaign against the forces of the Chinese Communist Party - 'final', as it had a very good chance of success. Chiang made the mistake, however, of entrusting command of the forces to the skilled but embittered Zhang Xueliang. When Chiang came to oversee the beginning of the campaign to crush the Yan'an Soviet, which was on Yan Xishan's proverbial doorstep, Zhang (with a measure of assistance from Yan) had his soldiers massacre Chiang's guards and hold him hostage, demanding that he agree to an Anti-Japanese Alliance with him and the Communists - or he'd kill him. Chiang called his bluff on the 'killing' thing, at least partly because Yan Xishan had quite carefully explained to Zhang just how likely it was the country would dissolve into chaos if Chiang died (i.e. almost certainly). But Chiang recognised the groundswell of popular opinion that supported Zhang's proposal, though not the way in which he'd put it forward, and he called off the campaign. He still had Zhang imprisoned, though - for the rest of his life.

When the war came a year later, in the summer of 1937, it started in the north. Ironically enough, Japan's High Command had just begun to re-assert a degree of control over its forces for the first time in decades (Korea-based elements of the Army had basically dragged the entire country into the Manchurian endeavour by acting more-or-less independently). Unlike their field commanders, High Command had a realistic idea of just how expensive and pointless a protracted war with China would be; accordingly, they were beginning to prepare to disengage from China, as they were sympathetic to the cause of the (like them, anti-socialist) right-wing Guomindang.

However, bourgeois and popular urban Chinese opinion had already been strained to the breaking point by the hostile actions of semi-independent Japanese forces in the past decade. The larger-than-usual border clashes between Zhang Xueliang's and Japanese-friendly forces in the north were effectively made into a war when Chiang attacked the Japanese quarter in Shanghai. A three month long, million-man battle which saw the use of artillery, tanks, planes and warships later, Shanghai was in Japanese hands with several hundred thousand Guomindang troops dead - over two thirds of Chiang's best and most loyal troops of the 'reformed' core-army under von Falkenhausen were killed.

Japan went on to occupy the very heartland of Guomindang territory - the entire lower Yangzi delta all the way up to Wuhan, which fell the next year - with Guomindang forces fighting, and dying, hard. For four years the Guomindang fought Japan alone, holding onto just one major agricultural area (the recently-subjugated upper Yangzi basin), a mountain range (Henan-Jiangxi), some mines and a handful of factories disassembled in their entirety and hauled a thousand miles upriver (by ox-cart in many cases) to Chongqing, wartime capital of Guomindang China and most-heavily-bombed city in history. Operation Zet - a generous delivery of Soviet aeroplanes, artillery, small-arms, petrol, machine-tools (so GMD factories could be re-tooled to produce ammunition) and technical assistance - and continued Soviet 'donations' delivered by truck through Mongolia made continuing to fight the war possible, and Soviet loans helped fill the massive holes in the Guomindang's budget. All those supplies were essential, you see, as the Guomindang were unable to produce any those goods (though they could make some ammunition for them) by themselves and the Japanese had made it virtually impossible to get those goods by sea. But both Soviet military supplies and credit dried up soon after the Soviets' resounding victory under General Zhukov at Nomonhan/Khalkhin Gol and the resultant Soviet-Japanese Non-Agression Pact. By 1940, the Guomindang was totally on their own.

After four years of warfare, by 1941 the Guomindang was on the verge of collapse. Soviet aid had been invaluable to the Guomindang's survival to-date, but no longer. The Guomindang's had to scale-back the war effort now, as they don't actually have enough ammunition to sustain an open war anymore - the 1938 Battle of Wuhan had seen a full quarter of the entire Guomindang's ammunition used up, and that was when they still had Soviet assistance. The Guomindang had turned to buying the petrol, machine tools, and military supplies they needed via French Indochine and British Burma. But compared to the days of Soviet Aid it was just a trickle, and Japan had since occupied French Indochine and thus cut the Kunming-Saigon railway. A single, narrow road - 'The Burma Road' - through the mountains was the Guomindang's only remaining link to the outside world. And with the Guomindang scraping the bottom of the fiscal barrel and most of the world's industrial 'slack' now occupied producing war materiel for powers that 'weren't' as broke as them, the road was pretty much useless as they could barely afford to buy and ship anything over it.

Japan hadn't sued for anything less than an extremely advantageous peace because they had lost a lot already, and they knew the Guomindang couldn't possibly win just holding onto a few scraps of territory. They were right; since '39-'40, the Guomindang had been forced to resort to increasingly extreme (and brutal) measures to survive. Where before they had only taxed the towns, now they taxed the peasants too. Moreover, they had once collected all of their own taxes; but now they had to 'farm' the collection out to local landlords. In 1937 they had administered their provinces from Nanjing; now, they were forced to let the provinces govern themselves. Even conscription - needed to fill the ranks, now that the supply of willing recruits had been exhausted - was beyond their means. The Guomindang basically had to issue quotas to the local and regional governments, and pray that said governments weren't too brutal in the way they met them. Inflation, too, resulted as the Guomindang was forced to print money in ever-larger amounts to pay its troops.

These problems were not solved when Japan brought the USA into the war, but US Loans did at least help stave off the Guomindang's imminent implosion; however, the rest of the war was marked by an inexorable deterioration in the quality of the Guomindang as a military force and as a regime. At least part of this was due to the inflation; though less money needed to be printed, the effective injection of so much extra money into a closed economy devoted almost entirely to producing things which did not further economic growth (bullets, shells, helmets, bandages) meant that the inflation got exponentially worse (because the economy shrank even as the amount of money in the economy became ever-greater). It was during the war that the Guomindang - rightly - began to be associated with inefficiency and corruption.

Chiang's army was horribly under-equipped and under-trained as compared to the Japanese. He is also known for his poor military skills, often issuing unrealistic orders and sacrificing his best soldiers to fight Pyrrhic battles, losing much of his best trained soldiers during the costly Battle of Shanghai in 1937. As a result, his government was forced to relocate many times throughout the war, and survived largely due to foreign aid, largely from America.

Chiang frequently clashed with his Joseph Stilwell, who - despite his own demonstrable incompetence as a leader - was angered by what he saw as endemic and characteristically oriental incompetence and corruption in the Guomindang regime. Because of his frequent demand for American aid which produced few visible results, Chiang earned (courtesy of Stilwell) the nickname "General Cash-My-Check". However, it's worth noting that Chiang had a soft spot for Stilwell as Stilwell was basically the only public figure in the USA who wanted the US to help equip and reform the Guomindang's military forces. That the Guomindang received the little aid that it did - small arms and equipment enough to outfit half a million men, as compared to the tens of thousands of tanks, planes, and artillery pieces given to the Soviet Union - was largely a result of Stilwell's public insistence upon the matter.

The rot that had set in during the course of the war proved irreversible in the post-war years. For even though the regime apparently emerged from the war stronger than ever, in reality the Guomindang had been critically weakened by endemic corruption and gross inefficiency at the lower levels of government, as well as 'increased' inter-factional rivalries between the different warlord coalitions under its wing.

Chiang, too, had only been made more paranoid and distrustful by the highly stressful experience of the war (and the usual near-assassination and near-coup experiences) and so assumed even more official positions in the Guomindang - so many, in fact, that it was physically impossible for him to do them all properly even in the course of his relentless sixteen-hour working days. The failure of the Guomindang's autumn-winter offensive of 1946 to crush the Communist Party is partly the result of his failure as a general, but also his failure as an administrator; his troops basically ran out supplies half-way, allowing the Communist forces to flee from Yan'an largely intact. Such oversights could have been survivable, however, had Chiang not already decided to spread his loyal and allied forces across such a large area of north China and Manchuria, without bringing their overall c. 2:1 numerical superiority to bear on any one part of that area. This meant that the Guomindang didn't have enough troops to either secure areas properly or force the Communists into decisive battle, meaning they were whittled away by constant attacks on their supply lines and on isolated forces.

The Peoples' Liberation Army's unified command and unit structure also paid dividends in the regular fighting that followed in Manchuria in 1947, wherein most of the Guomindang forces there - some of the Guomindang's best - were isolated and cut off, then exterminated. Though the troops numbers were about equal after this point, the raw numbers betray a massive organisational advantage on the part of the Communist Party, which commanded the loyalty and obedience of most of its commanders and soldiers - something Chiang did not, and never had.

The Guomindang went down hard, however, and the civil war took on an ever more brutal character as a year of regular battles were waged across north- and central-China. The Communists' organisational advantage eventually showed, and the Guomindang was driven back and eventually made an epic Last Stand at the Yangzi. When the line was broken, the Guomindang broke with it. Chiang took what remained of his loyal forces - a couple hundred thousand troops - and used them to ship the national bank's precious metal reserves and a couple of million refugees to the islands of Hainan and Taiwan. The People's Republic of China was proclaimed just months later, on the First of October 1949.

Hainan fell just a year later - the People's Liberation Army basically commandeered every boat in China south of Shanghai - but Taiwan held out, at least in part due to the US giving Chiang's regime its backing. Chiang ruled Taiwan with an iron fist and, believing the Communist regime fragile, dreamed of leading a crusade to retake the mainland. After two decades of such preparations he came to accept that this was a pipe dream, and he died 1975. Following his death, his son and successor Chiang Ching-kuo undid his legacy of political repression (but not his legacy of good governance and economic prosperity), and paved the way for Taiwan to be come a stable parliamentary democracy.

Chiang remains a divisive figure today, both among the Chinese in mainland China and Taiwan. He is well known for his (administration's; personally, the man had a reputation for being utterly incorruptible and honest to a fault) corruption and military incompetence,along with his infighting with fellow Nationalist leaders that contributed greatly to the Communist victory (at the very least, a true united front would've made Mao's triumph a lot harder), as well as his political purges which saw the deaths of many tens of thousands of Chinesenote . However, he is also credited for partial re-unification of China by subjugating and attempting to eradicate the Warlords and successfully leading China through her War of Resistance against Japan. Today's China also lies radically closer to his vision than those of his eventual-archrival Mao's, despite the mainland remaining officially Communist.


Geoffrey ChaucerHistorical-Domain CharacterHenry Clay

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