His father, Chiang Zhaocong, and mother, Wang Caiyu, were members of an upper to upper-middle-class family of salt merchants. His father died when Kai-shek was only eight years of age, and he wrote of his mother as the "embodiment of Confucian virtues." In an arranged marriage, Chiang was married to a fellow villager by the name of Mao Fumei. Chiang and Mao had a son Ching-Kuo and a daughter Chien-hua.
Chiang grew up in an era in which military defeats and civil wars among warlords had left China destabilized and in debt, and he decided to pursue a military career to save China. He began his military education at the Baoding Military Academy, in 1906. He left for a preparatory school for Chinese students to enter Rikugun Shikan Gakko in Japan in 1907. There he was influenced by his compatriots to support the revolutionary movement to overthrow the Manchu Qing Dynasty and to set up a Chinese Republic. He befriended fellow Zhejiang native Chen Qimei, and, in 1908, Chen brought Chiang into the Tongmenghui, a precursor organization of the Kuomintang. Chiang served in the Imperial Japanese Army from 1909 to 1911.
Chiang returned to China in 1911 after learning of the outbreak of the Wuchang Uprising, intending to fight as an artillery officer. He served in the revolutionary forces, leading a regiment in Shanghai under his friend and mentor Chen Qimei. The revolution which aimed at the overthrow of the Qing Dynasty ultimately succeeded. Chiang became a founding member of the Kuomintang.
After the takeover of the Republican government by Yuan Shikai and the failed Second Revolution, Chiang, like his Kuomintang comrades, divided his time between exile in Japan and havens in Shanghai's foreign concession areas. In Shanghai, Chiang also cultivated ties with the underworld gangs dominated by the notorious Green Gang and its leader Du Yuesheng.On February 15, 1912 a few KMT members, including Chiang, killed Tao Chengzhang, the leader of the Restoration Society, in a Shanghai French Concession hospital, thus ridding Sun Yat-sen of his chief rival.(There is no proof that Sun Yat-sen himself was involved in the affair in any way.)
On May 18, 1916 agents of Yuan Shikai assassinated Chen Qimei, one of Yat-sen's chief lieutenants. Chiang succeeded Chen as leader of the Chinese Revolutionary Party in Shanghai. Sun Yat-sen's career was at the lowest point then, with most of his old Revolutionary Alliance comrades refusing to join him in the exiled Chinese Revolutionary Party.
In 1917, Sun Yat-sen moved his base of operations to Guangzhou and Chiang joined him in 1918. Sun, at the time was largely sidelined and, without arms or money, was soon expelled from Guangzhou in 1918 and exiled again to Shanghai, but was restored again with mercenary help in 1920. However, a rift had developed between Sun, who sought to militarily unify China under the KMT, and Guangdong Governor Chen Jiongming, who wanted to implement a federalist system with Guangdong as a model province. On June 16, 1923 Chen attempted to assassinate Sun from Guangzhou and had his residence shelled. Sun and his wife Soong Ching-ling narrowly escaped under heavy machine gun fire and were rescued by gunboats under Chiang's direction. The incident earned Chiang Sun Yat-sen's trust.
Sun regained control in Guangzhou in early 1924 with the help of mercenaries from Yunnan province, and accepted aid from the Comintern. He then undertook a reform of the Kuomintang and established a revolutionary government aimed at unifying China under the KMT. That same year, Sun sent Chiang Kai-shek to spend three months in Moscow studying the Soviet political and military system. During his trip in Russia, Chiang met Trotsky and other Soviet leaders, but Chiang quickly drew the conclusion that the bolshevik's way did not suit China. Chiang Kai-shek returned to Guangzhou and in 1924 was appointed Commandant of the Whampoa Military Academy by Sun Yat-sen. Chiang, who had once resigned from the office for one month because he did not agree with Sun's too close cooperation with the Comintern, returned later at Sun's demand. The early years at Whampoa allowed Chiang to cultivate a cadre of young officers loyal to KMT and himself. However, the academy was rife with communists, many of whom later became leaders of the chinese Red Army including Zhou Enlai, who was selected to be Whampoa's deputy Political Commissar. Chiang was deeply critical of the Kuomintang-Communist Party United Front, foreseeing the Communists' plan to take over the KMT from within. By 1925, Chiang's proto-army was scoring victories against local rivals in Guangdong province.
Throughout his rise to power, Chiang Kai-shek also benefited from membership of the nationalist Tiandihui fraternity, to which Sun Yat-Sen also belonged, and which remained a source of support during his leadership of China and later Taiwan.
The National Revolutionary Army branched into three divisions—to the west, Wang Jingwei led a column to take Wuhan; to the east, Bai Chongxi led another column to take Shanghai; while Chiang led in the middle to take Nanking before they were to press ahead to take Beijing. However, in January 1927, allied with the Chinese Communists and Soviet Agent Mikhail Borodin, Wang Jingwei and his KMT leftist allies having taken the city of Wuhan amid much popular mobilization and fanfare, declared the National Government to have moved to Wuhan. After taking Nanking in March (and with Shanghai under the control of his close ally General Bai), Chiang was forced to halt his campaign and decided to first clean house and break with the leftists.
On April 12, Chiang began a swift attack on thousands of suspected Communists. He then established a National Government in Nanking, supported by conservative allies including Hu Hanmin. The communists were purged from the KMT and the Soviet advisers were expelled, which led to the beginning of the Chinese Civil War. Wang Jingwei's National Government, which was unpopular with the masses, was weak militarily and was soon overtaken by Chiang with a local warlord (Lee Zhong-Ren of Guangxi). Eventually, Wang and his leftist party surrendered to Chiang and joined him in Nanking. Finally, the warlord capital of Beijing was taken in June 1928 and in December the Manchurian warlord Zhang Xueliang pledged allegiance to Chiang's government.
Chiang made gestures to cement himself as the successor of Sun Yat-sen. In a pairing of much political significance, Chiang married, on December 1, 1927, Soong May-ling, the younger sister of Soong Ching-ling, Sun Yat-sen's widow (to whom he had proposed beforehand but by whom he had been swiftly rejected) in Japan and thus positioned himself as Sun Yat-sen's brother-in-law. To please Soong's parents, Chiang had to first divorce his first wife and concubines and promise eventually to convert to Christianity. He was baptized in the Methodist church in 1929. Upon reaching Beijing, Chiang paid homage to Sun Yat-sen and had his body moved to the capital Nanking to be enshrined in a grand mausoleum.
The decade of 1928 to 1937 was one of consolidation and accomplishment for Chiang's government. Some of the harsh aspects of foreign concessions and privileges in China were moderated through diplomacy. The government acted energetically to modernize the legal and penal systems, stabilize prices, amortize debts, reform the banking and currency systems, build railroads and highways, improve public health facilities, legislate against traffic in narcotics, and augment industrial and agricultural production. Great strides also were made in education and, in an effort to help unify Chinese society, the New Life Movement was launched to stress Confucian moral values and personal discipline. Standard Mandarin, then known as Guoyu, was promoted as a standard tongue. The widespread establishment of communications facilities further encouraged a sense of unity and pride among the people.
These successes, however, were met with constant upheavals with need of further political and military consolidation. Though much of the urban areas were now under the control of his party, the countryside still lay under the influence of severely-weakened yet undefeated warlords and communists. The warlords' unwillingness to drop their arms forced Chiang to resolve the issue through military, with one northern rebellion – against the warlords Yen Hsi-shan and Feng Yuxiang – in 1930 during the Central Plains War. The war almost bankrupted the government and cost almost 250,000 casualties on both sides. When Hu Han-min established a rival government in Guangzhou in 1931 Chiang was forced to fight another battle (political). A complete eradication of the Communist Party of China eluded Chiang. The Communists regrouped in Jiangxi and established the Chinese Soviet Republic. Chiang's anti-communist stance and the help of foreign military advisers allowed Chiang's fifth campaign to defeat the Communists in 1934. He surrounded the Red Army and allowed the Communists to escape through the epic Long March to Yan'an. Many said it was Chiang's plan to let the communists run through the warlord-controlled regions so that Chiang could have the warlords fight against the communists to try to "kill two birds with one stone", but the plan did not work, as warlords refused to fight with the communists and just let them run through their land.
In December 1936, Chiang flew to Xi'an to coordinate a major assault on Red Army forces holed up in Yan'an. However, Chiang's allied commander Chang Hsueh-liang, whose forces were to be used in his attack and whose homeland of Manchuria had been invaded by the Japanese, had other plans. On December 12, Chang Hsueh-liang and several other previously surrendered warlords (now Nationalist generals) kidnapped Chiang Kai-shek for two weeks in what is known as the Xi'an Incident. They forced Chiang into making a "Second United Front" with the Communists against Japan. The rising tide of Chinese nationalism and the cessation of warfare against the communists propelled Chiang Kai-shek in the pinnacle of his political career. He was the only leader with both the popular support and international recognition to be capable of leading the nation into a war against Japan.
The Second Sino-Japanese War broke out in July 1937. In August of the same year, Chiang sent 600,000 of his best-trained and -equipped soldiers to defend Shanghai. With over 200,000 Chinese casualties, Chiang lost his political base of Whampoa-trained officers. Although Chiang lost militarily, the battle dispelled Japanese claims that it could conquer China in three months and demonstrated to the Western powers (which occupied parts of the city and invested heavily in it) that the Chinese would not surrender under intense Japanese fire. This was skillful diplomatic maneuvering on the part of Chiang, who knew the city would eventually fall, but wanted to make a strong gesture in order to secure Western military aid for China. By December, the capital city of Nanjing had fallen to the Japanese, and Chiang moved the government inland first to Wuhan and later to Chongqing. Devoid of economic and industrial resources, Chiang masterfully used the tactic of "using space to trade for time" to prolong the war as long as possible; his strategy succeeded in stretching Japanese supply lines and bogging down Japanese soldiers in the vast Chinese interior, who would otherwise have been sent to conquer southeast Asia and the Pacific islands. Communist guerrilla bases behind the Japanese front lines also drew plenty of Japanese troops.
With the Attack on Pearl Harbor and the opening of the Pacific War, China became one of the Allied Powers. During and after World War II, Chiang and his American-educated wife Soong May-ling, commonly referred to as "Madame Chiang Kai-shek", held the unwavering support of the United States China Lobby which saw in them the hope of a Christian and democratic China. Chiang was even named the Supreme Commander of allied forces of China Warzone (which included India and Southeast Asia).
Following the war, the United States encouraged peace talks between Chiang and Communist leader Mao Zedong in Chongqing. Due to concerns about widespread corruption in Chiang's government, the U.S. suspended aid to Chiang Kai-shek for much of the period of 1946 to 1948, in the midst of fighting against the People's Liberation Army led by Mao Zedong. In the 1950s, allegations of assistance to communist interests in China surfaced involving the withholding of funds for the stabilization of the Chinese currency by certain U.S. officials, including senior U.S. Treasury Department officials and alleged Soviet spies Harry Dexter White, Frank Coe, Solomon Adler, and others, in order to destabilize Chiang's Nationalist government during the Civil War.
Though Chiang had achieved status abroad as a world leader, his government was deteriorating as a result of corruption and inflation. In his diary on June 1948, Chiang wrote that the Kuomintang had failed, not because of external enemies but because of disintegration and rot from within; and it was this, more than any alleged foreign intrigue, that contributed to his defeat. The war had severely weakened the Nationalists both in terms of resources and popularity, while the Communists were strengthened by aid from Stalin, and guerrilla organizations extending throughout rural areas. The Nationalists initially had superiority in arms and men; but their lack of popularity, heavy infiltration by communist agents in the nationalist government, and apparent disorganization soon allowed the Communists to gain the upper hand.
Meanwhile, a new Constitution was promulgated in 1947, and Chiang was elected by the National Assembly to be President. This marked the beginning of the 'democratic constitutional government' period in KMT political orthodoxy, but the Communists refused to recognise the new Constitution and its government as legitimate. Chiang resigned as President on January 21, 1949, as KMT forces suffered massive losses against the communists. Vice-President Li Tsung-jen took over as Acting President, but his relationship with Chiang soon deteriorated. Li fled to the United States under the pretense of seeking medical treatment. He absconded with millions of dollars of government money, and was later formally impeached by the Control Yuan.
In the early morning of December 10 1949, Communist troops laid siege to Chengdu, the last KMT occupied city in mainland China, where Chiang Kai-shek and his son Chiang Ching-kuo directed the defense at the Chengdu Central Military Academy. The aircraft May-ling evacuated them to Taiwan on the same day, forever removing them from the Chinese mainland.
Chiang moved the government to Taipei, Taiwan, where he formally resumed his duties as president on March 1, 1950. Chiang was reelected by the National Assembly to be the President of the ROC on May 20, 1954 and again in 1960, 1966, and 1972. He continued, as the President of the Republic of China, to claim sovereignty over all of China. In the context of the Cold War, most of the Western world recognized this position and the ROC represented China as a whole in the United Nations and other international organizations until the 1970s.
Despite the democratic constitution, the government under Chiang was a single-party state, consisting almost completely of non-Taiwanese mainlanders; the "Temporary Provisions Effective During the Period of Communist Rebellion" greatly enhanced executive powers and the goal of "retaking the mainland" allowed the KMT to maintain its monopoly on power and to outlaw opposition parties. The government's official line for these martial law provisions stemmed from the claim that emergency provisions were necessary, since the Communists and KMT were still technically under a state of war, without any cease-fire signed, after Chiang retreated to Taiwan. His government sought to impose Chinese nationalism and, to some extent, repressed local culture, such as forbidding the use of Taiwanese (Min Nan) in mass media broadcasts or in schools.
The government offered limited civil, economic freedom, property rights (personal and intellectual), among other liberties which permitted free debate within the confines of the legislature, but jailed dissidents who were labelled as supporters of either Chinese communism or Taiwan independence. His son, Chiang Ching-kuo, and Chiang Ching-kuo's successor, Lee Teng-hui, would, in the 1980s and 1990s, increase native Taiwanese representation in the government and loosen the many authoritarian controls of the early ROC-on-Taiwan era.
Since new elections could not be held in Communist-occupied constituencies, the National Assembly, Legislative Yuan, and Control Yuan members held their posts indefinitely. It was also under the Temporary Provisions that Chiang was able to bypass term limits to remain as president. He was reelected by the National Assembly as president four times—in 1954, 1960, 1966, and 1972.
After losing the mainland to the Communists, Chiang attempted to purge crookedness by dismissing members of the KMT previously accused of corruption; major figures in the previous mainland government such as H.H. Kung and T.V. Soong exiled themselves to the United States. Though the government was, to some extent, politically authoritarian and controlled government-owned industries, it encouraged economic development, especially in the export sector. A popular sweeping Land Reform Act, as well as American foreign aid during the 1950s, laid the foundation for Taiwan's economic success, becoming one of the East Asian Tigers.
In 1975, 26 years after Chiang fled to Taiwan, he died in Taipei at the age of 87. He had suffered a major heart attack and pneumonia in the months before and died from renal failure aggravated with advanced cardiac malfunction at 23:50 on April 5.
A month of mourning was declared, during which the Taiwanese people were asked to put on black armbands. On the mainland, however, Chiang's death was met with little apparent mourning and Communist state-run newspapers gave the brief headline "Chiang Kai-shek Has Died." Chiang's corpse was put in a copper coffin and temporarily interred at his favorite residence in Tzuhu (Cihu), Tahsi (Daxi), Taoyuan County. When his son Chiang Ching-kuo died in 1988, he was also entombed in a separate mausoleum in nearby Touliao (頭寮). The hope was to have both buried at their birthplace in Fenghua if and when the mainland was recovered. In 2004, Chiang Fang-liang, the widow of Chiang Ching-kuo, asked that both father and son be buried at Wuchih Mountain Military Cemetery in Hsichih, Taipei County. His ultimate funeral ceremony became a political battle issue.
Chiang was succeeded as President by Vice President Yen Chia-kan and as KMT party leader by his son Chiang Ching-kuo, who retired Chiang Kai-shek's title of Director-General and instead assumed the position of Chairman. Yen Chia-kan's presidency was interim; Chiang Ching-kuo, who was the prime minister became President after Yen's term ended three years later.
Chiang's legacy has been target of heated debates among Taiwanese people because of the different views among traditional-conservative voters and liberals. For some, Chiang was a champion of anti-communism, as he was a key figure during the formative years of the World Anti-Communist League. During the Cold War, he was also seen as the leader who led "Free China", and the bulwark against a possible communist invasion. However, Chiang has also been accused of abusing his political power through his party's dominance over the media and public sector. His opponents thought Chiang efforts in reconstructing Taiwan was mostly to make the island a strong base to return to mainland.
Today, Chiang Kai-shek's popularity in Taiwan is divided among political lines, enjoying greater support among KMT voters, and the mainlander population. He is largely unpopular among DPP voters and supporters. In sharp contrast to his son, Chiang Ching-kuo, and to Dr. Sun Yat-sen, his memory is rarely invoked by current political parties, including the Kuomintang. Lately, the DPP President Chen Shui-bian renamed a number of former Chiang places to further dilute his image.
The Chiang Kai-shek Cultural Center (中正文化中心), located in Kaohsuing, had the largest statue of Chiang Kai-shek removed from its premises despite large protests by the opposition Kuomintang.
Like many other Chinese historical figures, Chiang Kai-shek used several names throughout his life. That inscribed in the genealogical records of his family is Jiang Zhoutai (蔣周泰). This so-called "register name" (譜名) is the one under which his extended relatives knew him, and the one he used in formal occasions, such as when he got married. In deference to tradition, family members did not use the register name in conversation with people outside of the family. In fact, the concept of real or original name is not as clear-cut in China as it is in the Western world.
In honor of tradition, Chinese families waited a number of years before officially naming their offspring. In the meantime, they used a "milk name" (乳名), given to the infant shortly after his birth and known only to the close family. Thus, the actual name that Chiang Kai-shek received at birth was Jiang Ruiyuan (蔣瑞元).
In 1903, the 16-year-old Chiang Kai-shek went to Ningbo to be a student, and he chose a "school name" (學名). This was actually the formal name of a person, used by older people to address him, and the one he would use the most in the first decades of his life (as the person grew older, younger generations would have to use one of the courtesy names instead). (Colloquially, the school name is called "big name" (大名), whereas the "milk name" is known as the "small name" (小名).) The school name that Chiang Kai-shek chose for himself was Zhiqing (志清 - meaning "purity of intentions"). For the next fifteen years or so, Chiang Kai-shek was known as Jiang Zhiqing. This is the name under which Sun Yat-sen knew him when Chiang joined the republicans in Guangzhou in the 1910s.
In 1912, when Chiang Kai-shek was in Japan, he started to use (蔣介石) as a pen name for the articles that he published in a Chinese magazine he founded (Voice of the Army - 軍聲). (Jieshi is the pinyin romanization of the name, based on Mandarin, but the common romanized rendering is Kai-shek which is in Cantonese romanization. As the republicans were based in Guangzhou (a Cantonese speaking area), Chiang Kai-shek became known by Westerners under the Cantonese romanization of his courtesy name, while the family name as known in English seems to be the Mandarin pronunciation of his Chinese family name, transliterated in Wade-Giles). In mainland China, Jiang Jieshi is the name under which he is commonly known today.
Jieshi soon became his courtesy name (字). Some think the name was chosen from the classic Chinese book the Book of Changes; other note that the first character of his courtesy name is also the first character of the courtesy name of his brother and other male relatives on the same generation line, while the second character of his courtesy name shi (石 - meaning "stone") suggests the second character of his "register name" tai (泰 - the famous Mount Tai of China). Courtesy names in China often bore a connection with the personal name of the person. As the courtesy name is the name used by people of the same generation to address the person, Chiang Kai-shek soon became known under this new name.
Sometime in 1917 or 1918, as Chiang became close to Sun Yat-sen, he changed his name from Jiang Zhiqing to Jiang Zhongzheng (蔣中正 Chiang Chung-cheng). By adopting the name Chung-cheng ("central uprightness"), he was choosing a name very similar to the name of Sun Yat-sen, who was (and still is) known among Chinese as Zhongshan (中山 - meaning "central mountain"), thus establishing a link between the two. The meaning of uprightness, rectitude, or orthodoxy, implied by his name, also positioned him as the legitimate heir of Sun Yat-sen and his ideas. Not surprisingly, the Chinese Communists always rejected the use of this name and it is not well-known in mainland China. However, it was readily accepted by members of the Chinese Nationalist Party and is the name under which Chiang Kai-shek is still commonly known in Taiwan. Often the name is shortened to Chung-cheng only (Chung-cheng in Wade-Giles). For many years passengers arriving at the Chiang Kai-shek International Airport (now called Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport) were greeted by signs in Chinese welcoming them to the "Chung Cheng International Airport." Similarly, the monument erected to Chiang's memory in Taipei known in English as Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall was literally named "Chung Cheng Memorial Hall" in Chinese.
His name is also written in Taiwan as "The Late President Lord Chiang" (先總統 蔣公), where the one-character-wide space known as nuo tai shows respect; this practice has lost some popularity. However, he is still known as Lord Chiang (蔣公) (without the title or space), along with the similarly positive-sounding name Chiang Chung-cheng, in Taiwan.
Chiang was also nicknamed "the Gimo" (short for "Generalissimo") by some English-speaking foreigners, especially by Americans during World War II. Other derogatory nicknames included "Cash-my-check" (an allusion to his regular requests for American financial support), and "Peanut" (referring to the shape of his bald head).
|Known in English as:||Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石)|
|Known in Taiwan as:||蔣中正|
|Hanyu Pinyin:||Jiǎng Zhōngzhèng|
|Register name (譜名):||Zhoutai (周泰)|
|Milk name (乳名):||Ruiyuan (瑞元)|
|School name (學名):||Zhiqing (志清),|
|later Zhongzheng (中正)|
|Courtesy name (字):||Jieshi (介石)|
| Kai-shek (Gaaisek)|