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Then they attacked Shanghai and the Yangtze valley. Now they are involved along the entire China coast and far into the interior, and the seizure of Hainan and the Spratly Islands extends their operations beyond Chinese waters. They started to conquer a small part of China.

They are now committed to securing the domination of Eastern Asia. The Chinese have had a great deal to do with bringing this about.

They have long been aware of Japan's overweening ambition and they have consciously sought to lead her beyond her depth. An examination of the record of events will show that Chiang Kai-shek has had a consistent plan. Much of it was formulated prior to the outbreak of hostilities, and it has been developed logically under the pressure of events. It is the purpose of this article to examine this plan in its economic, financial and diplomatic as well as its military phases.

This site uses cookies to improve your user experience. Click here to learn more. Subscribe to our summer-only newsletter to get great reads in your inbox once a week during July and August. Subscribe Magazine Newsletter. Login Sign up Search. Subscribe Login Sign up. Foreign Policy. Jonathan Fenby, a journalist and the author of books on France and Hong Kong, has made a valiant attempt to digest many of these recent monographs and articles, and ''Chiang Kai-shek: China's Generalissimo and the Nation He Lost'' gives a comprehensive and accessible summary of Chiang's life.


Chiang Kai-shek was born in in a small town near the southeast coast, raised mainly in traditional modes of conduct by his widowed mother before traveling to Japan to study in a military academy -- as many young Chinese were doing at that time. An early supporter of the revolution that overthrew China's last dynasty in , Chiang had moved along two separate tracks by the 's, one taking him into the world of speculative finance which included some criminal connections and the other into the world of China's militarists and the single-party government being established by the revolutionary leader Sun Yat-sen.

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After Sun's death in , Chiang emerged as one of the nationalist party's leading generals. In he turned on the Communist allies who were helping him in the drive to reunify the country, shattering their organizations in a series of violent purges. By , the reunification of China was complete -- at least on paper -- and Chiang concentrated on developing a viable centralized government under nationalist single-party control, and in working toward the final extermination of the Communists.

The grandiloquent title of ''generalissimo'' was conferred on him by the Chinese government in Before he could accomplish that goal, he was forced to shift his policy from single-minded anti-Communism to outright resistance to Japanese aggression.

The Strategy of Chiang Kai-Shek

In the summer of this new approach led China into full-scale war with Japan, a series of shattering defeats and the retreat of Chiang's forces far up the Yangtze River to the province of Sichuan. It was here, after Pearl Harbor, that Chiang became a formal ally of the Americans. It is indeed a complex story, and several authors have tried to tell it before.

But what separates Fenby's book from most of the others is that he attempts to present this story as a coherent series of insights into Chiang's character and motivations.

The Strategy of Chiang Kai-Shek

Why have academic historians not been tempted to try the same thing? The main reason, surely, is not ignorance of original Chinese and Western sources, but the fact that those sources are themselves so profoundly fragmented, ambiguous and often doctored by the principal actors or their self-appointed surrogates.

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  7. Thus, despite the intrinsic fascination of the times in which Chiang lived, reliable materials on the man are extremely rare. View all New York Times newsletters. Chiang himself left no undoctored paper trail: there are few casual let alone intimate letters; his ''diaries'' tend to be stilted and formulaic, while his political writings are limited in intellectual range and often ghostwritten. With the exception of his second wife, Jennie, who years after Chiang had rejected her for the far more glamorous and wealthy Mei-ling Soong, wrote a brief memoir giving some details of their personal life together, Chiang's close relatives -- including Mei-ling and his son by his first marriage Chiang Ching-kuo -- remained closelipped.

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    That has left much of Chiang's story in the hands of Chinese composers of the kind of unofficial histories that the Chinese call yeshi literally ''wild'' or undocumented histories , a venerable genre going back more than two millenniums. Fenby has developed a strategy on three fronts to overcome these limitations. First, he has combed through a wide swath of the available secondary materials on China's history in the first half of the 20th century, and the diplomatic documents of the time, so as to extract the nuggets that seem to illuminate some facet of Chiang's character. This is a time-consuming task in itself, but one that yields a great deal of relevant material.

    It was a piece of bad luck for Fenby that ''Spymaster,'' Frederic Wakeman's powerful and richly documented study of Chiang's secret police chief, Dai Li, came out just as Fenby's own book was going to press. Second, Fenby has scoured the English-language newspapers and press agency reports of the time, along with those of some of the Chinese press agencies. Third, and perhaps most important in terms of the flavor of the book, he has pored through scores of the vignettes written by Western travelers and journalists who visited China during these eventful years.

    These vignettes are often vivid and entertaining, even insightful, but they tend to share the disturbing trait one finds in the Chinese yeshi writings: they are unverifiable. In reviewing the course of hostilities we find difficulty in discerning any clear-cut plan of the Japanese.

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