Chiang Kai-shek remains a divisive figure. Remembered as a war hero and founding father by some, for others he is best remembered as an authoritarian dictator. Chiang was a compatriot of Sun Yat-sen, remembered as the founding father of the Republic of China, and was also a member of the Kuomintang. Rising to become the Kuomintang’s military leader, he fought a war against the Chinese Communist Party and Japanese occupation, before retreating to Taiwan after defeat in the Chinese Civil War. There, he and his Kuomintang ruled in dictatorial fashion for decades in what was once the world’s longest martial law period, before his death in April 1975.  


Facts & Information

Chinese Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek (front left) and his wife before the Japanese invasion. (Harris/Associated Press)

Born

Oct. 31, 1887, Xikou, Zhejiang  

Died

April 5, 1975, Taipei, Taiwan, of renal failure 

Presidential Term

March 1, 1950 – April 5, 1975

Nicknames

  • The Generalissimo 
  • Jiang Jieshi (Mandarin pronunciation of name) 
  • Chiang Zhongzheng (posthumous name) 
  • Lord Chiang (honorific) 

PLACES NAMED FOR CHIANG KAI-SHEK 

  • Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Airport (renamed Taoyuan International Airport in 2006) 
  • Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial, Taipei
  • Roads and city districts named “Zhongzheng” throughout Taiwan are commonplace. “Zhongzheng” refers to Chiang’s posthumous name.

quotes

If and when the war starts, no matter where or whoever you are or if you are young or old, Northerner or Southerner, you all have the responsibility of protecting our home and repelling the enemy, you all must have the will to achieve ultimate sacrifice. 

Chiang Kai-shek

Calmness and dignity, do not be surprised by shifts.  

Chiang Kai-shek

The meaning of life lies in continuing to give rise to life, the aim of life is to promote human life. 

Chiang Kai-shek

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Biography

Early Years

Born in Xikou, Zhejiang, in eastern China, as the third son to a family of salt merchants, Chiang was interested in military affairs from an early age. This led to Chiang entering the Baoding Military Academy in 1906, then leaving for Japan at age 19 with the aim of studying at the Imperial Japanese Army Academy, subsequently serving in the Imperial Japanese Army from 1909 to 1911.  

Chiang returned to China with the aim of serving in the army after the Wuchang Uprising and subsequently became a founding member of the Kuomintang after the 1911 Revolution, aligning himself with Sun Yat-Sen. Though exiled to Japan and Shanghai’s International Settlement after warlord Yuan Shikai took control of the Republic of China that the Kuomintang established after the 1911 Revolution, Chiang and Sun Yat-Sen took control of the Kuomintang again in 1923.

Becoming head of the Whampoa Military Academy in 1924, he rose further in power after Sun’s death in 1925, outmaneuvering rivals to secure power after the 1926 Canton Coup. By 1928, Chiang had achieved primacy of power over the ROC government.  

Years in Power

The subsequent decades saw the launch of the Northern Expedition to subjugate northern warlords, with Chiang ruling from Nanjing from 1928 to 1937. During this time, Chiang sought to modernize China, synthesizing Chinese tradition with the western nation-state. As this took place in the same timeframe as the rise of the Chinese Communist Party, Chiang sought to eliminate the rival political force through acts such as the 1927 Shanghai Massacre.  

As Japan expanded its territorial influence in China during this time, with the establishment of the puppet state of Manchukuo in 1932, Chiang remained focused on fighting the CCP. It took the two-week kidnapping of Chiang by subordinate generals in December 1936 to force Chiang to turn his attention to fighting the Japanese, resulting in an alliance with the CCP that lasted until the surrender of Japan in 1945.  

Retreat to Taiwan

But Chiang was defeated in the subsequent resumption of hostilities with the CCP, resulting in the KMT retreating to Taiwan in 1949. The KMT brought with it Chinese treasures and financial resources, hoping to use the island as a staging ground to retake China. Yet this was not to be, as the prospects of retaking the Chinese mainland receded in subsequent decades.  

Chiang and the KMT subsequently ruled over Taiwan in an authoritarian fashion for the decades to come. After the deaths of tens of thousands in 228 Massacre that began on February 28th, 1947, the White Terror that lasted involved political imprisonments, torture, and executions of critics of the KMT’s rule undere the auspices of anti-Communism.  

A personal cult was also instituted for Chiang, praising Chiang as the leader that would allow for the glorious recovery of the Chinese mainland. But as this became increasingly unlikely, Chiang’s ROC became something of a rump state. Taiwan later withdrew from the UN in protest of China’s admittance to the international body.  

A quarter-century after the withdrawal to Taiwan, Chiang died with his dreams of reunification unfulfilled. He was buried in Cihu and memorialized with the expansive Chiang Kai-shek Memorial, and was succeeded as unchallenged ruler of Taiwan by his son, Chiang Ching-kuo.

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