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May 27, 2017

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Chiang: Father of modern China

Few would dispute the fact that the late President Chiang Kai-shek is one of the most controversial figures in modern Chinese history. Supporters save no words in praising him as a "national hero" and "a great helmsman of our time," while detractors brand him as a "corrupt dictator who lost China to Communism."

It is for this reason that two recent news reports are most welcome because they help dispel the myth and restore an accurate historical perspective about Chiang.

One is that President Ma Ying-jeou has vowed to push for a thorough and fair investigation of the Feb. 28 Incident in 1947, in which thousands of native Taiwanese were allegedly killed by troops sent by Chiang from mainland China to quell a local uprising. Of course, Ma said, Chiang, then as the nation's supreme leader, should bear responsibility. There is no need to hide anything for Chiang if he acted wrongly in that incident, Ma stressed.

At the same time, a major local newspaper reported that an "authoritative work" on Chiang, entitled "Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek and the Struggle for Modern China," by John Taylor, a noted American China scholar, will be published soon by the Harvard University Press. The book is generally acknowledged as a fascinating and highly readable biography that captures the life of one of the great leaders of the 20th century. Taylor deeply believed that but for the Japanese invasion and the rebellion staged by the Chinese Communists with the assistance of the Russian Communists, Chiang would definitely have become the "father of modern China."

However, in spite of many shortcomings of Chiang as a moral and effective supreme leader, which are the target of severe criticism by numerous historians and politicians, he made so many significant contributions to the building and development of the country after its establishment by Dr. Sun Yat-sen, that he deserves to be called the "father of modern China."

In 1924, he was appointed by Dr. Sun as the superintendent of the Whampoa Military Academy, which trained the first modernized Chinese army that later defeated feudalistic warlords and unified China in 1927. A united China is necessary for the start of its modernity. Then, in the decade that followed, China enjoyed a period of peace and prosperity brought about by the successful nation-building effort under the leadership of Chiang.

To prevent China from becoming its potent competitor in the Far East, Japan launched an all-out Sino-Japanese War in 1937. Chiang's forces fought heroically against better-equipped and trained Japanese troops for eight years to the final victory in 1945. Then, a weakened national government was driven by the Communist insurgents to Taiwan where Chiang reorganized his forces and made great efforts to modernize the island just restored from Japan, a job he would have continued to do for the mainland had he not been defeated.

Chiang might not be an astute politician, but he was certainly a patriotic leader with firm convictions as indicated by his life-long unswerving devotion to Christianity.

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