"President" Chiang Kai-shek

So, what is the current status of Chiang Kai-shek in China? He is the most troublesome of the Republican era-figures for the mainland to figure out. Anyone who can possibly be called a “democratic personage” i.e. vaguely leftist or progressive or something can be praised. Even warlords can be rehabilitated if they went over to the Communist side. Chiang was for a long time –the- bad guy of the CCP demonology, but as the Nationalist regime has been re-appraised so has he. This is not really surprising. He was not a Communist. But then economically neither are the current rulers of China. He was not a democrat. Ditto. He ran a fairly corrupt developmental party state, which should not be too difficult to justify. And he fought the Japanese. There is a nice exhibit up on the Nationalist government at the old Presidential Palace in Nanjing. It lays out the structure of the Nationalist government quite well and is pretty non-committal about his anti-communism, although it does point out that he helped defeat the warlords and such. They only really get down on him when they get to 1948. Under Sun Yat-sen’s Fundamentals of National Reconstruction China was to go through a series of phases of government. First was military dictatorship. Then a period of political tutelage, where under the direction of the wise party-state the Chinese people would be made ready for the third phase, which was constitutional government. Sun was well aware that just declaring a Republic did not make one happen.

In the age of autocracy, the masses of the people were fettered in spirit and body so that emancipation seemed impossible Those who worked for the welfare of the people and were willing to sacrifice themselves for the success of revolution not only did not receive assistance from the people but were also ridiculed and disparaged. Much as they desired to be the guides of the people, they proceeded without followers. Much as they desired to be the vanguards, they advanced without reinforcement. It becomes necessary that., apart from destroying enemy influence, those engaged in revolution should take care to develop the constructive ability of the people. A revolutionary program is therefore indispensable.

The displays at the Presidential palace seem quite respectful of Sun’s 5-power constitution, although they don’t talk much about the transition to constitutional rule. Chiang himself kept China in the stage of political tutelage for most of his time in power. As his critics pointed out this amounted to a dictatorship with vague promises of future democracy. At last, in 1947, Chiang moved China into constitutional government. He became President of China on May 20, 1948. This is often seen as the last act of a desperate man, trying to shore up support for a foundering regime. Here on the mainland, however, they seem to take it pretty seriously. The museum here in Nanjing calls him “President” Chiang after this point, with the title in scare quotes. All the institutions of the post-48 government are in quotes. Scare quotes are pretty common in CCP histories.1 Institutions of Wang Jingwei’s puppet government are always put into quotes or just called false (wei ) Always very important to let people know that someone else’s “democracy” is not the real people’s democracy. What I find interesting is that the museum is willing to grant Chiang legitimacy right up to 1948, apparently. It almost makes him seem like an old dynasty that is presented as having had the Mandate and then, right at the end, having lost it, rather than someone who was always an enemy of the people. Or maybe they just don’t want to say that the ’48 government was China’s first democracy, which I would probably agree with, although not for the same reasons the CCP would not want to say that.

Of course to some extent this is a moot point. I don’t think there is as rigid a central “line” on most historical topics as there used to be, and here in Nanjing in particular you might expect more favorable treatment. Still, I find it interesting to watch the changing reputations of historical figures.

  1. they can be quite postmodern, those commies 

1 Comment

  1. China, tear down this gate!

    by Dan Bloom

    Longtime observers of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) have said,
    “The China question is open as long as the CCP rules China.” And as
    long as the gate of freedom in China remains closed, as long as this
    scar of a gate is permitted to stand, it is not the China question
    alone that remains open, but the question of freedom for all
    humankind. Yet, today there is a message of hope inside China, a
    message of triumph, where slowly people are trying to take matters
    into their own hands and set up a democratic movement inside the
    country that can finally replace the CCP. It can happen and it will

    Leaders of democratic countries around the world understood the
    practical importance of liberty — that just as truth can flourish
    only when the journalist is given freedom of speech, so prosperity can
    come about only when the farmer and businessman enjoy economic
    freedom. China will learn that soon enough.

    In fact, even now, in a limited way, the current leaders of China may
    be coming to understand the importance of freedom. We hear much from
    Beijing about a new policy of reform and openness. Some political
    prisoners have been released. Certain foreign news broadcasts and
    Internet sites are no longer being jammed. Some economic enterprises
    have been permitted to operate with greater freedom from state

    Are these the beginnings of profound changes in the CCP? Or are they
    token gestures, intended to raise false hopes in the West, or to
    strengthen the Chinese system without changing it? We welcome change
    and openness; for we believe that freedom and security go together,
    that the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of
    world peace. There is one sign the Chinese communists can make that
    would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of
    freedom and peace.

    President Hu Jintao, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for
    China and Hong Kong and Macao and Taiwan, if you seek liberalization:
    Come here to this gate of tyranny, and replace it with a gate of
    freedom! Mr. Hu, replace this gate! Mr. Hu, let freedom ring!

    I understand the fear of war and the pain of division that afflict the
    leaders of China today — and I know that my country will use all its
    efforts to help overcome these burdens. When freedom finally comes to
    the Chinese people, they and their leaders will be surprised how
    wonderful it feels.

    Today represents a moment of hope. We in the West stand ready to
    cooperate with China to promote true openness, to break down barriers
    that separate people, to create a safe, freer world.
    The totalitarian world produces backwardness because it does such
    violence to the spirit, thwarting the human impulse to create, to
    enjoy, to worship. The totalitarian world finds even symbols of love
    and of worship an affront.

    As one looks at China today, from across the sea, one can perhaps
    catch a glimpse of some words crudely spray-painted upon the gate,
    perhaps by a young Bejinger: “This gate will fall. Beliefs become
    reality.” Yes, across China, this gate will fall. For it cannot
    withstand faith; it cannot withstand truth. The gate cannot withstand

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