The good helmsman

With double ten around the corner it seems a good time to discuss the vexed question of who was China’s greatest leader.1 Via ESNW we learn that at least in Taiwan the answer is Chiang Ching-Kuo.


Almost half of respondents called him Taiwan’s greatest President, 77% said that his positives outweighed his negatives, and a mere 4% said the opposite. For all those who have spent many hours debating if Mao was 60% good and 40% bad or vice versa these are pretty impressive numbers. Double ten would be a great day to raise a glass of vodka in honor of one of the great heroes of democracy in Asia.

  1. In keeping with the spirit of the holiday only democratically elected leaders may apply 


  1. ROFL. The poll was conducted by TVBS, a 100% Chinese-owned station whose pro-Chiang biases are well-known to observers, and which has a longstanding rep for making up stuff. Of the media it vies for longtime KMT paper UDN for having the least reliable polls. There’s nothing here to discover, except that ESWN is extremely gullible when it comes to numbers that feed his own dislike of Taiwan’s pro-democracy politicians…..

    As for being a great hero of democracy, you’ve got everything backwards. Chiang Ching-guo ran his father’s security apparatus and slaughtered thousands of people, then ran his own security state after his father died, killing many more. It was under Chiang Ching-guo that the current crop of pro-democracy activists who are now prominent in Taiwan was nurtured — fighting his regime. In the end the democracy activists, in concert with US pressure from the outside, forced Chiang to end martial law — and he then passed a national security law that was martial law in all but name. BTW, neither Chiang was ever elected.

    Taiwan’s greatest President was undoubtedly Lee Teng-hui, who established democracy in Taiwan, defeated the pro-authoritarian forces within the KMT, and shepharded in the first free elections, while making numerous constitutional changes and borrowing the oppositions ideas.


  2. O.K., maybe it is a bit of a stretch to call Chiang Ching-kuo democratically elected, but he was probably as responsible as anyone else for the (rather non-bloody) democratization of Taiwan. Maybe Juan Carlos of Spain would be a better comparison. I don’t think you can really entirely separate Lee Teng-hui from Chiang, who was his patron.

  3. I’d vote for Song Jiaoren – maybe not China’s “greatest” leader (not much time leading before being assassinated) or elected by much of an electorate, but still an oft-overlooked democratically-elected Chinese leader.

  4. No, Alan. How many of his own people did Juan Carlos murder? Chiang Ching-kuo did everything he could to stop democratization — it was out of fear that they legalized opposition parties — fear that the Taiwan activists would do what Aquino did to Marcos in the Philippines in 1986. In fact the US exile community tried but they were amateurs and their man George Chang was busted at the airport and locked up (I was still trying to get him freed in 1991 when I worked at CTIR for the independence movement — that was four years after martial law ended, the authoritarians in the KMT still desperately struggling to stem the tide of freedom).

    You can’t entirely separate Lee from Chiang, but that’s not the question at issue. Lee is so much greater than CCK as a president, a scholar (his PHD thesis won a US-wide award for best thesis in ag econ that year), a politician, and a human being, there’s no comparison at all.


  5. Michael,
    I would actually pick Lee myself, and even if it is a mainland poll there seems to be some validity too it, as Lee comes in second, which I assume would not happen if it was a pure bit of propaganda. As I sort of implied in the headline though, I do think Chiang Ching-kuo was better than Mao, the person I am used to hearing these “was he more good than bad” debates about.

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